Weight loss resolutions may do more harm than good
MIDDLEBURY — With the month of January comes New Year’s resolutions and studies show that Americans often vow to lose weight.
While some people use this time of year to fortify their efforts to take better care of their health, nutritionist Amy Rice said that the increased buzz about weight loss can be harmful to those who struggle with eating disorders or body image issues.
“The big focus that comes around the holidays and then with New Year’s resolutions is a huge challenge for people who are already struggling with or on the brink of an eating disorder,” said Rice, who splits her time between a private practice and working with clients at Middlebury Fitness Community Wellness Center.
This diagnosis is a common one. The National Eating Disorder Association reports that 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Symptoms can include an unhealthy preoccupation with weight, food, calories, a refusal to eat certain foods or discomfort eating in front of others.
Rice said that anybody can find themselves struggling with this issue because eating disorders affect people regardless of age, gender, race or other factors. And the fact that we associate eating disorders with girls and women means that boys and men often don’t receive the treatment they need, she added.
“Boys and men can slide under the radar,” she said. “They don’t come forward as much as girls and women, but they are still there.”
Rice also sees patients of all ages, from children as young as six or seven years old, to high school and college students, to adults. For her younger patients, Rice said that poor body image can come directly from comments made by parents.
“Parents might talk about going to exercise because they need to lose weight and it can plant seeds in kids’ heads about what exercise is and what food is and what healthy is,” Rice said.
This kind of talk is common in January as parents make their own New Year’s resolutions. A 2017 Gallup poll noted that three of the top five most common New Year’s resolutions in the U.S. relate to diet and weight loss. Rice said that parents may not realize the impact this message has on their children
“I tell parents to really try to be mindful about the comments they make themselves, to try to avoid dieting and if they want to do a healthy resolution to pick something other than weight loss as a goal,” Rice said.
For those struggling with eating disorders, Rice said the most important thing is to seek treatment. However, she also acknowledged that Addison County does not have enough treatment options for those who exhibit concerning eating or exercise habits.
“We have great therapists and counselors but we don’t have enough of them. And we don’t have enough people who specialize in eating disorders,” she said.
While there are centers in Burlington, such as the Adams Center for Mind and Body, Rice said it can be difficult to travel there with the frequency required to treat an eating disorder. Rice said she is not sure why Addison County has so few treatment options.
“We certainly have a ton of people who would benefit,” she said.
Among those who would benefit are high school students, who often face peer pressure about their bodies and struggle with disordered eating. Kelly McGovern, the school nurse at Middlebury Union High School, said she encourages students who are worried that they themselves or a friend is suffering from an eating disorder to reach out for support as soon as possible.
“If students are feeling badly about themselves physically they should reach out as early as possible and not get to a place where they’re in crisis,” McGovern said. “There are a lot of people that want to wrap around and help you with whatever you need.”
McGovern urged students not to be embarrassed, noting that many in their age group specifically struggle with eating disorders. Indeed, the National Eating Disorder Association estimates that approximately a half-million teens across the country currently struggle with eating disorders or disordered eating.
Despite these statistics, January is full of messages about losing weight and eating better. As diet season wears on, Rice recommends trying to block out the extra noise about weight loss. She notes that this often means reducing time on social media or taking a break all together.
“As much as possible try to turn your blinders on and put your head down and try to focus on your own happiness and well-being from inside versus what you see and hear from others,” she said.
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