Things are not always as they appear.
It would seem as though appearance would be reason enough to motivate a person to lose weight and keep it off. But, is that really the case?
Amy spends hours looking at scores of ads showing before and after pictures of previously overweight and now svelte people. They entice her to buy the advertised weight-loss products. She also longingly looks at thin models in magazines and says, “That’s how I want to look!” She displays some of those pictures on her bathroom mirror as a daily motivator. She also spends hours each day creating images in her mind of the “perfect body.” She believes these fantasies will make her “want it more” — make her work harder at losing weight and changing her body.
Yet, Amy finds herself in a cycle of losing weight for a short time and then regaining it from disordered eating, only to have to start over again. That perfect body she desires always seems to be a distant dream.
Despite the clear goal that Amy keeps at the forefront of her mind, a goal she really wants to achieve, there’s a problem: She is seeking weight control by focusing on appearance rather than health, and that approach isn’t effective. Why?
• When the goal is only, or primarily, appearance, the mind takes a more short-term focus, and short-term weight-management goals are much less successful than long-term goals. Basically, short-term weight-control goals tend to have short-term results while long-term weight-control goals tend to have long-term results.
• Most of the time, when appearance is the weight-management goal, people use idealized images for motivation. That’s a recipe for disappointment and frustration, and can lead people to give up. Perfectionistic approaches to weight management never work for long.
• Appearance changes with age, even for the most beautiful people. Focusing excessively on appearance, and making it the major goal, denies this fact and can undermine long-term weight management.
A better goal for Amy would be to help her body be the best it can be by focusing on health rather than appearance. There are numerous reasons for this.
• By focusing on health, appearance will improve automatically as you become healthier. The healthier a person is, the better they look.
• By focusing on health, a person will get healthier. People don’t necessarily get healthier by focusing solely on appearance. After all, there are many unhealthy ways to get thin, and external appearance doesn’t always reflect what’s going on inside the body. Health is what allows a person the freedom to do the most with life at any age.
• By focusing on health, a person can be assured their body will always look the best it can look at any age. They will be a happier person at 65 knowing they are an attractively healthy 65-year-old instead of feeling depressed that they’re not a 65-year-old that looks like the latest “sexiest man (or woman) alive.”
Young people have a harder time focusing primarily on health when trying to lose weight. At a young age it’s difficult to imagine ever becoming old. However, the truth is that every old person was once a young person who didn’t think they would be old one day. If you’re a young person, try to imagine being old and think about what type of old person you would rather be — a healthy, strong one or a sick and vulnerable one. Then, while you’re young, strive primarily for strength, tone and vitality over appearance (which may be a young way of saying, “health”). Increased attractiveness will still be part of the package.
• Focusing on health rather than appearance as you try to better yourself is a more enjoyable process. There are many more positive things to focus on along the way, such as tasting flavorful and nutritious foods, experiencing varied and exhilarating ways the body can move, and feeling increased energy and strength from a healthier body. Focusing only on appearance can lead to deprivation, frustration, anxiety and low self-esteem.
The wise person who wants to be as attractive and healthy as is possible for their body will strive to manage their weight for the sake of their health, not their appearance — and have a great time while doing so.