Paradigm Shift: Body Image Goes Two Ways

Every now and then we come across things that make us reevaluate the way we see the world. Stephen R. Covey, Author of a wildly successful “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People,” was the one who first introduced me to the concept of a paradigm shift.  In it’s simplest terms, a paradigm is nothing more than a way of seeing a person, a situation, and/or the world at large.  When this way of seeing things is changed, this is termed a ‘paradigm shift.’  Suddenly we find ourselves needing to reevaluate the way we’ve seen things and whether or not we have seen things correctly at all.  One shift that came for me this past week is detailed below.

My Story:

Once upon a time I weighed just a little less than 240 pounds.  Not being a football player, this was highly detrimental health wise for a guy who only stands 5’11”.  Battling my weight is something that has been a challenge, but it is one that I am learning to get better with.  This battle is what led me to Cross Fit and while I am still working out, although school has limited my writing and is the reason why I haven’t been posting on that front recently.

In my pursuit of fitness, I came across a couple of situations where it was common practice to present a before and after pictures.  The first was on a fitness web site and the other was in the form of a popular reality television series.  Both of these forums had a practice of taking a shot of the person at their heaviest.  After some time, a lot of work, and learning to redefine old eating habits, the person would then take another picture and put the two side by side.  The contrast was always something remarkable to behold and inspiring for others who are also fighting their Battle of the Bulge.

The Shift:

My shift came after viewing the following picture and the accompanying caption:

We’re all familiar with the “Before and After” weight loss picture, but what about a “Before and After” weight gain picture? For those who have overcome an eating disorder, a weight gain picture can be just as triumphant. Do you think people are too focused on being thin, rather than well? Or has there been a shift in what we consider to be healthy and attractive? ~Amy

I think something that people haven’t quite come to grips with is that eating disorders can lead people to either extremes of the weight spectrum.  It has long been held that anorexia and bulimia are the flagship eating disorders, but I have never heard of overeating as a disorder.  Both ends demonstrate an inability to accurately deal with something in the head.  Either food is seen as an enemy that must be avoided at all costs, or food is used as a coping mechanism to get a person through the stress and challenges of daily life.

The shift that took place for me is that ultimately, body image is about being happy with your body type no matter what it is and realizing that you have the power, in many cases, to make a change if you’re unhappy with the way things are.  Personally, I was unhappy with my 240 pound self, so I took responsibility for my weight and did something about it.  I do better with what I eat and I make the time for regular exercise.  Rather than seeing food as an enemy, I take the healthy approach of seeing that food is nothing more or less than the fuel that keeps me going.  Just as gasoline powers a car engine, so food powers the engine of our bodies.  There are different grades of fuel and there are different grades of food.  Often, a progressive shift in making better food choices coupled with a more active lifestyle will result in a movement toward a healthier body.

In reading the comments on the post, there is one more point that should be addressed, and that is that you should be careful about the comments you make to a person on either side of the healthy weight classification.  Our culture is one that seems generally aware that you don’t make comments about a person being ‘too fat,’ however, there is less compunction about making the comment that someone is ‘too skinny.’  Neither are appropriate comments to make, particularly in an offhanded manner.

Addressing an eating disorder is a difficult thing to do, and in many cases should be left to a professional.  I think the most important thing to do is to let any person you see who might be on either end of this scale know that you care, that you want to see them happy, and that you will support them and be their friend regardless of the situation.  Also realize that the desire for change has to come from within.  You can support and encourage, but ultimately it comes down to the individual to change their lives.

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