Are We in Denial About Our Weight? A New Study Says Yes

Recent research reveals a surprising reality

Here's a pickle: Fifty percent of Americans consider themselves overweight, says a new survey by the International Food Information Council. But when the researchers analyzed the height and weight of all survey participants, they found that only 34 percent actually were overweight. Meanwhile, only 8 percent of participants considered themselves obese -- but over 30 percent qualified for the big O.

And if that's not confusing enough, only 57 percent of Americans say they are concerned about their weight this year, down from 70 percent last year. And only 69 percent of us are trying to lose or maintain our weight compared to 77 percent in 2010.

So... we think we're fat. Fatter than we really are, maybe. But we don't think we're that fat. Thus, we're not trying to do much to change it.

Nutrition and public health experts are in a lather, as you might expect. "If people want to lose weight, they have to eat less," long-time nutrition educator Marion Nestle, PhD, MPH, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University told MedicineNet.

Seriously, Dr. Nestle? Because I think we know that part.

As per usual, the folks fighting the war on obesity are missing some key points: Like the role emotions play in our decisions to eat more calories than we can burn off in a day. And the fact that we're so inundated with negative and often conflicting messages about weight, food, and health that it's easy to feel completely overwhelmed. Because the war on obesity is not supposed to be a war on obese people -- but that's what it becomes when experts roll their eyes about Americans' expanding waistlines and assume it's because we're all too stupid to know that a Krispy Kreme doughnut isn't really part of a balanced diet.

I think David L. Katz, MD, MPH, founding director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center, said it best when he told MedicineNet: "There is a certain element of burnout. When you're relying on quick-fix solutions to this problem, and you've tried them all, you do reach a point where you stop believing. Maybe to some extent, people have decided that they're going to stop trying."

I would love for this to be true. Because it's time we stopped trying the dangerous crash diets, expensive commercial diet plans, and other quick fixes that fail fast. Wouldn't it be better if we stopped viewing weight as the single measure by which our health, intelligence and moral character gets judged? With all that free time, we could focus on leading a healthy lifestyle -- eating less and moving more just like Dr. Nestle wants -- and know that as long we're doing that, our weight will sort itself out.


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