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New Research: A Distorted Self Image Linked to Weight Gain

Posted Jul 09 2009 10:43pm

I read FitPregnancy. It seems slightly silly to me, this being my fifth (I'm a breeder!) pregnancy and all and yet I'm still drawn by the lure of Build An Entire Maternity Wardrobe Out of 5 Simple Pieces (of clothing I could never afford) and essays by professional athletes who do two-hour trail runs when 9 months pregnant (despite the fact that I can barely chug out a mile these days). One thing never fails to catch my eye: research. While most of it only pertains to preggos - apparently swimming at least once a week helps you use less pain meds during delivery (okay, universe, I hear you!) - there was a piece of general interest today.

I don't have the exact quote but the research blurb stated that women who are of a normal weight but perceive themselves to be overweight gain twice as much weight as women who can correctly identify their body type. Overweight or obese women who perceive themselves to be of a normal weight or underweight gain eight times the amount of weight of a woman who can correctly identify her body type.

Genetics, friends, social pressure, media influences, and family are all factors in weight gain that are often discussed but this was the first time that I have come across research that says a distorted body image causes you to gain weight. And it doesn't matter whether you think you weigh less than or more than you actually do - apparently any distortion causes a measure of weight gain!

The implication is that no matter what your weight, if you are honest with yourself about it then you will gain less weight over time. It's so simple and yet so hard to do!

The magazine blurb being annoyingly short, it did not attempt to explain these results. My first question is do the women with the distorted body image really believe that they are heavier/lighter? Or are they knowingly lying to themselves? If they do truly believe what they told researchers then perhaps that indicates a measure of body unawareness that would correlate to food intake. On the other hand, if they are willing to lie to themselves about their weight then perhaps they also are willing to lie to themselves about food intake. My personal theory - unsupported, of course, by anything but my own eating disordered past to draw from - is that women who are uncomfortable with their body have an uncomfortable relationship with food.

I'll admit that I have a difficult time being honest with myself about my body. If you show me one of those body-type lineups (as they often do as part of eating disorder therapy) and ask me to pick the one that most closely resembles me, I always end up picking one bigger than myself. According to this research, that puts me at risk of gaining double the pregnancy weight of a woman without my mental issues. Scary stuff for someone who is terrified of gaining weight!

How about you - are you able to be honest with yourself about your body type? Have you noticed a correlation between a distorted self-image and weight gain? Anyone else have a shameful magazine addiction??
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