Drop the “us v. them” when it comes to skinny people!

Why do people tend to turn everything into us versus them?

Well, one reason is that it simplifies things. It makes it easier to navigate the social world. Basically, it’s a cookie cutter way (or short cut) to make snap judgments about people. I, myself, have been guilty of making judgments about people who I would term as “skinny,” as you may recall from previous posts. One of the assumptions that I make about all skinny people, whether it’s true or not, is that they are naturally skinny.

Why is this a dangerous assumption to make?

When you turn someone into a “them” as opposed to an “us” you automatically separate yourself from them; you essentially take them off your team. You also make them somehow different from you.

When you assume that all skinny people who are, in your mind, “naturally skinny,” you end up giving yourself permission to fail. This is because your mind automatically takes the next step by saying, “They are naturally skinny. Because you are not naturally skinny, you shouldn’t compare yourself to them.”

When this happens, you will fail to meet your weight goals – that is, to be skinny yourself! Or whatever your goal happens to be.

This insight isn’t new. It stems from an old theory in social psychology called social identity theory. Social identity theory shows that when faced with an appreciable difference, people tend to establish in- and out- groups (e.g., “us v. them”) on even the most trivial or minimal differences. (And I am assuming that if you have any weight to lose at all, weight is not a trivial issue for you!) When this happens, individuals start to dis-identify with the out-group (in this case, skinny people) by assigning certain traits to them and to identify with the in-group (in this case, overweight people). When your own group is marginalized, and one could argue that overweight people are marginalized in this culture, you will also begin to identify with all of the negative characteristics – such as laziness or a lack of self-discipline – that exist within the broader culture. This, of course, is the last thing you want or need if you’re trying to lose weight and keep it off.

Over the last 72 hours, this very topic came up no less than three times.

The first was in Judith S. Beck’s excellent book, The Beck Diet Solution, the reference I scooped from Cindy Sadler’s excellent blog, The Next Hundred Pounds. In her book, which is based more on cognitive restructuring than dieting, Dr. Beck lists out characteristic differences in the way that skinny people and overweight people think:

Characteristic Number Seven:
You Focus on Issues of Unfairness

Are you surprised to learn that most thin people restrict their eating to some degree? They might be trying to maintain their weight or to stay healthy – or both. So they sometimes eat smaller portions than they would really like and choose healthy foods when they;d really prefer to eat something else. They accept these limitations without too much struggle. They just don’t think about it very much.

You however, might frequently reflect on how unfair it is that others can eat what they want but you can’t. Truth is, not only do you underestimate how much others restrict themselves, but you also focus on the the injustice you feel because you have to limit yourself. In the past, this kind of thinking may have led you to stray from your diet, or you may have given up entirely (p. 39).

Beck then goes on to report the results of a survey that she did where she asked individuals – who were at their desired weight – if they would eat differently if all food had the same calories. The majority of men (over the age of forty) and the majority of women (of any age) said yes! Pretty compelling stuff!

Then, I was at a marketing seminar in L.A. and every morning there was a place set up where you could get a bagged breakfast. Invariably, the women that I would have previously classed as “naturally skinny” (or worse) walked over to the bags that contained bagels, muffins, fresh fruit, and cream cheese and then walked away. I didn’t see any of “those” woman – many of whom turned out to be raw food chefs or fitness experts! – go anywhere near anything that even remotely resembled a bagel, let alone a muffin. Instead, I saw them with almonds, fresh fruit, and herbal tea. Humph! Ironically, and much to my chagrin, they ate a lot like me!

And, finally, the following came across MJ’s Twitter feed: I just found out that three people I assumed were naturally skinny had all been previously overweight.

When you hear/see something that many times in a 72 hour period, there must be something to it!

So, how do you go about trying to break down those stereotypes? And I use the word stereotypes intentionally, because that’s what they are.

First, just watch skinny people. What do they eat? How do they eat it? When facing situations that you find challenging, what do they do? How do they spend their free time?

And don’t watch them when you’re out at lunch, because as one of my skinny friends told me, a lot of skinny people will eat a lot when they go out, but they will either cut back at dinner or for the next few days depending on how much they splurged!

Another thing would be to simply ask them! Trust me, they don’t bite. And if they work in the fitness industry, they’ll be all too happy to tell you all about it!

So, if you have this idea that skinny people can eat all they want, watch them. Remember, modeling (and team building) are powerful predictors of success!

2 comments so far

  1. Deborah Barnett, PhD on

    Not only is it easy to categorize into “us versus them” when it comes to looking at “others,” which separates us from the support we might receive if we were not judging. It is also easy to be critical and judgemental of oneself and thus to lose the support and encouragement that can come from healthy self-talk. Our beliefs we have about ourself can have a huge impact on our weight loss success.

    • KJ on

      Too true! Thanks for commenting! I hope to see you again in the future!

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