I know this story all too well. “As (being) overweight and obesity have become more common, those who are carrying unhealthy extra pounds are increasingly likely to see their weight as normal, and are therefore unlikely to feel the need to shed some of those pounds.” That’s from a Health Magazine article about obesity in the US. Like many women, I jumped from being “normal sized” to being “plus-sized” after giving birth. (And I’ve stayed plus-size because that was the last time I ever jumped.) For most of my 20’s, I hovered near the top of the normal-sized ladder, wearing a 12 or 14. (The only exception being the summer I got married, when I was in a size 6. My wedding, apparently, was a low point.)
I didn’t gain tons of weight while I was pregnant, but since I was so close to the tipping point as it was, I didn’t have to pull a Kate Hudson and gain 75 pounds to wind up an 18. My life was quite full after my daughter was born, and when Americans run out of time, we often eliminate those activities that are best for us. I was too busy and tired to go to the gym or to workout. I was too stressed by work and my relationship to worry about trying to lose weight. (Of course working out relieves stress, but that argument wasn’t convenient at the time.) I did walk and carry my daughter’s stroller up and down the subway stairs, but I wasn’t getting enough physical activity to make a difference. I had become fat. It snuck up on me, like a cheesecake in the night.
According to Health, “Roughly two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the U.S. are now overweight or obese.” But perhaps more importantly, we’re ignoring the fact that we’re out of shape. “The latest evidence for this trend was presented Wednesday at an American Heart Association conference in Atlanta, where Columbia University researchers reported the preliminary results of a study that found that overweight mothers and children tend to underestimate their own — and each other’s — weight.”
The study focused mostly on Latino mothers and children “who were recruited at a children’s health clinic in an urban setting,” so that certainly may have skewed the results a bit. I lived in East Harlem – a largely Latino neighborhood – when my daughter was born. I think that’s the main reason I was able to view myself as being in better shape than I actually was – because I looked as good or better than the rest of the women in the neighborhood. Obesity doesn’t affect just one community in America, though; many of us have become victims to our unhealthy lifestyles. (The researchers point out that other studies have found similar trends among African Americans and Caucasians.)
The majority of mothers studied were obese, “as were nearly 40% of the children.” I’m not at all surprised to find that “the vast majority of the overweight people weighed more than they thought they did,” but I am shocked to discover that “the heavier they were, the more likely they were to underestimate their weight.” I wonder if eventually that type of perceived body-image will be considered disordered, since it’s virtually the opposite of the way anorexics see themselves. Seeing one’s self as thinner could be detrimental to one’s health, allowing an individual to continue to gain weight and put themselves at risk for heart attack, stroke, diabetes and more.
Here’s another fascinating statistic: “Nearly half of the mothers who had an overweight child believed their child’s weight to be normal. And even though more than 80% of the women were overweight, only 41% of the children thought their moms needed to lose weight.” I suppose that’s sweet, but it seems entire families are in need of a lifestyle overhaul, yet they don’t know it. Despite society’s interest in “MILFs” and “cougars” of late, there is something to the idealization of mothers as pear-shaped, chubby hug-monsters, at least in the Latino community. Researchers say that “when the children were presented with a series of cards bearing silhouette images of body types and were asked to select the ‘ideal’ or ‘healthy’ size for their mother, they tended to pick body types that were, in fact, unhealthily large.”