The Psychological Impact
The psychological stress of being extremely large affects both genders in similar ways. For starters, overweight people are often unfairly stereotyped as lazy and undisciplined.
There’s also evidence that obese women and men may be the victims of discrimination when looking for a job. In addition, studies have found that people who carry extra pounds, regardless of their gender or ethnicity, often have a poor body image and are more dissatisfied with their appearance than people with a healthy weight.
As a result of being too heavy, many overweight people often avoid social situations and spend more time alone that do healthy-weight people.
While excess weight negatively affects the psychological well-being of both genders, it seems to take a greater emotional toll on women.
Studies have found that women are more likely than men to be dissatisfied with their weight and overall body image. And most women’s dissatisfaction with their weight starts early in life and lasts throughout adulthood.
Why ? The answer lies, at least in part, in our cultural obsession with female thinness. Weight Watchers researchers often hear women say that they feel that others judge them more on their appearance (how thin and attractive they are) than on who they are and what they are capable of doing.
Where do women get that belief ?
The media is a key source. Most of the beautiful women featured in magazines or on the big screen are extraordinarily thin, and for many women, extraordinary thinness becomes their standard of beauty.
This seems to be primarily a woman’s issue. In a study in which men and women were asked to evaluate ideal body shapes and assess how they thought their bodies compared with their ideals, men were found to be generally satisfied.
In contrast, the women consistently saw themselves as being heavier than their ideal and expressed a desire to be thinner.
Although body image is primarily a woman’s issue, excess weightaffects men’s mental well-being, too. Studies have found that the major difference is that men tend to perceive a negative image of their weight at a later age than women do.
Research shows that men typically spend their early years satisfied with their weight and body image. It’s not until later in adulthood, when they’ve often gained a substantial amount of weight, that guys’body image takes a nosedive.
In a study that evaluated this phenomenon, researchers looked at three generations of family members (undergraduate students, their parents, and their grandparents). They found that the men’s satisfaction with their body image decreased with age, while the women’s satisfaction remained relatively low throughout the adult years.
Why do men appear to have a delayed negative reaction to theirbody image compared with women? Some research suggests that menare less likely to see themselves as being judged on appearance and more likely to see themselves as being judged on their personal achievements, such as their career title or their athletic performance.
As a result, many guys aren’t as bothered by their weight until later in life, when it becomes a health problem. That said, it does appear that men’s perceptions may be changing and the gender gap may be changing when it comes to body image.
Over the past few years, guys have been exposed to more advertising campaigns featuring younger male models with sculpted bodies and six-pack abs.
Therefore, men’s bodies are under greater scrutiny and there seems to be a growing trend for guys to aspire to an unrealistic ideal Adonis standard.
Weight Watchers research has also picked up on this trend. Afterconducting years of weight-loss research on both men and women, only now do Weight Watchers surveys find that younger men are saying that their primary reason for losing weight is appearance.
But there is no need for anyone to despair.The good news is that losing weight can help both women and men look and feel better.There is plenty of research out there to prove it.
For starters, losing weight improves perceptions of body image and can alleviate depression.
In a randomized clinical trial, researchers found that women assigned to participate in Weight Watchers for twelve weeks lost significantly more weight and experienced improvement in their body satisfaction, mood, self-worth, and other quality-of-life measures when compared with a control group (who were assigned to an exercise group).
Another Weight Watchers study found that simply trying to lose weight improved mood independently of the amount of weight lost or the length of the program.Why might that be?
The researchers concluded that the psychological benefits of weight-management programs that include group support, as Weight Watchers does, extend beyond the number of pounds people lose.
Finally, while losing weight can bolster body image, keeping the weight off may offer even greater psychological benefits.
In a study of people in the National Weight Control Registry (a database of women and men who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least 1 year), more than 85 percent reported that their quality of life, mood, and self-confidence had improved since losing weight.
So the take-away message for women and men is that taking weight off and keeping it off are linked to greater feelings of happiness.
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