I was refreshingly surprised when I saw this AP news article last night: Worry over weight: Poll finds health disconnect. It summarized what I've realized since the days of the Big Fat Loser contest over a year and a half ago now, that women say they're trying to lose weight for health reasons, but it's really all about appearance.
There's a big disconnect between body image and true physical condition, an Associated Press-iVillage poll suggests. A lot of women say they're dieting despite somehow avoiding healthy fruits and veggies. Many others think they're fat when they're not.
"The priorities are flipped," says Dr. Molly Poag, chief of psychiatry at New York's Lennox Hill Hospital.
She points to women athletes as much better role models than supermodels: "There's an undervaluing of physical fitness and an overvaluing of absolute weight and appearance for women in our culture."
Half don't like their weight, even 26 percent of those whose body mass index or BMI — a measure of weight for height — is in the normal range. But just a third don't like their physical condition, even though being overweight and sedentary are big risk factors for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other ailments.
The poll found women putting in a median of 80 minutes of exercise a week, meaning half do even less. The average adult is supposed to get 2 1/2 hours of exercise a week for good health.
And just 8 percent of women ate the minimum recommended servings of fruits and vegetables — five a day. A staggering 28 percent admit they get that recommended serving once a week or less.
The ladies I worked with (and most dieters I've talked to) might say they want to lower their cholesterol or blood pressure, but what they use for "thinspiration" isn't an image of an unclogged artery or a blood pressure reading of 120/80. They look at models, those size 8 pants, that skinny chick who works in the cubicle down the hall. Commercials are now telling us to "get in shape for summer" because it's "bathing suit season!" The "get in shape" message is really in the name of looking hot in a bikini.
Eating disorders aside, normal-skinny doesn't automatically mean healthy, stresses University of Houston sociologist Samantha Kwan, who studies gender and body image.
"Someone who is fat or even overweight can be healthy if they have a balanced diet and are physically active," Kwan says. "Our culture really does put a lot of pressure on women to look a certain way," taking precedence over health measures.