Claire from Step's (a 90's pop band for those unaware of her) has once again reached her goal to be a size 10 after many years of weight cycling. And as ever, she is back in the media telling her story to a magazine which no doubt played a part in fuelling her disgust at putting on weight. Research shows that teenagers who read gossip magazines are at a greater risk of disordered eating behaviours (binge eating, skipping meals, caloric restriction or making themselves sick). These unhealthy eating behaviours can lead more serious disorders, and at the very least lead to individuals suffering from a lifetime of battling with diets/shame.
Dr James White who conducted the study is quoted as saying "What distinguishes gossip magazines is the way they ridicule celebrities who are overweight or even just don't conform to unrealistic ideals, and at the same time they praise celebrities for losing weight. That combination of messages of 'fat is bad', 'thin is good' seems to be a particularly potent influence on vulnerable teenagers." I would add that clinically I see fully grown adults who are just as vulnerable, and many have been suffering for years and years. The longer they diet, the harder it is for them to remove themselves from the war on weight, but they all wish they could turn back the clock and do it all a different way.
"This study suggests that there should be greater awareness of the potential impact that exposure to the kind of images of celebrities and models in gossip magazines can have on adolescents' eating habits."
Claire no doubt doesn't realise the potential impact, she's just sucked in by the media circus in a desperate attempt to stay in the limelight. At first it seems like she may of won her 'battle with the bulge", as she states that her yo-yo dieting has created hormone imbalances which have left her infertile. I had hoped to read that she had finally ditched the diets and had spent time restoring her metabolic function, but it appears this isn't the case.
This is a battle she cannot win, despite being at her target weight for 6 months the odds of winning the war against the "bulge" are stacked against her. Biologically we are programmed to avoid starvation, which can help explain why Claire's repeated dieting has been unsuccessful in producing long-term results. Set point theory shows us that body fat percentage and body weight are controlled internally. An attempt to diet is an attempt to overpower your set point, and attempting to overpower (or starve) biological mechanisms is just a battle thats unwinnable.
According to the theory, your set point aims to keep your weight constant via various feedback mechanisms, primarily how much you're eating which is used to regulate fat stores and also to alter your behaviour. It can induce hunger or satiety, which in the case of the dieter causes that desire to eat that we all blame on weak willpower. Fatigue and depression may occur as a method of slowing you down to reduce your caloric expenditure. Set point is protective and wants to maintain a level of body fat which it deems safe for the environment you are in (famine etc). Dieters frequently (if not always) initially lose weight, before plateauing as the metabolic rate decreases, body temperature drops, pulse decreases, hormone levels change, fatigue increases and your hunger increases.
This is survival, your body defends its fat stores for the principle reason of ensuring you remain safe in a hostile (calorie controlled war). Caloric deprivation signals your body to decrease its metabolic rate and with it body temperature, pulse etc. Energy (calories) is used (burned) more slowly, so that you can function at the most basic level on the most meager of diets. Naturally, anything which isn't essential can decrease such as circulation (body temp and pulse), hormone production, growth and repair (tissue, bone, hair etc) and indeed anything which is deemed non essential such as muscle (added benefit of decreasing energy expenditure), fertility etc. You aren't eating enough to power your body, survival is more important than repair and growth. The body reacts to long term energy restriction as it would a famine. Your body becomes cautious and conserves the energy it already has. This innate biological response makes dieting or exercising less and less effective.
For Claire, sadly I think the battle will be an ongoing one until she either surrenders and makes a conscious decision that she isn't bothered about the weight anymore or changes allegiance. Either way, a major step would be binning the gossip mags.