Fat Shaming Only Increases Poor Habits

by Matt Weik

I don’t really feel that it’s 100% necessary to be writing about this, but I feel there are some people out there who it might change their way of thinking. Obesity is spreading across our nation and it seems like more and more people are becoming disgusted with the health and appearance of America. Now before we get any further, this is not to sham any one group for their appearance, I’ve been in the industry over a decade and there isn’t anything I haven’t already seen and have tried to help. Look at this article as a way to help these individuals rather than shame them or put them down. They know the issues that they wake up to every morning, reinforcing their appearance is not going to do anything for them. So, let’s figure out how we can help.

Don’t be a bully, rather be a bull

Now before you get all bent out of shape, I’m not telling anyone to go to their safe space or keep their mouth shut, in fact, I’m preaching the opposite but only in a different manner. Bullying (both online and in person), prejudice, and shaming people for their appearance is something that happens daily. People often consider individuals who are obese as being lazy, unattractive, and have no one to blame their weight gain on other than themselves. However, the constant belittling to these individuals on a daily basis can keep pushing them into the darkness. Think before you speak. Putting these individuals down only further increases their chances of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. Be more like a bull with a driving force to make change.

How do researchers see this?

When researchers asked individuals to complete questionnaires, they found many times these overweight and obese individuals were depressed and actually began to believe the things that people were saying to them—that they are lazy, ugly, disgusting, etc. They were starting to devalue themselves when compared to others in society simply based on their weight. It’s difficult to hear people saying the same thing day in and day out without you starting to believe what they are saying. Just like the woman who walks into the office and everyone compliments her on how pretty she looks every day, she starts to believe she’s pretty and it boosts her confidence. Likewise, when someone is constantly belittling someone because of their appearance, eventually that thought gets imbedded into their head and they believe all of those negative stereotypes.

This can all affect the individual’s behavior and actually drive them to not exercise or eat in excess as a coping mechanism. Researchers are finding the side effects of the psychological stress on an individual can increase cortisol levels in the body as well as inflammation.

One researcher stated, “There is a common misconception that stigma might help motivate individuals with obesity to lose weight and improve their health. We are finding it has quite the opposite effect. When people feel shamed because of their weight, they are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress. In this study, we identified a significant relationship between the internalization of weight bias and having a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, which is a marker of poor health. Disparagement of others due to their weight and messages that perpetuate blame and shame, if internalized, can cause harm to the physical and mental health of individuals with obesity. As health care practitioners, we can help challenge negative, internalized stereotypes by educating patients about the complex biological and environmental factors that contribute to obesity, while providing concrete strategies to help patients manage their weight and improve their health.”

Another researcher mentioned, “Health care providers, the media, and the general public should be aware that blaming and shaming patients with obesity is not an effective tool for promoting weight loss, and it may in fact contribute to poor health if patients internalize these prejudicial messages. Providers can play a critical role in decreasing this internalization by treating patients with respect, discussing weight with sensitivity and without judgment, and giving support and encouragement to patients who struggle with weight management—behaviors everyone should display when interacting with people with obesity.”

What can WE do as a society?

Rather than drive these individuals further down the rabbit hole, try and help. If they are a loved one or a friend, encourage them to take a walk with you or get active. If you are knowledgeable about nutrition, talk with them about how to change a few things with their diet to help them lose weight. And one of the biggest things we can all do is stop shamming everyone. Putting someone down is not going to help their cause, in fact as mentioned above it has the opposite effect and further drives them down a deadly path.

As a society, we have come a long way in terms of health and fitness. We have a greater understanding of nutrition and what we should and shouldn’t eat. Not everyone understands the things we consider an everyday “norm” with our own fitness and nutrition. Share that knowledge. I encourage everyone to at least TRY to make a difference in the people’s lives around you. You won’t be able to help everyone, as there are people who simply don’t want help. But there are those who are lost and don’t know where to start. Help guide them and educate them so they can make a change in their life before it’s too late. Put yourself in their shoes. No one wants to be a ticking time bomb because of their weight. We have the ability to make a difference if we so choose. Make the right choice and be the change that this nation needs.

Rebecca L. Pearl, Thomas A. Wadden, Christina M. Hopkins, Jena A. Shaw, Matthew R. Hayes, Zayna M. Bakizada, Nasreen Alfaris, Ariana M. Chao, Emilie Pinkasavage, Robert I. Berkowitz, Naji Alamuddin. Association between weight bias internalization and metabolic syndrome among treatment-seeking individuals with obesity. Obesity, 2017; 25 (2): 317 DOI: 10.1002/oby.21716

Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “Fat shaming linked to greater health risks.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 26 January 2017. .

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