I've been waiting a long time for this day. Oprah has finally come to see the light, recognizing that dieting promoted more of her negative body image rather than remedy it. This is a huge leap forward and provides hope that her influential voice may now be heard touting a different, more empowering public message.
A lifelong devotee of weight loss at any cost, Oprah has come to see that her years of yo-yo dieting have kept her on a roller coaster ride of weight gain, weight loss, with concomitant highs of excitement and lows of defeat, never guiding her toward fuller body-esteem. "I don't like the term food addict," she said recently in O, The Oprah Magazine, "but I realize that I've been one, and it has taken me years to learn (and relearn) that the choices we make about what we put in our mouths are only stand-ins for the beliefs we carry in our minds and our hearts."
Throughout her life, Oprah rejected her mesomorph shaped body and revered the gods and goddesses of thinness, committing herself to battle with her hunger and her body. We know from watching the changes in her physical self, that Oprah struggled with the demons that drive obsessions with food, weight and body size. As a professional keenly aware of the complexities involved with body image, I've ached at particular moments when Oprah's actions lent direct endorsement to the diet industry's marketing gurus, reinforcing messages that encourage striving for a body size, shape, and image discrepant from one that can be sustained with a healthy approach.
This healthy approach involves acceptance of our genetic body structure, willingness to feed our bodies enough foods to quell hunger, sustain energy and the practice of speaking to ourselves without judgment and blame for "who we are not," and "what we do not look like."
After all, we live within our bodies; they are the vessels that house us. If we support attitudes of dislike toward our bodies, not accepting them and cherishing for all they do for us, our deepest self suffers.
Oprah was hooked on the fanatasy that having a different body would heal her deepest wounds and release her into a life of internal ease. In fact, years of dieting did nothing of the sort for Oprah, nor does it do so for anyone else. Instead, it releases the follower in to a state of dis-ease ... a path of continuous anxiety about how long they will stay at their worshiped weight and what they will feel like when they lose that "position" in life.
The statistics on dieting are staggering, suggesting that 95 percent of people who lose weight from diet regimes are certain to gain most of it back within a year or two. The multi-billion dollar diet industry seduces us into believing that cycles of dieting are the best way to achieve the "right" body for each one of us. They never admit that diets prevent us from learning how to regulate our body weight or balance our eating patterns, and they never mention that diets increase binging, moodiness and the potential for developing an eating disorder -- the full spectrum from anorexia to obesity.
Despite the facts, many of us fall under their spell and argue in favor of dieting, saying that it is healthy and good, even something to be admired and rewarded -- a virtue worth pursuing. Talking to Oprah in March, author Geneen Roth assures us that "Unless you really see what your core beliefs are, what's making you overeat, and until you name those beliefs, they will shape your life willy-nilly. You'll just keep acting them out by punishing yourself with food. But if you can finally get to understand the beliefs underneath, you can learn how to live."
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