Overweight people are gluttons, irresponsible, sloppy and without willpower! This perception has existed with thin people for years. It perpetuates discrimination against the overweight and accentuates their feelings of internal failure.
Several years ago, a study on children's perceptions of physical differences revealed unexpected results. Six-year-old children were asked to view pictures of five other children and rank them in the order of whom they would prefer to have as friends. Each pictured child had some form of physical impairment - wheelchair bound, crutches, etc. - and one child was obese. Over 90 % of the kids ranked the obese child last! When interviewed, the children stated that while some impaired children couldn't control their misfortune, the obese child "chose to be that way." Unfortunately, overweight children and adults face this kind of benign discrimination daily.
In the struggle to become thin, people "diet surf" from one program to another, looking for a magical solution. Each failure (which is most of the time) reinforces the misperception of, "If you really wanted to be thin, you would have the willpower to lose weight!" The weight loss industry is a $30 billion a year business, however, for only one reason - overweight people really want to be thin!
Thinking in terms of "willpower" sets-up failure and propagates myths about the overweight. By analogy, if your performance review at work was below expectations, what would be done? Probably identify weak areas, enhance the necessary skills to improve, and practice - none of which have anything to do with "willpower." Rather, the development and incorporation of skills into your work routine develops what I call "skillpower."
The first step in overcoming a weight challenge is to have appropriate (as opposed to myths, gimmicks, and outdated techniques) education and skills.
Five important "skillpower facts" are:
1. Food is only a calorie - a number that you can control by understanding basic nutritional facts. For example, a turkey sandwich has less than half the calories of a corned beef sandwich.
2. In modifying behavior, lapses will occur - all people overeat, binge, etc. Remember, a lapse does not equal failure!
3. Try to eliminate "should," "cheated," "bad," and other emotionally-charged words, these negative terms often lead to negative feelings and behavior. Do not believe, for example, that "guilty" people need to be punished for overeating.
4. Identify and prepare for "high risk" eating situations (holidays, vacations, restaurants, and other celebrations are some common events). Like a forest ranger, look for the potential fire. If one occurs (a lapse), put it out quickly.
5. Increase your exercise levels - study after study clearly shows that dieting without exercise will only lead to more failure!
There are other important facts and skills that will strengthen your skillpower. Overweight people are not overeaters who lack willpower. Their willpower is no more or less than anyone else challenged with the difficult task of modifying behavior - as most smokers, alcoholics, gamblers, nail biters, etc. will attest. We all possess the power to change and improve our behavior. Developing the skills to do so is a crucial step in that process.
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