You know that feeling you get when you see a picture of yourself and you can't believe your eyes? "The camera adds 10 pounds," you think, as you banish the image from your mind and retreat back to your happy place of denial. Don't worry, you're not alone. And it might not necessarily be denial that's to blame.
According to the New York Times, studies carried out worldwide have shown that people, regardless of age group and cultural background, tend to underestimate their body sizes, and there is a neurological process involved.
Since our bodies change as we age, the brain must continuously adjust its body image in order to maintain an accurate perception of size. Scientists are beginning to uncover how the brain's perception can go astray.
"The relative size of our body parts needs to be continuously updated and recalibrated," says Henrik Ehrsson, associate professor of cognitive neuroscience at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, to the New York Times. "One possibility is that, in people who get obese or who have body-image disorders, something goes wrong with that process."
A study conducted recently at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in Mexico helps to prove this theory. A mixed-gender group of 3,622 young people were asked to describe their body sizes using pre-determined categories ranging from very underweight to obese.
While 80 per cent of people in the normal weight category selected the right size descriptor for themselves, 58 per cent of overweight participants incorrectly classified themselves as normal weight. Of the obese participants, only 10 per cent described their body size accurately, while 75 per cent of them incorrectly selected the overweight descriptor, reports the New York Times.
Another study, from the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, found that one in three women didn't notice when they experienced a 5-lb. weight gain, and 15 per cent were oblivious to a gain of more than 10 lbs.
Besides the psychological factors that many studies suggest are at work here, researchers also recognize that perspective could be playing a role. Findings based on the Quebec Child and Adolescent Health and Social Survey reveal that children with the heaviest parents and friends are most likely to underestimate their body size. The University of Alberta's assistant professor of epidemiology, Katerina Maximova, explains this discovery to the New York Times:
"When kids live in an environment in which they see, on a daily basis, parents or school peers who are overweight, they may develop inaccurate perceptions of what constitutes a healthy weight. Their own overweight seems normal by comparison."
If that's the case, it should become all the more important for parents to ensure they're setting positive examples for their children in terms of healthy eating and exercise habits and weight management.
Do you think you have a skewed sense of your body size? Leave your comments below.
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