Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/Myriams-Fotos-1627417/
Do any of you hate clothes shopping as much as I do? Stereotypes tell me that, as a woman, I should love shopping (especially with my girlfriends at a mall) … well, I really hate it! Not only because of the overwhelming feelings that ensue upon walking into a Kohls, but also because of the never-ending search for the perfect fitting jeans. I may end up at 8 different stores trying on a million sizes until I find one pair that fits.
Clothes sizing is extremely complicated for women. And manufacturers have made it a little (a lot) more complicated due to a little thing called “vanity sizing”. This trick, which is also called size inflation, is when clothing manufacturers label clothes smaller than the actual cut of the item. For example, size 10 jeans, may actually be closer to a size 12 or 14. The Washington Post published an article in 2015 showing the sizing deviations via charts… A size 14 in 1958 is now considered a size 8. Sizing is also SUPER inconsistent between stores – they can vary as much as 4 or 5 inches!
Why do they do this, you ask? Manufacturers are lowering sizes on labels to influence consumers’ buying decisions, and ultimately to inspire them to buy more. Would you feel better walking out of Forever 21 with a size 14 or a size 10? Are you more likely to purchase more if you are buying a size 10, rather than a size 16? By changing the labels on clothing, manufacturers are making consumers feel skinnier, which makes them feel good. This also means they are sending a message to women that they need to be smaller. Men are not free from this deception either. A journalist found and wrote in Esquire that his size 34 pants from Old Navy actually measured at a 39.
My question is, why does pop culture and our fat-phobic society think that EVERYONE wants to be skinnier? What about women who embrace their curves; think Beyonce and Melissa McCarthy. This kind of deception from manufacturers is dangerous. Women feel that they have to “perfectly” fit into their size at every store. If they are a size 4 at one store, but a size 8 at another, this leads to obsession, which leads to dieting, excessive exercise, and weighing, which leads to disordered eating. All just to meet that smaller body standard set by society. But, who ever said smaller bodies were healthier anyways?
Research suggests that, except at extremes, body mass index (BMI) only weakly predicts how long someone will live; and that people who are overweight or moderately obese (by BMI standards) live as long as normal weight people; and oftentimes longer. In fact, one of the most comprehensive reviews of body weight and mortality risk research pooled data from 26 studies and over 350,000 subjects and found overweight to be associated with greater longevity than normal weight. Of course, we do know that obesity is associated with an increased risk for many diseases; however, causation is less well-understood. Epidemiological studies rarely include factors like activity, nutrient intake, or socioeconomic status when looking at the connection between BMI and disease. Yet all of these factors play a role in determining health and disease risk. When studies do control for these factors, risk of disease is significantly reduced or completely disappears. It is likely that these factors, like a sedentary lifestyle, increases disease risk while also increasing the risk of a higher BMI.
The most frustrating thing about all of this is that our society continues to send messages to women that they need to be in thinner bodies for their health, when the research is just not there to back that up.
Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition journal, 10(1), 9.
Campos, P., Saguy, A., Ernsberger, P., Oliver, E., & Gaesser, G. (2005). The epidemiology of overweight and obesity: public health crisis or moral panic?. International journal of epidemiology, 35(1), 55-60.
Flegal, K. M., Graubard, B. I., Williamson, D. F., & Gail, M. H. (2005). Excess deaths associated with underweight, overweight, and obesity. Jama, 293(15), 1861-1867.
Flegal, K., Graubard, B., Williamson, D., & Gail, M. (2008). Supplement: response to “can fat be fit”. Sci Am, 297, 5-6.
McGee, D. L., & Diverse Populations Collaboration. (2005). Body mass index and mortality: a meta-analysis based on person-level data from twenty-six observational studies. Annals of epidemiology, 15(2), 87-97.
Warning – major rant ahead!
I have to tell my readers about something that happened today. Something so frustrating and enraging that I cannot stop thinking about it. This something is a conversation I had. Here is an overview of what went down:
I saw an adolescent patient today that presented with severe disordered eating – restricting most days by only drinking water and sometimes milk, with one large binge per week, followed by purging. This patient reports a 25 pound weight loss since July and that these behaviors have been going on for several months. The complicating factor is that this patient is a normal weight/a bit overweight. The only difference between this patient and the other patients I see struggling with eating disorders is the fact that she has a normal BMI. The conversation that I mentioned above, involves my being asked my reasoning for wanting to treat the disordered eating. When I explained what was relayed to me by the patient, this person said, “I don’t know why you’re worried about her weight. Patients like this are okay not eating for a couple weeks” ...
I was flabbergasted! Of course, I am not worried about her weight; I don’t focus on weight! What I am worried about is her severely disordered and dangerous behaviors around food. Letting this continue and not helping her through her struggles with food and body image is setting her up for an extremely harsh and difficult relationship with food for a long time. My question is, why is everyone so focused on weight? Why can’t we help people of all shapes and sizes that struggle with disordered eating and a poor body image? Here are just a few examples of some of the patients I have worked with that have developed eating disorders due to weight-related issues:
The most important thing to realize about weight bias and judging others because of their body size is that it makes you judgmental about yourself and robs you of your compassion and connection with others. Just stop it already. Also, please understand that people of all shapes and sizes suffer from eating disorders; not just thin, white women. And they all deserve help.
In prior blogs, I have written about my early relationships with food and body image, which may have played a role in my eating disorder development later on in life. In this post I want to share a little bit more about my experience, and provide some tips on the best ways to help a friend of family member if they are going through something similar.
My eating disorder began during my freshmen year of college. I started college as a scrawny walk-on athlete. I never worried about my weight much before, but was very aware of how my body looked… and I had a specific way I wanted it to look. Throughout my freshmen year, I was exposed to a new way of working out that I had never experienced before… lifting weights! I did put on a good amount of weight, mostly muscle, and was certainly aware that I looked a bit different by the middle of my freshmen year. Due to this, as well as a few comments from teammates and friends about the changes in my body, I decided to go on a diet. At this time, I also underwent a surgery that obviously limited what I could do in the weight room; therefore, I began to lose weight pretty quickly. When I healed from my surgery I began running… and eating less and less. Things just went from bad to worse, as you can imagine, and the rest is history – I was sucked into my own eating disorder world.
Thankfully, I had a wonderful therapist, as well as family members and friends who helped me through this terrible, isolating time in my life. Do I regret it? Although, I definitely lost friends and probably some great experiences during this time, I don’t regret it. My eating disorder made me into the fighter that I am today, and I truly feel that I am so much more able to help others that are in the same position that I was; I can relate and I understand what they are going through.
These are some of the behaviors I experienced early on and are signs to watch out for if you suspect disordered eating in a friend, family member, athlete, student, etc.:
One of the most important things you can do is prepare and educate yourself as much as possible. Reaching out to a therapist or support organization can help you with this. The person you care about may be experiencing high levels of anxiety, shame, embarrassment, guilt and denial; and the resources that you have should be able to help you understand the best way to approach this person.
For more eating disorder resources, visit https://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/resource-links.
Allison Tropf, MS, RD, CSSD
Allison is a Sports Dietitian in Michigan. She enjoys helping others reach their nutrition and fitness goals through reliable and trustworthy recommendations.
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