Today, as part of Body Image Week, I am thrilled to welcome Author Erin Dionne. I reviewed her book, Models Don't Eat Chocolate Cookies, back in February when it was released and thought it was a ton of fun. Enjoy Erin's guest post!
In MODELS DON’T EAT CHOCOLATE COOKIES, my main character, Celeste, decides to diet herself out of the Miss HuskyPeach pageant to avoid the humiliation of being crowned a “chubby teen queen.” Putting Operation Skinny Celeste in to action is harder than she thinks, however, and a week in to the scheme she ends up frustrated and discouraged. Enter her two friends, Millie and Katy. With their encouragement, Celeste adds a light exercise regime to her plan—a walk around the school track with the girls. The time they spend together brings them closer, sure, but it also gives Celeste an added bit on incentive to stick to her program—she’s accountable to not only herself, but to her friends.
When writing the book, this plot point unfolded naturally—Millie and Katy were supportive friends to begin with, and it was clear to me that their purpose was to help Celeste stay motivated. They also act in contrast to Sandra, Celeste’s “best friend,” and Aunt Doreen, both of whom make disparaging comments about Celeste’s shape and size. In my fictional world, Millie and Katy’s help is enough to tip the scales in Celeste’s favor.
But what about in real life? Turn the TV on for 30 minutes and you’ll see nearly a dozen weight loss advertisements—usually featuring a star touting the celebrity diet of the month. We see puffy “before” pictures, the insides of sparkling kitchens, and a fabulous “after” reveal complete with bikini, interviews, and a magazine cover. Viewers are supposed to see the celeb’s success and think they can emulate it—have that killer bod if you just follow this plan! We are also supposed to think that if we’re still struggling with our weight it’s because we’re not on the right diet yet.
Well, as of the February 26th issue of the New England Journal of Medicine , there is no right diet. The author of the study compared different diet programs and found—surprise!—there’s no one method for successfully keeping those extra pounds at bay. All you have to do is cut calories and you’ll lose weight. Keep your caloric intake down and it stays off.
Not so much. It’s difficult to lose and maintain weight, which the study also acknowledges: Participants regained a portion of lost weight after two years.
So what does this have to do with Millie and Katy and Celeste and that track?
Well, in that same issue of the New England Journal, there’s an editorial by a Dr. Martijn Katan. Dr. Katan writes that, “Like cholera, obesity may be a problem that cannot be solved by individual persons but that requires community action.” He talks about a village in France that has taken a community-wide approach to the childhood obesity epidemic. The town attacked obesity by building playgrounds, encouraging sports and healthy family cooking, and offering counseling. Imagine: a place that encourages sports and healthy eating?! Where everyone from the mayor to shopkeepers want to get kids outside?!
As the French say, c’est incroyable!
In five years, the town’s obesity rate fell to 8.8%--while the national average was more than twice that!
Finally, scientific proof! Losing weight requires a major lifestyle change for most people—removing temptation, developing new habits, and changing routine. And doing it alone makes it much, much harder. You have to surround yourself with the right people in order to shake those pounds for good. And when it comes to kids and obesity, more and more it’s looking like the “right” people comprise an entire community.
But you have to start somewhere. Instead of reaching for an Oreo, Celeste grabs an apple. Instead of scarfing a sundae, she meets her friends for a walk. They are her cheerleaders and her coaches, encouraging her to stick with her program even though she might not always feel like it. They help her turn the tide.
Before the science backed it up, we also knew how important it is to find an encouraging community: that skinny starlet has trainers and chefs, the celebrity spokesperson discusses her weight loss “counselor,” and just about every major diet plan offers some sort of connection opportunity.
However, support through the weight loss industry alone isn’t enough. As Dr. Katan said, “[W]e may need a new approach to preventing and to treating obesity and that it must be a total-environment approach that involves and activates entire neighborhoods and communities.”
I’d add: one friend at a time.