In this post, I want to share more of what I’ve learned through my experiences. I acknowledge that I don’t know what it is like to live in this world in a larger body, so my views come solely from working with and hearing from those who do. I spent the first half of my career working in the weight management space. What I discuss is influenced by these experiences, what I’ve learned from others, and confirmed by what I’ve seen in research.
I want to start off by saying there is nothing wrong with wanting to lose weight, or change your appearance. What I discuss has more to do with my approach as a healthcare provider—not promoting or prescribing weight loss without your consent. I am speaking against thinking of weight loss as THE way to improve health and well-being without considering everything possibly affecting your health (body/mind/soul).
I believe in informed consent before encouraging any type of medical treatment, and this includes intentional weight loss. Focusing on outside goals (the scale, calories, etc.) over tuning in to what our bodies need often leads to food preoccupation, slowed metabolism, anxiety over our appearance, and disordered eating. It’s also correlated with weight gain over time. As I mentioned before, I don’t want to demonize weight gain, but IF your goal is to lower your weight, you should know that dieting and weight cycling are correlated with weight gain over time. (The final post in this series will discuss what you can focus on instead.) Let’s move on to weight stigma.
The term “weight stigma” is a broad term referring to the bias or discrimination against people because of their weight. In simple terms, it means condemning those in larger bodies, and blaming them for not changing or being able to change their body size. Internalized weight stigma has been identified as a health risk factor by itself, regardless of weight or other health-related factors.
You cannot make assumptions about anyone’s health or well-being based on appearance alone. Weight stigma can promote shame, isolation, anxiety, depression, body image issues, and may keep people from seeking medical care to avoid feeling stigmatized. It can also lead to disordered eating/eating disorders which negatively affect health and well-being.
As previously mentioned, dieting/food rules/food restriction doesn’t sustainably decrease body size, yet people are often blamed for not being able to lose or keep off weight. Our bodies fight to keep us within our set point range. Trying to bring your weight below it usually backfires. The research strongly demonstrates that intentional weight control (through manipulating foods or the amount eaten to control weight) only works short term. Within 2-5 years, 95% of people regain weight, and 2/3 of these folks regain MORE weight.
When I worked as a weight management provider, I remember the defeated look on people’s faces when they came to me feeling like they failed, even though they were doing everything in their power to lose weight/maintain lost weight. They did NOT fail, and neither have you. Dieting fails US, not the other way around. It’s the only industry I know of that blames people for its lack of success.
The effect of weight itself on health is debated and a hot topic in research right now, and there are flaws in how studies are interpreted/presented to the public. Whether weight itself affects health or not is not the point. I believe it’s more helpful to shift our attention towards what is in our control, what can positively affect our health in the long run, what is sustainable, and what promotes whole well-being overall (considering the mental and emotional effects of interventions). Shame and blame are never constructive, and negatively affect our mental and physical health. We also cannot make assumptions about anyone’s health by solely looking at body size.
Where you place your attention is important when pursuing whole health and well-being—I will speak more about this in my next post.
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