I wonder, though, as we look at the time, energy and money being put into the "fight obesity" message - who is really hearing the message and, more importantly, who is taking action?
As a mother, I see the notes coming home from the school stressing the importance of "nutritious, low-fat snacks;" I hear young children banter about how healthy the food they eat is or is not; I feel the sadness of individuals being teased about what is in their lunch box; I notice people using food in all sorts of ways to deal with their emotions - restricting or emotionally eating; I watch the images being projected about what makes someone "healthy" - someone who is thin, tall, white, rich, restricting ...
As an eating disorder expert, I want to start my own campaign, a movement to find peace with our minds, bodies and emotions. Although it is true that as a nation we're becoming a larger population, everyone wants to look at the issue from one side and one side only.
The blame often falls on the fast-food industry and an assumed lack of motivation on the public that won't "do what it takes to be thin." However, my challenge is that the reason we are a nation who is getting larger is in fact the diet industry.
We live in world in which we have been convinced that if we simply, "did it right," we could, and in fact should, look like the model on the TV, the actress on the movie screen and rock star on stage. The reality is that the images we see in the media represent what only 2 percent of the total population are genetically supposed to look like, small and thin. (Ironically, this body type does not typically come with other features Americans value like full lips and chests, the solution - well, of course - cosmetic surgery!)
On the other end of that body size continuum, another 2 percent are genetically set up to be very large body types (I don't have to tell you what life is like on that end of the continuum - full of shame, frustration and bullying - never mind what kinds of nutrition these individuals eat or the amount of activity they have: large=bad. No questions asked). I'm not great at math, but according to my calculations, this set up leaves 96 percent of us - that's right, I said 96 percent - trying to achieve a look we never were supposed to have.
This leads me back to my initial question. Should we be at war against obesity? I strongly believe we've gotten it all wrong; the artillery used for battle amongst us - fear-filled messages about the dangers of fat, the belief that if you are thin you will be happy, healthy, wealthy, surrounded by loved ones and "complete"- are reaching the wrong percentage of the population.
The people listening for a quick fix are people who are already feeling discontent with their bodies, the people who are depressed, anxious, lonely, worried, perfectionistic, those who want some form of control in their lives ...
Unfortunately, we live in an era when we have the perfect prescription for an escape: an eating disorder.
The numbers of individuals struggling with eating disorders continue to climb each and every year. For the first time in history, we are seeing the numbers of eating disorders in males rise faster than that of women. That's right, men are closing the gap between the genders.
We have diagnosed eating disorders in our youth as early as 8 years old and in older people 70 plus. Eating disorders no longer discriminate; all genders, all ages, all socio-economic levels, all cultures, all races. Eating disorders lie in wait, waiting to attack right along with all the weapons of war. Sadly, at first, this illness is often reinforced by our culture unknowingly giving the individual positive feedback about how much control they have, how disciplined they are, how we wish we could do what they are doing ... all the time the eating disorder laughs at us.
Slowly, slowly, the eating disorder takes over the entire person making all their decisions and capitalizes on all those messages of the "war on obesity," telling the person, "you're so fat, you're a waste, you didn't run far enough, you eat too much, you're not good enough, do more, no actually do less, you don't deserve what other people have" - the brain washing from the eating disorder goes on and on both internally and through every form of visual and auditory media we have.
What about this simple message? We all have different genetics. In the same way we have individual finger prints, we have a unique look that is all our own, size, hair color, eye color, body shape, a genetically-designed weight (your set point; the weight your body gravitates toward and functions the best).
You be you, I'll be me. Eat when you're hungry, stop when you're full. Enjoy a wide variety of food choices from the food guide pyramid. No food is good or bad - some are simply more nutritionally dense than others. Be active in ways that are fun, play some ball, bike, walk with a friend, garden, do what you like to do.
Love the reflection you see in the mirror, let go of the shame, blame and negative energy in your life. and remember - when you love yourself as you are, you will see what I see, that you beautiful, just the way you are.