All Bodies are Good Bodies

It is weight stigma awareness week. Weight stigma is weight based discrimination or stereotyping someone based on their weight. It is the biggest contributor to eating disorders. Our culture idealizes thinness and makes negative assumptions about those that live in larger bodies. Shaming and blaming people in larger bodies happens everywhere.  It often starts at home when children hear their own mothers self-shame themselves about their body size. It happens on playgrounds when children in larger bodies are made fun of. Thinness is honored and fat shaming is prevalent on social media where it is often veiled as concern for someone’s health. Diet culture and weight control have a large platform on all media sources and has become ingrained as the norm. Larger people report that family and physicians are the most common source of weight bias. Health providers are often quick to prescribe restrictive diets and view larger patients as non-compliant when weight is not lost.

The unfortunate impact of weight stigma is that we now have a high prevalence of eating disorders in the United States. Weight stigma is a risk factor for depression, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. Those who experience weight stigma also engage in more frequent binge eating and are more likely to experience an eating disorder.  

The research is clear. Overemphasizing weight is not solving our nation’s health problems, but instead fuels eating disorders and counterproductive psychological effects. It also ignores the part that genetics play in our body size. We all have a genetic set point and it can be difficult to counter that for more than a short period of time. Restrictive diets don’t work. Two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lose on these diets within 5 years. Hormones and sleep play a large role in body size and these are often overlooked as well.

As a dietitian, I try to steer my clients’ focus away from weight loss. When someone asks for help losing weight, I want to know what their ultimate goal is. If they want to feel better, we can talk about healthy habits that will better nourish, strengthen and honor their bodies as well as improve their physical and mental health.  I am a firm believer that all bodies are good bodies and that we can be healthier at any size.  Healthy habits will improve lab values, strength, energy, sleep, mental health, and almost all body functions independent of weight loss. This is what we must emphasize as a culture. 

How can we change conversations about body weight and health?

Eliminate weight from all conversations. There is no need to comment on anyone else’s weight gain or weight loss.

Don’t assume anything about anyone based on their body size. You have no idea what factors contributed to their size whether small or large.

Give yourself love and respect. You are so much more than a number on the scale. Counter negative self-talk about your own body by making lists of things you like about your body.

Ignore or stand up against weight bullies and food police.

Engage in healthy habits as self-care. Mentally detach weight loss from healthy habits. Nourish and strengthen to feel better and live longer.

Honor and respect all bodies as good bodies. Teach your children that all bodies are good bodies.