Apr 08
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The unhealthy reality of dieting

Classified as overweight by my childhood pediatrician, my relationship with food has been complicated. From a young age, I was never told to lose weight or to change the way I ate but I was always surrounded by my athletic and thinner friends. I always knew I was a little heavier growing up but didn't pay much attention to it until eighth grade when I started to adjust my diet. In eighth grade, I tried to cut out all the junk food and cookies from my diet, but I couldn't go longer than a couple of days without giving in and binge eating something. This continued until the end of freshman year when I decided enough is enough.  I realized that most of the people around me were either in shape or skinny and as a new kid, I wanted to fit in. 

I started to be more active, workout, and completely changed my diet.     

I feel the way I lost my weight was healthy and it was because of the support around me, but I was one of the lucky ones. Around 50% of teenage girls and 30% of teenage boys will use unhealthy weight control behaviors, according to the Polaris Teen Center, and 9% of all Americans will have an eating disorder in their lifetime, according to the Academy for Eating Disorders. Most of these eating disorders stem from someone who started dieting for numerous reasons. Some are unhappy with the way their body looks, some want to look good for a trip, and some are losing weight for health reasons. All of these people diet in different ways and forms. Depending on what they are trying to accomplish they will go on starvation diets, go to Google to find the new “trendy diet,” go on a paid diet program like Weight Watchers, or in the rare case consult a dietitian. 

Dieting is a tricky thing. To start, there is a difference between a diet and dieting. A diet is what someone consumes and does not infer that someone has changed the way they eat to accomplish a goal. Everybody has a diet, but dieting is the act of regulating the amount of food that an individual consumes to maintain, lose, or gain weight. Few can accomplish what they set out to, but it's not their fault. It's our brains. 

Over thousands of years, our brain has developed a defensive system to make sure our body maintains its weight through starvation periods. The brain has a weight range of ten to fifteen pounds it wants your body in, and no matter how much dieting you do it is incredibly hard to break this range and go lower. This is because within our brain we have a hypothalamus. The hypothalamus has two nerves, one that produces a sense of hunger and one that takes away this sense and tells us we're full, according to a Ted Talk by Sandra Aamodt.

    In a survey conducted by the Mental Health Foundation 39% of people aged 13-19 said their body image causes them to “often” or “always” worry.  Body image is how you see yourself in the mirror or how you picture yourself in your head. Often these two images are very different for teenagers. Girls often struggle more with body image because they feel a greater pressure to conform to unrealistic social and beauty ideals. When Mindi Bush, a personal trainer in Baltimore, was asked why she first started dieting as a teen, she responded, “to be thin and look like my peers.”  Although this was over thirty years ago the underlying factors are still the same. But in today's world, we are surrounded by edited photos on social media and in magazines. The increase of seeing unrealistic bodies every day has led to an increase in body image issues amongst teens. 

People will often try one form of dieting and then switch to another when they don't see the results they want, which can negatively affect one's health according to Men's Health. Around 2.7% of people will eventually develop an eating disorder, according to a different Polaris Teen Center study. These people have bounced from diet to diet, unhappy with the results, until they eventually develop an eating disorder. Two solutions to this problem are to spread helpful information on and about dieting and promote body positivity. First, by promoting healthy dieting options as well as healthy weight loss techniques we can work towards helping the people that want to look different in a healthy manner. Together these two things could save a lot of people mentally and physically. Secondly, if we promote body positivity teenagers will feel more comfortable in the body they have and feel less of an urge to conform to current social ideals. Ellie Byram, a senior at McDonogh, also feels that “If you are not happy with your body in the first place, no matter how much weight you lose or how skinny you get, you will never be happy with your body in the end. You have to learn to love yourself and your body the way it is.”
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