Ours is a fat-phobic society. We can’t deny it. Researchers on public health issues find that individuals deemed overweight or obese are thought to be lazy, weak-willed, unsuccessful, unintelligent, lack self-discipline, have poor willpower, and are noncompliant with weight-loss treatment. These stereotypes give way to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against those living in larger bodies be it at home, the workplace, health care facilities, educational institutions, the media, and even our closest friends.
Recent estimates suggest that the prevalence of weight discrimination has increased by 66% over the past decade, and is now comparable to prevalence rates of racial discrimination in America. Our society blames and shames individuals who are deemed fat, saying this kind of shaming is perhaps even in that individuals own best interest so they will be forced to lose weight. Society says weight loss is a fat person’s personal responsibility, with countless articles, news clips, and social media posts waving the anti-fat flag in the faces of an America that already loathes it’s body image. This message of “it’s your fault you’re fat,” is the heart of why being big is so stigmatizing.
First, if this kind of fat-shaming worked, we’d already be a thin society. We’ve been shaming our bodies for countless decades as it is, but instead the rate of obesity and body-loathing are rising at ever greater speed.
Second, experiencing weight stigma increases the likelihood of engaging in unhealthy eating behaviors and lower levels of physical activity, not the other way around. Shame and guilt don’t make us love ourselves more and want to be healthier.
Typically what happens is people don’t focus on health, they focus only on weight loss and fat reduction. But the evidence is clear from decades of research that the average person can typically only lose about 10% of their body weight, and within a year have regained about a third of that, and within five years have regained most, if not all, of the weight plus more.
In addition, calorie restriction going hand in hand with weight stigma typically leads to more frequent binge eating episodes, greater psychological distress, and a greater likelihood to have a diagnosis of binge eating disorder.
So what does seem to work? Studies find that those who go through programs aimed at reducing weight stigma, promote Health at Ever Size ideas like improved quality of life, mindfulness, distress tolerance, and increased personal self-care, have greater health outcomes than any weight loss program ever could. Those results can last a lifetime. Something weight loss programs could never hope to boast.
It starts with acknowledging your own weight stigma beliefs and admitting they need to be worked on along with your physical and mental health.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C, LICSW, CEDS - Founder and CEO at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 877-674-2843 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.