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16 August 2012
Is the mirror perhaps the most evil invention that humanity has inflicted upon itself? Putting aside lycra as a clothing material and perhaps weapons of mass destruction, surely the mirror has inflicted more pain than just about anything else we have come with. Imagine the blissful ignorance of our forebears wandering the African plains pleasantly unaware that that their eyebrows were growing out of control or that their stomach looked big in their new leopard skin. If you doubt the power of the image that gazes back at you from the mirror then a new study might change your mind because it has shown that just thinking you are fat can make you fat.
The study involved almost 1200 teenagers and began in 1995-1997. During those two years the researchers interviewed the teens as to whether they thought they were fat or not and then measured their body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference. At this beginning phase of the study all of the subjects were in the “normal” BMI range. Then in 2006-2008, the participants were revisited at the ages of 24-30 and their BMI and waists were again measured.
The results showed that 22 per cent of these normal weight girls saw themselves as fat as did nine per cent of boys. Additionally, among these normal weight teenagers, those who saw themselves as fat had a BMI as an adult that was on average 0.88 higher than those who did not see themselves as fat. They were also an average of 3.46cm larger around the waist.
Among the girls who saw themselves as fat when a teenager 59 per cent had a BMI in the overweight range as an adult. There is some debate as to how accurate BMI is in measuring overweight, so if you look at weight circumference as a measure, then 78 per cent of those girls who saw themselves as fat, even though they were normal weight, became overweight adults. Only 31 per cent of girls who saw themselves as normal developed an overweight BMI as an adult and 55 per cent had an overweight waist measurement.
It seems then that there is a self-fulfilling prophecy at work here but what might be driving it?
It might be that people who see themselves as fat will skip meals and skipping meals has been shown to promote weight gain. People who think they are fat may also try severe diets that they cannot maintain and the effect of this has been shown to be to encourage the body to hold onto fat. It is also possible that the psychosocial stress associated with not having a supposedly ideal body type might contribute to weight gain.
As a society we need to look at the body images that we promote as “ideal”. Supermodel bodies are neither ideal nor achievable for everybody. As individuals we need to be reminded that our thoughts shape our lives. Don’t play around with destructive or negative thoughts thinking that there are no consequences to that thinking. Think happy, positive thoughts and you will make life affirming decisions and the life outcomes will be so much more rewarding.