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Environment.

Part 2 of Chapter 3 of Runaway Eating

Keira Knightley in the dress that sparked the rumors

Keira Knightley in the dress that sparked the rumors

Eating problems tend to run in families. If your parents or siblings have issues, you’re more likely to have them. Genetic factors, environmental stressors, or a dysfunctional family environment all play a key.

Let’s talk about genes first. Back when the tabloids wrote about Keira Knightley being anorexic, she denied it, to People magazine.

Whatever people say about my weight they are all wrong. Hollywood is about the way you look, and I don’t think that’s the healthy thing for anyone. But, if you’re strong and comfortable with yourself, then you’re going to be fine.

The star had shown up to a film premier with a low-cut, backless bronze Gucci dress. (When they say low-cut, it’s low-cut. It goes down to her belly button.) Her rail thin figure sparked many concerns and gossip.

While saying that there was nothing to worry about, Knightley did add that her family had a history of anorexia. Her grandmother and great-grandmother had suffered from the condition, and she also had a lot of friends who had the condition.

nicole-richie-228

Nicole Richie, another rail thin celebrity suspected at some point to have an eating disorder

Her mother, as reported to Times, later shot down the rumor by telling the press that her daughter is like her father.

She has always been thin. She’s her daddy’s daughter, with his long body… [he] was much, much thinner than Keira. When he was Keira’s age, he had to drink milk with honey and eggs, and go training and training and training, just to be a normal weight.

She eats like a horse. I always want to apologise because she can eat anything that she wants and she does not put on weight.

Thus making the rest of us jealous.

The tendency to have an eating disorder or at least suffer from runaway eating can be passed genetically. Families of women with diagnosed eating disorders tend to have high rates of eating disorders. It follows that runaway eating may be passed genetically.

3238651946_97ebbca1b2However, it’s hard to know whether runaway eating is in part a product of genetics while also being in part a product of the environment. Some research indicates that 5-80% of a risk lies in the genes. Environmental factors are 20-50%. The relationship is quite complex.

For example, you might have the genes, but the tendency will only arise when certain environmental factors come into play. It can be something as benign as a wedding, or as serious as coping with a divorce. one stressor is unhealthy dieting. Someone who gets the idea that dieting can help her have a better life can start a diet and then eventually develop an eating disorder.

Disordered eating may also be related to family of origin. Maybe your family placed great importance on control or you had OCD tendencies. Or told you that certain emotions were forbidden, like anger.

2066666462_213cf38dceOr maybe your parents poked into your life, trying to make you live your life how they want you to live your life. Or maybe your parents placed great importance on physical attractiveness, often dieting and exercising while pushing you to do the same.

The authors speculate that if you are a bingeing runaway, your parents could have been distant. They may have expected a lot from you.

There really is no clear-cut division, however. Remember that.

You also have individual risk factors, depending on your personal characteristics.

Someone with a history of being overweight may be familiar with diets and dieting. Though it’s difficult to lose the weight, losing weight is extremely important to you.

Similarly, someone with a history of bulimia or anorexia has a higher chance that the eating disorder will recur. Complete recovery is uncommon though possible, and many women continue to be preoccupied with food.

133132121_b2d1e9da36Or someone with low-esteem might not like herself. She feels bad about herself and her body. She might believe that thinness will make her more lovable, more worthwhile. I know a beautiful woman and mother of two beautiful daughters who believes that she has to stay skinny so that her husband will still love her. Her husband is very loving, and the chances that he will actually leave her are nil. But there it is.

Some people believe that their self-worth is tied to good looks and thinness. This is common among those in the show biz. Their careers depend on them staying slim and beautiful. Rarely, if ever, will you see a fat model/talk show host/TV announcer unless she’s Oprah. (But then she’s trying to lose the weight because she hates not being able to fit into clothes, etc etc.) No doubt, these women are particularly vulnerable because their livelihoods depend on their attractiveness.

That’s also one reason why no one would really be surprised if Nicole Richie or Keira Knightley actually turned out to be anorexic.

398361237_6a71e21d31During menopause, the risk of obesity rises owing to the changes that occur at this point. Women put on inches around their waists. plus the process is stressful, what with the hot flashes and all. No wonder they turn to food for comfort.

Another thing: those with disordered eating or a clinically diagnosed eating disorder tend to be depressed. One fifth of all people (or women?) experience clinical depression at one point. It comes with sadness, low mood, lack of pleasure in usual activities, and thoughts of suicide to name a few.

80-90% of eating disorders are triggered by anxiety or tension. Some try to relieve stress by not eating, or eating large amounts of food. Bulimics eat, then feel anxious until purge. Many live in a perpetual state of anxiety, afraid of food, gaining weight, and a lot of other things.

824627629_ed9fbd2f03Then there are the perfectionists. They are those who, no matter how much they have achieved, never feel happy with themselves or others. There is the normal drive for success, then there is the extreme that is unhealthy. Goals are unrealistic. There was the young lady yearning for perfection. I saw a list of goals. She wanted to reach 54 pounds. Very very unrealistic. She won’t reach it ever, because she’ll die or slip into a coma before she reaches it. To this type of person, mistakes equal disaster.

Some people also have poor problem-solving skills. Some have difficulty facing their problems. They can’t make connections between the problem and the actual solution. They avoid confrontation. Instead of dealing with the problem head on, they abuse food as a response.

There are other personality factors, like the tendency to starve oneself of affection or being very disciplined and self-controlled. Or the tendency to live life with your emotions on a roller coaster ride. These factors differ from person to person. This brings us to a catalyst: dieting.

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Yellow Light

Part 4 of Chapter 2 of Runaway Eating: What is Runaway Eating?

3307363788_5d7e6a1407There are several warning signs that you could watch for. Some include:

  • constant dieting
  • weight fluctuation
  • thinking constantly about food/diet
  • guilt about eating
  • depressed because weight is all “wrong”
  • believing that losing weight is really the answer to problems.

Healthy eating is eating when you’re hungry, and stopping when you’re full. You know when you’re eating to solve problems and eating simply because you’re hungry.

This book includes a quiz that may also help a lot.

3370910024_71c47c9770The authors offer a bit of hope. The good thing is that you can defeat this problem of runaway eating. We now know that eating disorders can range from mild to severe, though they run by the same train of thought. The authors can conclude that we can thus use similar psychological treatments to fix this.

There’s also the 8 point treatment plan which really does make a lot of sense. However, we’re not going into that yet.

Next up: Risk factors. The beauty factor.

Misuse

3543178102_f56c8286c8Part 3 of Chapter 2 of Runaway Eating: What is Runaway Eating?

The bingeing runaway eater binges to make herself feel better. Her binges can involve a huge amount of food, or a smaller amount. However, it’s usually high in sugar and easy to eat in large quantities (i.e., ice cream, cake, cookies, peanut butter, jam, honey, or candy).

The binge starts as feeling good, but ends up with the woman feeling disgusted. As the food is eaten rapidly, there is no satisfaction. Sometimes, she’s barely aware of what she’s done. The bingeing runaway eater doesn’t purge, but eats and leaves it at that.

Bingeing is more common than anorexia or bulimia. At the time the book was written, it was not recognized as an official eating disorder. As of now, it has joined the ranks as one of the most common eating disorders among women.

2378980854_6b7c29c50cWhat’s the difference between bingeing runaway eating, overeating, and the binge eating disorder? Overeating is simply eating too much. One time at a sushi restaurant, I ate a bit too much and felt stuffed. It wasn’t because I wanted to run away from my problems. There was no out of control feeling. The runaway type involves eating large amounts within a short period of time, feeling that her eating is out of control. Sometimes she cannot stop unless someone drags her away, she gets tired, or she runs out of food.

The difference between runaway eating and the eating disorder is the frequency of the binges. Those with the disorder binge an average of two days a week for at least six months. Those with the runaway form binge occasionally, and for shorter periods. There’s no firm dividing line, because both forms are all unhealthy.

What can this disorder do to the body? Bloat. Nausea. The inability to breathe because of a distended stomach. The most common consequence of this type of disordered eating is weight gain. Not all with this disorder are overweight. Not all overweight people have this. However, a binge eating disorder can make the problem worse.

295319305_d734d37e92What can this disorder do to the mind and emotions? Depression, anxiety, shame, and self-hatred are only a few things. You may isolate yourself because you don’t want to talk about what you’re going through. You need love and friendship, but you push those aside for the fridge. When you’re focused on food, you cannot look at the things that make life worth living. Your joy in life disappears.

The bingeing/compensating runaway eater binges and THEN compensates for the binge by fasting, vomiting, laxatives, or exercise. This keeps their weight at average to slightly above average.

She’s also afraid of getting fat. She defines her self by her appearance. Not only that, she may find it hard to stick to a diet, and end up bingeing to relieve the stress. After she does so, she panics and think about the food turning into fat.

Here are some things the writers say she might to do compensate:

  • Extremely restrictive diet
  • Fast/starve
  • Throwing up
  • Abuse laxatives, diuretics, or other unhealthy methods to rid their body of food.
  • Excessive exercise

This category also includes those who purge/compensate without even bingeing.

But what’s the difference between this condition and bulimia. Both include a dissatisfaction with how things are with a desire to regain control. Both binge, then purge. The difference is n the frequency and duration. The clinically defined bulimic demonstrates such behavior at an average of at least two times a week for at least three months. The runaway eater does so less often.

How does purging affect weight? It’s ineffective, at most. Restrictive dieting causes metabolism to slow down, making it harder to burn calories. Vomiting doesn’t empty the stomach completely. A lot of what was already eaten is digested. Laxatives work in the rectum or large intestine after calories have already been absorbed. As a result, those with the disorder are not excessively thin; they’re average or slightly above average.

3439892989_d08eeb9011What about excessive exercise? How do you know if you’re doing too much? If you’re exercising more than one hour a day to avoid weight gain, if you get mad at yourself for missing one day of exercise, if you exercise even though you’re injured or exhausted, then you may have this. It’s a common syndrome for those who have undiagnosed eating disorders.

The authors write that at least 75% of people in each category of eating disorder use exercise to try to avoid gaining weight.

There’s underlying issues of control, power, or self-esteem, continues the authors.

I know a woman who tries to exercise to keep the weight off. If she misses a day, she gets unhappy with herself. Her husband once broke a chair at our Christmas Eve party. The chair was already very weak form years and years of heavy butts sitting on it, and he was an average, rather muscular guy. When he sat on it, it cracked. He felt really bad. I heard from his wife that on Christmas day, he called the gym to see if they were open. He wanted to exercise the fat off or something of the sort. Of course they were not. Gyms typically aren’t open on Christmas. Poor guy.

3292145208_6663594d2eWhat can this disorder do to our bodies? The authors write that bingeing stretches out the stomach; however, purging and other ways to get the food out are dangerous enough. Vomiting can irritate/rupture the esophagus. If vomit is inhaled, it can cause aspiration pneumonia. Continual exposure to stomach acid can erode teeth enamel, increasing dental cavities. Those with the money go and have their teeth fixed to white perfection. There’s also dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, chronic kidney problems, and broken blood vessels, to name a few.

2591786412_daecd94f5dLaxatives are dangerous as well. It become impossible to poop normally and intestine problems will abound. Even exercise can make you dehydrated, or you can fracture your bones out of stress, injury, or degenerative arthritis.

What can bingeing/compensating do to your mind and emotions? There’s the feelings of panic. You know that you’re harming yourself, thence the feeling of shame. Depression, guilt, headaches, or exhaustion are direct results. Remember that this is a vicious cycle, meaning that the disorder feeds the emotions while the emotions feed the disorder.

Often, bingeing and purging are done in secret. This damages relationships with friends and family. It keeps you from focusing on the important things in life. People who don’t understand only serve to widen the gap between you and them.

Next up: A warning and a hope

Losing Battle

Part 3 of Chapter 1 in the book Runaway Eating: Not for Teenagers Only

Stress wreaks havoc on everything. It can cause major diseases and difficulties, both physically and psychologically.

3120725143_43a6d1677cStress sets off a fire alarm. It prepares your body to fight to the death, or run a mile. Now that’s useful if you’re being chased by lions and tigers and  bears, but if you’re just yelling at your kids to get ready for school, that’s overkill. If you’re under stress all the time, this is really bad for your body.

Stress can also be destructive psychologically. You may feel depressed, anxious, or powerless; awful feelings. Naturally you want to feel better and escape those feelings, so you might turn to alcohol, or work. We might get addicted to our anti-depressants.

Or… we might turn to food.

Food is highly attractive. It symbolizes pleasure, comfort, amusement, and distraction. It can be found everywhere and anywhere in this culture. We get involved in it, for it is easily available, socially acceptable, and hard to resist. Too many of us use to relieve stress, if only for a few moments.

534797974_62473413ddAnd so, we end up misusing food. We eat too much or too less. We might eat too much junk food. Meanwhile, we’re just compensating for an imbalance in our lives (or black hole, as another writer described).

Sometimes someone who is on drugs is easy to stop. However, someone who misuses food is not so obvious. Everyone’s on a diet, so no one will look at you twice  if you’re skipping lunch. In fact, you may even be praised for your choice. Though it may seem like a normal habit, everything can go wrong. Misusing food is habit forming and addictive, like alcohol or drugs.

The writers say that this may at least cause a negative impact on your self image, your relationships with others, and your quality of life. In more severe cases, the calcium will be sucked from your bones. You may face heart problems, anemia, changes in brain structure, or even death.

Years ago, our relationship with food was different. We used food to care for others, expressing our love by cooking meals. The women of older days would bring baked goods to families who were poor, or to their neighbors who were sick. People ate their meals together. This was their time to spend time together. Food wasn’t an issue, except when someone was starving because of a lack of it.

324463349_9f12f4c11bNow, food is our enemy. It tempts us, making us feel fat and awful. Through diets, we learn to avoid food. Cooking isn’t as much fun anymore. Rarely will we prepare food for a sick neighbor. We want to find ways to cook smaller portions in the least time possible. The women of today are thankful for portion-control TV dinners, like the one on the right. We also believe that if we eat too much food, we can ruin our lives and make people stop loving us.

We have produced a disconnect between food and our bodies. Food is something that is to be hated. It is no longer something that nourishes us while giving us the energy to get through the day. Mealtimes are no longer fun. We have forgotten the simple law of listening to our bodies. We don’t eat when we’re hungry, and when we’re not hungry, we eat. We have forgotten that food doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

Yet, our appetites are never satisfied. Organic foods, processed foods, junk, sugar, and more doesn’t fill us. The stress of our lives makes us feel empty. The answer to the emptiness is to fill ourselves with cinnamon buns and chips. It doesn’t work.

3478379369_eeb6ef8f00Or, we think we can exercise and diet like crazy. But we never win.

We have to learn how to make friends with food, and learn to decipher what our bodies and hearts are saying.

We also need something, Someone, to fill the empty hole inside of us, instead of turning to the fridge in a vain attempt to fill the hole with cookies and cheesecake.

Power Play

“Our bodies are the places where our drive for perfection gets played out.” With this statement, Martin sums up the struggle that many young women face, as they’re flooded with information about effective workouts, the best ways to lose weight, and the best diets.

314510824_a9feb9407cWe like to look at pretty faces. Friends are chosen based simply on whether a potential friend is attractive or not. We want to do business with pretty faces. And we want to marry an attractive person. Gordon L. Patzer pointed this out in his book Looks, and all this stuff is supported by research, sad to say. Teachers like pretty students because they feel that the more attractive students show the most potential. Pretty babies get more love and attention first from nurses at the hospital at birth, and then at home with their mothers. Pretty people seem to have an easier time in life. Employees hire pretty people to make their firms successful. Freelancer Jenna Glatzer writes in her book You Can Make a Real Living as a Freelancer that Cosmopolitan once cut an article: a profile about a modern day wonder woman. Why? Because the “wonder woman” turned out to be overweight.

So we keep chasing after perfection Where does it lead us? Nowhere, except to pain.

Tyra Banks

Tyra Banks

Martin writes that we see beauty as the first impression of total success. She goes on to explain that we see one aspect of a person — nice hair, for example — and assume that she is wealthy and powerful. How many times have we told ourselves that if we are thin (thin = beauty), our lives will be perfect? Beauty will solve all our problems. It will get us the desired man, the desired job, and the desired home. Or perhaps all three.

Martin uses Tyra Banks as an example of a beautiful woman who build her own empire.

I find this coincidence because I stumbled on the Tyra Banks show the other day. She was running something about Botox for a medical condition in a woman’s genitals. SUpposedly it’s supposed to improve some condition so women can have sex again. Then Tyra asked a doctor in the audience, “What do you think about using Botox for this condition?”

The doctor said, “Well, it’s not FDA – approved…”

Ok, remember this post?

3035405786_aa0a472929Moving along…

We see weight as something that we can control. We thus believe that if we exercised a little more control, counting calories, strict diets, strenuous exercise, nice clothes; we would be happy. We just have to “stay strong” and “starve on.” You’re not happy? You’re not “strong” enough. You have to be stronger.

The writer gives a description of a typical “perfect girl” in a typical American town. It’s a good description, and pretty accurate. Yes, we are living contradictions. Yes, we are relentless, while judgmental towards ourselves and forgiving of other people.

We are the daughters of feminists who said, “You can be everything” and we heard, “You have to be everything.”

We grow hungrier and hungrier with no clue what we are hungry for. The holes inside of us grow bigger and bigger.

We are our own worst enemies. It’s that “starving daughter” who must be killed off.

2236055781_25b5fdba44Martin goes on to say that a “starving daughter” is at the center of every “perfect girl.” The face we show to the world is an outward mask that says to our friends that everything is going well. Inside, we’re starving for a lot of things. We’re empty and in need, and they don’t know.

She wants attention. The perfect girl says, “No, you shouldn’t want that.” She is the one that brings us down. She gets scared, nostalgic, sad. The perfect girl wants no part of that.

No one likes this part of them. They view it as a side that is too weak. Meanwhile, they don’t talk about their problems. They fill the black holes in their spirits with the forbidden fruit. Yet they continue to feel empty. We struggle with this. I know girls in my church who do, but are too confused and frightened to speak about it, let alone come face to face with a darker side of themselves. They don’t want to let go of their facade.

185980331_3e8ade3c79And our bodies take the ensuing abuse.

Some people are subtle about the abuse. They pretend to be above such trite things as calorie counting and purging. Such stuff is embarrassing.

Others talk about how horrible their body size is and how fat they are and how much they hate themselves for being so weak. And then they forget about their issues for a while. Their disordered eating is seasonal.

Then there are the diagnosed eating disorders. Go here for a list and description of the three diagnosable disorders as noted by health professionals. I also noted in the same post that several people do have a mix of both bulimia and anorexia and binge eating.

There is EDNOS (Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified) which we haven’t talked about yet. These are the people who have an eating disorder but don’t have the required symptoms. They may purge once a week as opposed to three. Some starve but don’t lose their periods or drop in weight. Some have a partial syndrome. They obsess, and have a nagging preoccupation with their weight that they think is normal. They feel that they obsess too much but don’t work out enough.

We don’t consider that maybe we don’t have to live with the obsession.

The media is no help. They show skin-and-bones models and gasp about shrinking celebrities, making us feel that if we’re not dropping out of school, throwing up all the time, or become skeletal, then we’re fine. Our condition is fine. Never mind that we’re miserable.

3061919849_fbbf4783b7Some doctors encourage the attitude. They’re so tired of the obesity epidemic that they’d do anything to get their patients from that extreme. They forget that there is another extreme at the other end. These doctors want rigorous exercise with restraint in diet, no matter who the patient is. Martin interviewed a girl with an eating disorder. This girl saw a doctor in college. She hoped that he’d notice her weight going down and maybe help her. However, he told her to “keep up the good work!”

The author states that an eating disorder merely is a more extreme version of what girls and women face on a daily basis. There’s always some degree of obsessiveness about food and our bodies in everyone. (I don’t think all, but most. Most are still too many.)

We find comfort in being almost as screwed up as everyone else.

A Tragic Case

In the realm of the “right-to-life” movement, the case of one woman made headlines and sparked debates all over the country and even overseas. 

The Terri Schiavo case was one that caused a great deal of controversy. I know I remember it vividly. Her life and death stirred an uproar about issues like “right-to-life” and whether it was okay to take out the feeding tube of a person in a vegetative state and let the person die. Was it more humane to let the person continue living in such a state, with no hope of recovery? Or not? These issues led a lot of people think about what they would want if they were ever in such a condition, and to mark their choice in their will.

Terri Schiavo before it happened

Terri Schiavo before it happened

What I didn’t know at the time was that Terri Schiavo had had an eating disorder. She was anorexic. Terri had been severely overweight in her teens, but lost 65 pounds by the time she graduated from high school.

Sadly, her condition became so serious to the point where fitness and fasting were obsessions. Some time later, Schiavo limited herself to mostly liquids. Whatever food she ate, she forced herself to vomit.

Her family later said that while they worried, they didn’t know how quickly Schiavo’s health could deteriorate… or how dangerous it was for humans to starve themselves. As a result, they neither challenged her nor sought medical help for her condition.

Terri after

Terri after

In 1990, Terri went into a coma. Her doctors said that this was likely caused by an imbalance in blood potassium levels. Her liquid diet was flushing this mineral out of her body – a condition that eating would have remedied.

Eating wasn’t something she wanted to do.

Schiavo never recovered. Soon she was found to be brain dead. A lengthy court  battle came about, and it became a national tragedy, states Dr. Patzer. 15 years later, Terri Schiavo died on March 31, 2005. She was 41.

164177_f260The debate that ensued made it clear that eating disorders were poorly understood by the public. After this case, science made progress in understanding them.

Following Schiavo’s death, the Daytona Beach News Journal published an editorial that pointed out that the state and the federal had failed to educate the public about eating disorders. They continued by saying that teenage girls should be informed about this trend, and suggested that parents and teachers learn to recognize the warning signs. Insurance companies and public health agencies should broaden their medical coverage to include treatments for eating disorders.

Physical Appeal in the Classroom

Looks: Chapter 4

We’ve now learned that parents tend to discriminate against their less attractive children. What about teachers?

325752626_69392aa6b1Yes. They expect more attractive children to perform better. As a result, the teachers devote more attention to children whom they think have greater potential. And because the teacher expects better stuff out of them, the children actually DO better.

Dr. Rosenthal of Harvard pioneered work on this. He had a fake non verbal test of intelligence done to a group of schoolchildren. Out of this group, a random group of schoolchildren were chosen as the experimental group. He told the teachers that certain scores on the test displayed that there would be a future spurt in intellect for the experimental group. However, the only real difference between the experimental group and the other group was in the teachers’ minds. All the same, the experimental group showed far more progress.

This kind of discriminating against those who are less attractive is called lookism. It has a corrosive effect on self-esteem.

Studies show that even when attractive and unattractive students earn identical records, teachers still believe that in the future, attractive students will do better than the unattractive students.

Not only that, they would punish the students who don’t look beautiful, while the attractive students get away without punishment.

 

Snow White from a picture book

Snow White from a picture book

Don’t forget the beautiful = good stereotype that we talked about earlier. A highly attractive person would be associated with a favorable personality and the best quality of life traits. Further studies show that children are more likely to attribute positive characteristics to better looking people than adults are.

 

Another trend noticed is that attractive females are more popular than attractive males. At least when they’re young. I’ve noticed this in Sunday school (@ church). The younger classes are full of an abundance of cute girls and cute boys. The cute girls get more attention than the cute boys. However, the cute boys could care less, while the cute girls seem to live for the attention.

An important factor in the development of this is parents. According to famous social psychologist Albert Bandura, social behavior is learned through observing and imitating the behaviors observed most frequently. Parents, teachers, TV are a good source for behaviors to be imitated. That means that if a child observes that the physical attractive person is good and gets treated better than the unattractive, he or she might adopt this behavior as his or her own. Because elders (along with TV) play such an important role in a child’s life, they are a possible cause.

Maybe this is why children as young as age 5 are sensitive to different body types, with a preference for normal weight bodies.

Back to my friend with two daughters. This lady is a compulsive dieter. She’s as skinny as a stick yet believes that she is too fat. (Problem?) Her oldest daughter (age 5) picked up this way of thinking. One day, she said to her mother, “I’m a princess. Daddy is a prince. Mommy, you cannot be a princess because you are too fat.”

Wow.

Children who are of average size or are muscular are seen as happy, kind, smart, neat, strong, and popular. Plump children, however, are perceived as sloppy, lazy, stupid, and likely to cheat. 

It’s scary but not surprising that many eight year olds diet nowadays

ChipObesity is a national plague. Children between the ages of 6 to 11 are three times as likely to be overweight as in 1970. Obesity has come to rival smoking as a source of premature death. People who were obese when  young have a greater frequency of psychological symptoms and emotional problems than people who only became obese when older.

I have a good friend named Henry who was overweight when he was very young. Sadly, he got a lot of teasing when he was in elementary and middle school. He started running and lost it all in high school. But when Henry was in college, he got an eating disorder. Right now he’s normal weight. He’s also pretty good looking. The women tend to swoon around him. But deep down inside him, he still feels the effects of that teasing years ago. How old is Henry? 28.

Speaking of teasing, I’m sure most of my readers remember the Columbine High School incident. Whitehead and Hoover of University of North Dakota reviewed the case and did research on bullying. They found that bullying had a link to body issues. And that at any given time, 60% of American women and girls admit to dieting.

Adolescence is a critical period of development. It’s more difficult for girls than guys as girls are more concerned about attractiveness and less satisfied with their appearance to begin with. Teenage girls were found by the same researchers to be concerned that their thighs, butt, and hips were too large. Younger girls were dissatisfied with their teeth, face, and feet.

Vanderbilt University psychologists set out to find the pressures that drive young women to be happy with their body image. Is it innate sense that their bodies should look a certain way? Or does it come from feedback from other people? They did conclude that already depressed women are driven to further despair by the idealized media images.

Other studies suggest that attractiveness is risky. Pretty women college students are at a risk for an eating disorder if their perfectionism combines with anxiety and the tendency to be hypercritical. They may also be more likely to criticize thin women for their efforts to stay slim.

treadmillThere is hope for the bullied. Whitehead and Hoover found out that the most successful programs combine diet and exercise within a framework of significant behavior change. The programs should be implemented with schools, families, and doctors.

However, it is difficult to maintain these plans. Even so, PE programs that look at individual children’s needs may serve as a thread to reconnect those children with adults who care. Who knows what might have happened if my friend Henry had been in a program like that? Things may have been very different. Also remember that physical activity and exercise is more effective in treating depression.

Another way that the emphasis on physical attractiveness warps learning experience is in sexuality. Teens have a desire to attract the opposite sex. They also have a deep need for validation. A study of 280 college students showed that more attractive the sexual partner, the less inclination for students to take precautions.

How about students’ attitudes toward attractive versus ugly teachers?

empty plate Periodic student evaluations came in not a long time ago. These factor greatly into tenures and promotion. However, it seemed that looks were more important than teaching ability. I have been to ratemyprofessors.com to check the ratings of the professors I’ve had, and I saw that the ratings of a professor I loved in a class I enjoyed were very negative. A lot of the posts mentioned her rather unkempt appearance.

Several subsequent studies confirmed that students tend to rate their teacher’s performance more on the basis of superficialities like PA and clothing style than on the content of their lectures or their abilities to communicate.

So looks do matter. A lot.

Next: Physical attractiveness and careers