Which Is More Important: Looking Good or Feeling Good?

iVillagers chime in on that debate after an expert gives tips on getting past a weight-loss plateau

Losing weight comes down to a simple mathematical equation: calories consumed must equal less than the calories burned. But as anyone who has tried to drop a few -- or a few hundred -- pounds knows, weight loss is anything but simple. The math never seems to add up and weight loss never happens as quickly as we’d like it to. There’s so much information out there on the best ways to reduce body weight, that it can get more than a little confusing. This week on the iVillage boards, Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, Diet & Nutrition Editor for the Today Show, ahem, weighs in (sorry, couldn’t resist) on a member’s struggle to count calories correctly.

Americanpoppy wants to know how much exercise -- and how little food -- she needs to lose two pounds per week. Though her current workout plan involves a few hours of tennis, bike riding or walking a week, she wonders if that’s enough or if she should she aim for more. The numbers on the scale, much to Americanpoppy’s dismay, are not budging, though she has lost 10 inches over the past month.

According to Fernstrom, adding more exercise isn’t a bad idea, as long as she enjoys it. You don’t want to burn out on working out and stop doing it altogether, after all. The bottom line, says Fernstrom: “If your starting plan is working, keep it up. If you find you're not losing two pounds a week, then cut back 100 calories a day, and walk another 20 minutes. You can adjust further, if needed.”

I recently interviewed Michael Roizen, M.D., author of You: On a Diet, who recommended the same thing -- 20 more minutes of exercise, and 100 calories less of food. Why start there? Because it’s doable. Anyone can do it -- without that much effort. Skip a couple of cookies, add a mile of walking, and you’re done for the day. Once you see the numbers on your scale going down, you might be motivated to add even more walking to your plan, or to cut out another 100 calories of food to speed up the weight loss. But doctors today have one very strong piece of advice: don’t make these changes just to lose weight. Do it to feel healthier and live longer. You’ll feel better, and be more likely to stick with your healthy habits. Over on the 100 Pounds or More to Go board, women who have been struggling with body image issues discuss how to keep their self-esteem in check when their weight is not where they’d like it to be.

“I need to stop thinking of myself (and treating myself) as a frumpy, overweight, middle-aged woman,” says cl-liz_in_az. “I need to take more pride in my appearance and…treat myself the way I deserve to be treated.”

Fellow board member jadashelbie agrees. “I don' t know how to begin treating myself better when I think I don't deserve [it].” She describes how she used to take care of her appearance but has since let herself go -- foregoing manicures, makeup and even styling her hair.

I think this is an issue that many women can relate to -- regardless of their weight. Stay-at-home moms often sacrifice showers and nice clothes to take care of newborns. When we neglect ourselves and our needs, it can make us feel older, less attractive and perhaps even less deserving of attention. It’s amazing just how much our appearance plays into our sense of self-esteem and worth.

That’s why a new study that came out last week didn’t at all surprise me. The survey, which Leslie Goldman covered in her blog, found that many women will bypass a workout if it means messing up their hair. Though the poll was geared exclusively at African-American women, who often endure hours of styling at the beauty salon, I know many women who have skipped working out because they didn’t want to mess up their hair or makeup. I know I’ve been guilty of it -- and I work from home where no one even sees me! Doing my hair and makeup is such a rarity that if I’ve gone to the trouble of getting gussied up, I really don’t want to have to do it again. I want to stay “looking pretty” for as long as I can. While some women on the Gym Rats board could relate, others were incredulous -- imagine, sacrificing a workout because you don’t want to frizz out your hair.

“All of the women in the study were overweight and on medications for various issues. I have to wonder how they balanced out or even thought about the value of their hairdo vs. the value of exercise on their health,” says cmkarla.

It’s a tough issue. Not exercising because we want to have nice hair might make us feel good about our appearance, but it can hurt us in the long run. Exercising to look good can also make us feel better about ourselves, but will we stick with it if we’re not seeing results as quickly as we’d like? I tend to think that we have to live our lives according to what makes us feel good, instead of what makes us look good, but figuring that out isn’t always as easy as it would seem.

How much does your appearance play into your self-esteem? Does your concern about your looks help or hinder you? Chime in below!

Like This? Read These:
- Forget Ideal: 9 Real Weight-Loss Rules That Work
- Is Summer Heat The Great Beauty Equalizer?
- Salads That Will Make You Fat

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