Becky Hubbard was just 10 when she first remembers overhearing negative comments about her weight. And she has been “struggling on and off ever since.”
Through her teens and 20s, her desire to look thinner led her to try fad diets and take extreme measures to lose weight. More recently, she felt “a lot of pressure” to look a certain way for her wedding. Finally, at 38, her motivations changed.
“My husband and I are looking to start a family… When we started trying to have kids and we weren’t successful, that’s when a real shift in my head happened,” she explained. “I want to be healthy for that.”
Her view of weight loss now focuses on making her health the top priority.
“(Before) it was still very much, ‘I want to look good. What’s the shortcut here?’ Whereas now I’m willing to put in the work, and I’m willing to adopt these healthy lifestyle choices because I want to be healthy and manage health conditions that I’ve developed.”
Hubbard isn’t alone in ditching a looks-first mindset when it comes to weight. From a shrinking appetite for diet books to a recent survey that shows a priority for health over appearance, experts have reason to hope society’s view of weight loss is starting to shift.
In a survey conducted by the Mayo Clinic Diet program, the eating and dieting habits of more than 200,000 Americans revealed that 83% of those polled wanted to lose weight for their health, not looks.
Dr. Donald Hensrud, the medical director at Mayo Clinic Diet, says people typically approach weight management with a goal weight in mind and their focus is on losing weight, no matter how (unhealthy measures included). He called the recent survey results “encouraging.”
“I hope that this is a change that people are looking toward weight management with health in mind because that’s the most important factor,” he explains. “(It’s) a very large portion of people. And that can make a big difference in how people approach this and what they can do to improve their own health long term.”
While there’s no exact comparative data, the benefits of a potential shift in how people view weight loss are twofold; physically, it keeps the focus on health and how someone feels, and mentally, it helps put things at ease.
“If people focus on the process and they focus on health improvement, a quality of life, it takes the pressure off,” Hensrud says. “You don’t have to worry about watching the numbers on the scale change.”
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What’s causing this potential shift?
The pandemic could be a factor in these results, following a global trend of increased interest in health, wellness and self-care.
For example, diet books appearing in the Top 400 archived sales of USA TODAY’s list dropped 70% in January 2021, the first January after the pandemic took hold in the country in March 2020. Sales continued their downward turn this past January and dropped an additional 53%.
Though retailers like Barnes & Noble did see diet books hit the shelves this year, it was not necessarily translating into sales.
“We’ve found that the focus of our readers continues to be on overall mental health and self-care. This focus is translating into exceptionally strong fiction and personal growth sales, with considerably less emphasis on traditional diet books,” Shannon Devito, director of category management at Barnes & Noble, previously told USA TODAY. “Readers are more absorbed in building out a robust reading list than counting their calories in 2022.”
Things may be changing, but not completely
While motivations for weight loss may be shifting, our views of our bodies as a never-ending project haven’t seemed to budge.
With the “Zoom boom” of plastic surgery, requests for face and neck treatments during the pandemic surged. And trends like glute- and lip-plumping gaining millions of views on social media.
The solution? A further shift in our priorities. University of California, Los Angeles sociology professor Abigail Saguy previously told USA TODAY her hope is for people to focus less on how their bodies appear, and more on what their bodies can do.
She hopes people focus less on the visual and more on, “how does my body feel?”
Contributing: Mary Cadden and Alia E. Dastagir, USA TODAY
If you or someone you know is struggling with body image or eating concerns, the National Eating Disorders Association’s toll-free and confidential helpline is available by phone or text at 1-800-931-2237 or by click-to-chat message at nationaleatingdisorders.org/helpline. For 24/7 crisis situations, text “NEDA” to 741-741.
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