THE WAR ON WEIGHT STIGMA
Updated: Jan 12
It is time we, as individuals, observe, investigate & dismantle our own weight stigma and bias’ that we uphold regarding weight and health (for us, & others, & the children we are bringing into the world).
Please note: To investigate, observe and dismantle, WITHOUT judgement of ourselves for any unhelpful patterns that have been re-enforced either to us by others, or by us to others, as a result of diet culture and harmful societal beliefs on such.
So, what is weight stigma?
Weight stigma, or weight bias, or weight based discrimination, is discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s weight.
Weight stigma can increase body dissatisfaction, which is a leading risk factor in the development of eating disorders and disordered eating.
As Evelyn Tribole (award winning registered Dietitian and co-founder of Intuitive Eating) describes, “it’s holding judgments, beliefs, & assumptions about people based on their body size (including your own), which results in prejudicial treatment. Eating disorders thrive because of weight stigma. It’s harder on fat people because their bodies are subject to scrutiny & bullying ‘in the name of health’ by complete strangers, not to mention by family members & health professionals. (Sadly, healthcare/fitness professionals are one of the main perpetrators of weight stigma). Weight stigma also thrives because of policies that promote shrinking bodies in the name of health—even though a body of research shows that dieting doesn’t work for the vast majority of people, causes harm, and predicts you’ll gain more weight in the long run.”
We live in a society that has drilled us (since before, personally, I can even remember) that our weight determines our health. That those living in a smaller body are healthy, and those living in a larger body, are unhealthy (simply not true).
And diet culture not only upholds these beliefs in regard to health, but also worth.
Diet culture has us (incorrectly) believing that there is something wrong with you if you live in a larger body – i.e. common discrimination 'lazy’, ‘don’t look after yourself’, ‘not healthy’, ‘not fit’, and ‘yes good, you should probably feel bad about yourself, that’s the only way something is going to change.’ DISCLAIMER: Fear & bullying never helped anyone. People living in larger bodies are discriminated against in society, workplaces, and in healthcare. OFTEN. (PSA: It’s not helpful).
Diet culture has deeply ingrained these distorted cognitive beliefs…. So, ingrained that you may feel automatic resistance to the following statements.
Weight is not an accurate indicator of health.
Weight does NOT determine health.
And we do not have as much control over our weight and body size as we are led to believe. (Genetics plays a key role and our weight NATURALLY settles at different base points from individual to individual when we are eating intuitively in response to our unique hormonal cues, moving in enjoyable ways, and taking care of our mental health).
We now have access to research (and experiences) that tell us that it is healthier, long term, to live inside an overweight body that partakes in enjoyable movement and has a positive relationship with food, rather than live inside a body that constantly weight cycles in the continual, exhausting effort to get our bodies smaller, and neglects healthy behaviours to get there. Weight cycling is the repeated episodes of losing weight, regaining, losing, regaining - which has serious, adverse health affects. I recently wrote up a review on the affects of weight cycling, you can take a look here: https://www.theintuitivedietitian.com.au/post/weight-cycling-vs-intuitive-eating
Not everyone has the time, effort, or know-how knowledge of how to sift & navigate through research. Not everyone sits with people day in, day out, listening to the experiences of other people regarding weight, health, diet, thought patterns, and histories in families re all of the above. Not everyone is engrossed with and/or learning from people doing significant work in these spaces.
So, coupled with people’s experiences (as if this wasn’t enough already?), and the research we now have access to on weight and health, we are able to CLEARLY identify that weight is not an accurate indicator of health.
That rather, our BEHAVIOURS, such as sustainable and enjoyable movement, eating patterns which foster all of the roles of food (enjoyment, health, pleasure, comfort, fuel, variety, satisfaction, joy), eating in the absence of guilt/shame, how we talk to and treat ourselves and foster our mental health – that lead to our overall health. (With everyone's definition of 'health' also being unique to them).
Thus, we know from research and experience that:
Our BEHAVIOURS indicate our health.
And WEIGHT IS NOT A BEHAVIOUR.
And, on most people’s endeavours to “achieve better health”, it’s almost always never met with a behavioural goal but rather a weight goal.
With the shrinking of the body and achievement of a lower weight at the heart of it, and ‘building positive, healthy behaviours’ on another end of a spectrum not really thought of.
We get caught up in this vortex when all we can possibly focus on, in the name of health, or worth, is WEIGHT.
And when that’s the only focus, the common way for people to see possible the attainment of this goal, is dieting. (PSA: Dieting is the common things like our FAD diets but it is also anything and everything that removes trust from your own innate wisdom regarding hunger and fullness cues (AKA forces you to ignore the cue of hunger and ‘wait it out’ because you’re being ‘disciplined’) – this is total body/mind disconnection, deprives you of the pleasure of food, & restriction in any and every form of the word i.e. physiologically, biologically, psychologically etc.).
Dieting has been co-opted as ‘lifestyle changes’, ‘wellness’, ‘healthy eating’ – but please note if it induces any of the above written in brackets, regardless of how sugar coated someone makes it, it’s a diet. Or how I refer to it: The same sh*t, just a different sandwich.
If you are concerned about your own weight, somebody else’s weight, or your child’s weight, please know the following will NOT help:
1. Dieting – dieting is the STRONGEST predictor of WEIGHT GAIN (PS this is LEVEL A EVIDENCE). We can't ignore that any longer!
2. Body bashing and shaming (either yourself or another).
3. Using fear as an attempt to create change or motivate yourself, or someone else. (This will only last so long because we are not emotionless beings).
4. Using discriminatory words and bullying yourself/another.
5. Inflicting your own issues around weight/body size onto another person (esp. young children – our belief system and self-esteem is often established as a young child).
& remember, our bodies are MEANT to come in different shapes and sizes. Watch this amazing video by the Association for Size Diversity and Health (ASDAH): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H89QQfXtc-k
Investigate your own weight bias. Do you believe that people in smaller bodies are healthier than people in larger bodies? That people in smaller bodies are more valuable than people in larger bodies? That those in smaller bodies are less lazy, and take more care of themselves, than those in larger bodies? That those in smaller bodies can work harder, or are more fit, than those in larger bodies? These are all examples of weight stigma.
Do you openly (or internally) criticize or name call others using words pertaining to body size? Do you judge another person based on their body size or weight? Do you believe one body size is more valuable than another body size? These are all examples of weight stigma. And a good one to think on: How do you feel or have you felt at times when your own body has gotten bigger than you were use to? How do you think you would feel at 5kg, 10kg, 15kg heavier? These answers can teach you a lot about yourself and your own thought processes and beliefs.
Don’t hold judgement for yourself if and when any of the above occurs. Just start to notice it at this point. Diet culture is strong, harmful, destructive and is successful because it thrives on our insecurities. And up until now, people haven’t challenged diet culture. But it’s time to challenge diet culture. And we first start, by bringing awareness to how it’s affecting our life, & the lives of those around us, and then move forward with tools of how to protect ourselves from its grasp.
Take a look at some deep-rooted examples of weight stigma from people long into their adulthood. It depicts how cemented our views on ourselves, and the world are, from input we receive as young children. These examples come from a research paper cited at the end of this article.
Can you imagine reaching 75 years old and you’re still worried about the way your body looks? This is the future we are heading for unless we start to break the cycles that have been presented within family units and in diet culture for years and years and years.
& if this isn't enough....
Eating disorder rates have doubled in the last 5 years (ED's have a very high mortality risk rate). And what is a key factor that fuels eating disorders? Body dissatisfaction associated with weight stigma. (Diet culture).
A study from America indicates that "roughly 25 million men and 43 million women are dieting to lose weight. Another 21 million men and 26 million women are dieting to maintain weight. In total, there are nearly 116 million adults dieting at any given time — representing about 55% of the total adult population."
^^^ Think about that one KNOWING that dieting is the STRONGEST predictor of weight gain.
“A person’s weight says nothing about their intelligence, character, or contributions to society. We need to fight obesity, not obese people.” - Puhl, R.M
(And I think we need to fight weight stigma).
As you become more and more educated on weight stigma, diet culture, and the distorted, harmful beliefs around such – it becomes easy to identify it in everyday life in conversations with everyday people. This can also make it harder, especially as you enter the journey of breaking free from it when you’re surrounded by people so stuck in it, alongside the media.
I think it’s important when this information lands in people’s laps, that they have a space to talk openly, freely, reflectively, without judgement, about these concepts.
I really have to stop and remind myself that some people do not have access to this education, knowledge, experience, and research.
Some people don’t know about the above. This might be the first time you’re reading or hearing about weight stigma.
It is HARD to dismantle diet culture and weight stigma if it is all we know. (It's still hard even when we know better). Diet culture also celebrates weight stigma. And often, when we are amidst diet culture, we don’t even know it.
So, I am here to offer my support.
Even if you just want to have a conversation about this, about any possible resistance or emotions arising…. And you want to talk about it in a safe, supportive, judgement free space, I am here.
A phone call or coffee away.
Because the last thing you want is for people to feel shame about the possible weight stigma and discrimination they have inflicted upon either themselves, another, or their children.
That’s not what this is about.
This is about awareness and support.
TOGETHER, without judgement, with safety, with vulnerability, we can create change.
Do not ever hesitate to reach out. Email: email@example.com
The Intuitive Dietitian xx
Dieting or food restriction for the purpose of shrinking the body is the gateway to an #eatingdisorder. We have got to dismantle diet culture. - Evelyn Tribole
Poodle science video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H89QQfXtc-k
Busting Myths on Weight and Health (Linda Bacon): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CgDbM-vyh0
Diets don’t work. Body respect does. Linda Bacon: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z8vOtVUduBQ
The Body is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor
Anti-Diet by @Chr1styHarrison
Fearing the Black Body: The Racial Origins of Fat Phobia by Sabrina Strings
Andreyeva, T., Puhl, R.M., & Brownell, K. D. (2008). Changes in perceived weight discrimination among Americans, 1995-1996 through 2004-2006. Obesity, 16, 1129-1134.
Wu Y…2017. Impact of weight stigma on physiological & psychological health…A systematic review. J Adv Nurs. 1–13.
Tomiyama AJ et al 2018. How & why weight stigma…harms health. BMC Med 16:123
Bacon L et al 2011. Weight Science: Evaluating Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition J.10:9
O’Hara L et al 2018. What’s Wrong With the ‘War on Ob*sity? …Framework...for a Paradigm Shift. SAGE Open.April-June 2018: 1
Health, Not Diets: https://www.healthnotdiets.com
Intuitive Eating: https://www.intuitiveeating.org