Fat shaming can be very impactful on the victim, you could be having an amazing day and everything, and someone says you are fat, or words to that effect, and just like that, you tumble down like someone just pulled the rug from under your feet. The thing about these negative words is that most times, even though well-meaning, come from a place of wanting the targeted person to feel bad about their weight.
Fat Shaming Won’t Help With Weight Loss
What is fat-shaming?
This is anything done to make someone feel bad about being fat. It can be comments from well-meaning friends and family, media messaging that promotes certain body types, or even people’s behaviors around you, like no one wanting to sit next to you because of your body weight. Unfortunately, fat-shaming also happens with medical professionals who instead of doing thorough investigations, assume that someone’s health issue is a result of their weight.
Why does fat-shaming not work?
Studies have shown that fat-shaming does the opposite of what people ‘intend’ it to do. Instead of motivating people to lose weight, fat-shaming causes negative psychological and physical effects including anxiety, low self-esteem, eating disorders, chronic stress, and depression; and perpetuates unhealthy behaviors such as increased eating, reduced self-regulation, and avoidance of exercise resulting in more weight gain. Fat shaming is also premised on the assumption that it’s an individual’s fault that they are fat. But while modifiable factors such as unhealthy diets and physical inactivity largely cause overweight and obesity, other factors increase the risk of fat gain in an individual. For instance, do you know someone who eats a lot of what is considered unhealthy, but hardly puts on weight? There are people whose genetic make-up encourages fat storage than others.
Some people gain weight because of hormonal changes; medications such as corticosteroids, antidepressants, and birth control pills; chronic conditions among other causes, not to mention the existing food environment which is characterized by plenty of high sugar, high fat but low nutrients, cheap foods. Also, remember obesity doesn’t come overnight. Similarly, it doesn’t go away overnight.
Instead of using a negative; shame and guilt-based approach to get people to lose weight, we can use a more positive approach that helps overweight or obese people find the tools, techniques, and motivations that not only support them to achieve lasting weight loss but also helps them to understand what is healthy for their bodies, rather than just trying to fit a social expectation. Science has indeed proven that obesity is a major risk factor for chronic conditions and there is, therefore, a need to lose weight. But what obese people need is support. Health professionals need to treat obese people as they do people presenting with other conditions.
Examine your client thoroughly and offer them the necessary treatment and support. The greatest danger lies in having sick people who do not want to go to the hospital, for fear of being mistreated. To the rest of the people be a solution. Be kind and provide whatever support you can. Either to access healthy food, physical activity, or emotional support. With fat-shaming happening everywhere, from the workplace, to school, the public, be a safe space for someone struggling with weight.
Finally, for you who are on a weight loss journey, while other areas of your life might, and they will improve because of your weight loss, remember losing weight is primarily for you. Extend grace to yourself. It’s about progress.
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