Do skinny images make you fat?

More inspirational than a skinny model?photo: NatalieMaynor via Flickr

More inspirational than a skinny model?
photo: NatalieMaynor via Flickr

It’s January dieting season, and plenty of people are looking for inspiration to stick to a weight loss plan.  One possibility: photos of skinny, fit ideal bodies.  They’re everywhere, especially in promotional materials for diets and diet supplements.  An image that reflects your diet goal sounds like a good idea, to keep you from eating too much.  But does that strategy really work?

A study from the Netherlands suggests it doesn’t.  In fact, it might actually backfire.  In this study, female dieters were recruited for a standard weight loss program.  They all got food diaries, and were asked to write down everything they ate.  Half the women got diaries with photos of thin models on every page; the other half got photos of logo graphics.  Did the dieters with constant visual exposure to thin ideals lose more weight?

At first, everyone lost similar amounts of weight.  But as the program continued, the dieters who were seeing thin models on every page started eating more snacks.  Conclusion: constantly seeing an unattainable ideal body image makes people give up.  It’s not motivational.

And those ideal images may not even be real.  Most of the models in those photos don’t actually look like that themselves.  Israel is taking this problem one step further.  A new law that bans models with a BMI less than 18.5 from working also mandates that publications disclose when images are photoshopped to make the models look all-too-perfect and thin.  In case you haven’t seen it already, the Dove Evolution Commercial provides a really good description of how a normal-looking person is transformed into something unreal and unattainable.

Better inspiration?  Perhaps photos of healthy foods pinned to your frig.  Greens, whole grain breads, fresh fruit, bowls of yogurt or soup?  It’s worth a try.

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