It is common for the body image of men and women to think that their body is bigger than it really is. For instance, only 16 per cent of young Australian women are happy with their body weight.

It is normal for women to carry fat on their hips and thighs. Frequent dieting does not work to remove this fat. Dieting is associated with many negative health effects, especially when episodes of dieting are followed by weight gain. Dieting can also make you depressed and it’s also linked with poor self-image.

Some people think they are overweight

Many people think they are overweight when they are not:

  • Normal weight men and women – 45 per cent of women and 23 per cent of men in the healthy weight range think they are overweight.
  • Underweight women – at least 20 per cent of women who are underweight think that they are overweight and are dieting to lose weight.
  • Asian women – after moving to Australia, the body image and diet habits of Asian women get worse.

There is a common misconception around that thin people are healthier than overweight people. However, thin people may have got that way by eating an inadequate diet or by smoking excessively.

Weight loss from diets does not last

Australians spend up to one million dollars a day on weight loss programs that have little effect on their weight. Even if you remain on a weight loss program, it is likely that you will regain:

  • One- to two-thirds of your lost weight within one year.
  • Nearly all of your lost weight within five years.

Dieting affects your health and mental state
Women who diet frequently are more likely to:

  • Binge eat
  • Purge food (vomit)
  • Have poor health
  • Become depressed.

The weight loss seesaw

The weight loss, weight gain seesaw may put you at risk of heart disease. Some studies have shown that Just one cycle of weight loss-weight gain is a risk factor for the development of heart disease later in life, but other studies have disputed this. Research has shown that nearly every young woman and nearly half of all middle-aged women have dieted to lose weight at least once.

Body mass index

Men and women should aim to have a body weight within the healthy weight range. This can be calculated using the BMI (calculated by dividing your weight in kilograms by your height in metres squared: a value of 20 to 25 is considered within the healthy weight range). However, a recent study in the US has shown that it is possible to be overweight and healthy as long as you are also active.

Women need fat on their hips and thighs

It is normal for women to have fat on their hips and thighs. It is vital for:

  • Fertility and lactation
  • Prevention of osteoporosis
  • Healthy skin, eyes, hair and teeth.

Men also worry about their body image

Men are under increasing pressure to have an ideal body:

  • 17 per cent of men are on some sort of diet.
  • An increasing number of men are undergoing cosmetic surgery.
  • More men are buying grooming products.

Tips for parents

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the best way to manage your weight and model healthy behaviours for your children. Try the following to encourage healthy eating at home:

  • Avoid calling foods ‘good’ or ‘bad’ – try ‘everyday’ foods and ‘sometimes’ foods.
  • Model eating all foods. For example, when eating ‘sometimes’ foods, such as chocolate or lollies, show your child that it is OK to eat them slowly and enjoy them without feeling guilty. This is much better than eating them quickly, secretively or all at once.
  • Try not to use food as a punishment or over-use it as a reward.
  • Don’t tell your child to lose weight – encourage the whole family to adopt healthy eating patterns and regular physical activity.
  • Tell your child that you love them no matter how they look, what they eat or how much they weigh.
  • Avoid using extreme weight loss practices yourself.
  • Make family meal times enjoyable and stress free. Don’t make eating habits a big issue.
  • Make sure there’s plenty of nutritious foods
  • in the house, and limit access to less nutritious foods.
  • Encourage your children to listen to signals from their body about when they’re hungry and when they’ve had enough.
  • Serve food in the centre of the table so everyone can dish out their own size meals according to their appetite.
  • Don’t make your child eat everything on the plate but do encourage them to at least taste some of the food.

If you need support, seek professional advice from someone who specialises in childhood weight issues.