This is what real people look like!

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How the mass media contributes to negative body image.

By Raymond Onyango.

If I had a dollar for every time that a client has walked up to me in the gym, with a celebrity photo cutout from a glamour magazine and asked me to make them look like that, I would be a millionaire several times over. As a personal trainer, I would say that perhaps the most delicate aspect of my job involves helping my clients to manage their expectations, without diminishing their enthusiasm and motivation to stick it through a consistent exercise program. This can be especially difficult in the current media saturated environment in which we live, a world where Kim Kardashian’s butt routinely commands more media attention, than the millions of people suffering the ravages of war and starvation in several parts of the globe.

I dare say our preoccupation with celebrity and the lengths to which we are willing to go in order to achieve it, has reached what is arguably an unhealthy apex. For instance, even as obesity rates continue to soar around the world, dress sizes on the other hand have steadily shrunk from the 60’s to the present day. According to a 2006 article authored by Jennifer Freeze in the Southeast Missourian, clothing sizes have changed so much that a woman who wore a size 8 in 1950 would wear a size 00 today! She goes further to observe in the same article that in the 1940s, the smallest available size was a 10. By the 1950s the smallest available size was an 8 and today there’s a size 00 on the racks. Just to put that into perspective, consider this; even Marilyn Monroe, size 8-10 and perhaps the most iconic movie star of the 60’s would be considered a plus size in this day and age.

Celebrities As Normal People

The question is, ‘Does this obsession with physical perfection driven by the showbiz industry and perpetuated by the media, actually reflect the real image of your everyday woman on the street or even the starlets in Hollywood for that matter?’ The answer to that is an emphatic No!

Not only is the sort of physical perfection espoused in the mass media simply unattainable, it is also just plain downright fakery. A quick Google search with the key words, ‘photoshopped celebrities’ yields well over a million results in just 0.14 seconds for images of celebrities before and after they have been photoshopped. A closer look reveals that many, if not all of them are just regular folk like you and I, with moles, freckles, wrinkles, love handles and belly fat to boot. In a nutshell, they are not perfect  – just normal.

Striving For An Unattainable Ideal.

The saddest part of this story is that for many 14 and 16-year-old girls and beyond, flipping through these photoshopped magazines, the real truth is not immediately evident. As a direct result, there has been an explosion in the prevalence of eating disorders amongst this most vulnerable of groups.

Just recently, the artist who goes by the name Lady Gaga and is renowned for her outrageous wardrobe choices and often controversial media statements, found herself once more in the eye of the media storm – this time stemming from an article in the Daily Mail of London, ridiculing her for being ‘decidedly meaty around the hips and thighs’ during a recent concert in Amsterdam.  The ensuing feeding frenzy that followed that particular performance as media houses competed amongst themselves in speculating on the reasons behind her weight gain led to a candid admission on her part of a long concealed struggle with eating disorders including bulimia and anorexia.  She later released untouched photographs of herself posing in a bikini and looking very much like the girl next door, as part of a campaign she has dubbed – the body revolution. This is a campaign aimed at helping young women own up to their struggles with extreme dieting and eating disorders, in a bid to reclaim their bodies.

Naturally Lady Gaga is not the first public figure to catch some flak from the press for gaining weight, but her status as an ‘uber’ hip icon amongst the youth, with almost 30 million followers on twitter, served to reignite the debate about whether there in an unrealistic amount of pressure on public figures to look thin, a fact that maybe responsible for the huge prevalence of eating disorders amongst that demographic.

The Ultimate Price Of Extreme Diets 

Ultimately for many of these celebrities and the myriads of young girls they influence, there is a very steep price to pay for years of engaging in the sort of extreme dieting that now seems to be a staple in the upper echelons of the showbiz industry. A case in point, just a few short years ago Gwyneth Paltrow, the Hollywood actress, was diagnosed with the brittle bone disease – osteopenia, a precursor to arthritis that is usually found in much older women. Several experts have suggested that this may be a result of excessive dieting and an overly intense exercise regimen, both of which come with the territory in Hollywood. In the worst-case scenario, certain death is not a far-fetched possibility. On August 2nd 2006, the online encyclopedia Wikipedia reported the death of two sisters, both Uruguayan runway models who died of apparent heart attacks within months of each other. Luisel Ramos, died from a heart attack caused by anorexia nervosa, while participating in a fashion show during fashion week in Montevideo, Uruguay. Her father told the police that she had gone several days without eating and she was reported to have subsisted almost exclusively on a diet of lettuce and coke, for the three months prior to her death. On February 13th 2007, Luisel’s 18-year-old sister Eliana Ramos, also a model died at her grandparents home of an apparent heart attack believed to be related to malnutrition. In April 2007, Hila Emlich, an Israeli runway model also succumbed to anorexia related complications that led to her subsequent death.

The tragic deaths of these beautiful young women, played a huge part in a decision by Italian fashion designers to ban size zero models from walking down their catwalks and setting a minimum BMI of at least 18 for all models. Above all it should serve as a pertinent reminder to the rest of us that it is not worth sacrificing your life in the pursuit of an unattainable ideal. Love yourself and love the body you are in, because ultimately that is exactly how nature intended for you to be!

Celebrate your body this week, will you!



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Suicide In A Spoon

By Raymond Onyango.

 The ongoing sugar shortage and its looming absence from supermarket shelves countrywide, continues to be a huge source of concern for the great majority of Kenyans. The resulting fear over the potential lack of the commodity has led to panic buying and many retail outlets have resorted to instituting limits on the amount of sugar a single customer can buy, if only to help guarantee supply. This is hardly surprising when you consider that according to the World Health Organization, the average Kenyan consumes 21 kilograms of sugar in a year. Break that down into 52 weeks in a year and you have an average consumption of about half a kilogram per Kenyan, per week – more than twice the average of the neighboring countries ofUganda and Tanzania.

Is Too Much Sugar Making Us Sick? 

It would seem that this elevated consumption of sugar is steadily beginning to affect our collective health as a nation. In fact at an international conference in Russia, in May this year, the minister for Medical Services, Professor Anyang’ Nyongo’ was quoted saying that almost half of all the hospital beds in this country are occupied by people suffering from lifestyle diseases – including high blood pressure and diabetes. Within the next decade, he estimates that the number of people seeking medical care for such lifestyle induced conditions will far outstrip all other ailments in the country’s health care system – a truly dire prognosis.In fitness circles sugar has been variously described as the biggest dietary scrooge of our time – quite literally suicide in a spoon – resulting from the numerous health conditions precipitated by uncontrolled sugar intake.  Refined sugar does not actually qualify to be called food – it is a chemical. During the production process, all the vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats and virtually every aspect of nutritional value is removed – all that is left is empty calories!

The Relationship Between Sugar, Insulin & Mood Disorders

It is with these empty calories that the real trouble begins. The Glycemic Index is a measure used to describe the effect of various foods on the body’s blood sugar levels. Each food is given a specific rating. The lower the rating, the slower the digestion process and the release of sugar into the blood stream. Any food with a higher rating will cause your Pancreas to release a hormone known as Insulin into the blood, to help combat the higher glucose levels and lower them. More sugar, means more insulin, which in turn promotes fat storage and obesity. Obesity as you well know by now, is closely associated with increased incidence of several lifestyle related diseases – especially high blood pressure and adult onset diabetes.Beyond just making you fat however, sugar also has a much immediate effect on your energy levels and overall productivity as an individual. Refined sugar intake usually leads to an energy rush, also known as a sugar high, but this is eventually followed by a virtual crash in energy levels as your body releases insulin into the blood stream to balance out your sugar levels. There is also increasing evidence that sugar also makes your blood thicker and stickier, inhibiting oxygen transport to the brain and working muscles and actually diminishing athletic performance. Perhaps the biggest questions regarding the effect of sugar on our health arise when discussing mood behavior in children and sugar. Many parents are aware that sugar can dramatically affect the behavior of a child, and in recent times there has been a lot of research that would seem to corroborate the incidence of conditions such as Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) to the excessive consumption of sugar by underage children.  You only need to attend a birthday party for a group of 5 year olds, where they are serving cake, ice cream and soda. Take note of what you see there and then come back and disagree with me if you choose!

Healthy Eating? Think Again!

Ironically one of the things that is driving this huge increase in our sugar intake is the growing obsession with ‘ healthy eating’. Sugar appears in the places where you least expect it.  Over the last decade or so, many food manufactures are moving away from traditional cane sugar and transitioning into high fructose corn syrup.  This change has occurred mostly because in the attempt to stay health conscious and reduce the levels of saturated fat in our food, producers are now replacing the fat with sugar. You will find sugar in everything from tomato sauce, baked beans, potato chips and even fruit juice. For this reason it is prudent to read food labels carefully if only to educate yourself on what it is that you are actually consuming.One last thing to bear in mind, the next time you’re craving a candy bar or a soda is that your immune systems rely on our white blood cells to remove invaders from our bloodstream though a process known as phagocytosis.  Sugar has been demonstrated to lower this activity significantly – depressing your immune system and leaving you more susceptible to disease. So there you have it, sugar does not only make you fat, slow and unfit, it also makes you sick and cranky.  Reason enough perhaps, that you should use this ongoing shortage as the perfect excuse to review your sugar consumption habits.

Have a sugar free weekend will you!