The #1 New Year's resolution is to lose weight (it's the winter equivalent of "bikini season!"). But while there are certainly health concerns associated with obesity, there's also a tremendous amount of gratuitous dieting going on aimed at achieving impossible standards of "ideal beauty."
During the Victorian era, women "enhanced" their looks through tightly laced corsets known to cause fainting, the wasting of muscles and to crush ribs. One of the first "fad diets" was conceived in 1864 by a husky, former undertaker in London, who wrote about his weight-loss plan in Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. Considered the grandfather of low-carbohydrate diets, it sold more than 100,000 copies on both sides of the Atlantic.
Though dieting did not emerge as a full-blown industry until the 1950s and '60s -- hello girdles, diet pills, zero-calorie soda, Twiggy and Weight Watchers - the media, advertising and pervasive social standards share a long history of shaping and promoting unhealthy body images and weight loss that remains prevalent.
Today, weight-loss is a $60.5 billion industry... But the real price is the toll it's taking on the psyche of our children and young adults.
It is estimated that, in the U.S., 19 percent of adults and 3 percent of children are on a diet on any given day. 42 percent of first through third grade girls want to be thinner and 81 percent of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat. Birthday
cake carrot sticks, anyone?
More than half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting and taking laxatives. Even among clearly non-overweight girls, over one-third report dieting.
Dieting causes such side effects as stress, anxiety, depression, irritability and low self-esteem--and dieters often gain back the weight they lose. 35 percent percent of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20 to 25 percent progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders).  And let's be clear, size 0 is not a size... it's a marketing ploy.
A 6-year-old once spied a Lunchables snack in my friend's fridge and told her that she liked them, but her mom wouldn't allow her to have them... But that was okay, she explained, because she was afraid the sodium would cause her to "retain water and make me fat." (I doubt that she came up with that on her own... or that she even knew how to spell sodium).
The only way to help our children live happy and self-confident lives is to lead by example... Rather than looking for acceptance from others, we should be looking to accept ourselves. Rather than "dieting," we should be striving to be healthy.
Now that's a New Year's resolution we can all live with...
President & CEO
National Eating Disorders Association
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 Shisslak, C.M., Crago, M., & Estes, L.S. (1995). The Spectrum of Eating Disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3): 209-219.