THE BLOG
05/24/2016 03:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2017

The Elephant in the Room: How Our Weight Bias Harms Us

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How many times have you sat in a circle of people who believe they are devoted to making the world a better place and yet the conversations about bodies and health devolve into judgment, shame and blame? Weight bias, overt and often unnamed, runs amok between us. Bias lives in words that pathologize certain bodies, like "obesity" or "overweight"; it expands when we believe we know the solutions to "help" change another person's size and collude with body shame when we offer advice; and it flourishes when we apologize for the food we are eating, discuss it as "indulgence" or talk about how we are going to "make up" for it later.

Weight bias also shows itself every single time we sell weight loss and body change to one another despite the fact that data doesn't support a focus on weight, size and shape to address health. Sadly, this is even happening at some eating disorder treatment centers who are beginning to add "weight management" to their list of services. Health care professionals, healers, coaches, and fitness professionals are missing the boat when they make assumptions about a person's health based on size. After a collective 30+ years working in the eating disorder field, we want you to know you that these conversations aren't doing anyone any favors and are not healing, nor are they health promoting. They just reinforce the culture's narrow standards of beauty.

There is an impact each and every time we label, and thus marginalize, people based on size. Ill thoughts about your own body are reinforced. You reinforce stigma in the person next to you, regardless of their size. Your children are taught to see bodies as problematic. And the judgment most certainly does not liberate anyone to live their life with reverence and grace in the body they have.

It is time to discuss the monstrous impact of weight bias in our culture and begin to own and defend the truest reality of body diversity. We could start by adequately questioning and diminishing the value and impact of the multi-billion dollar diet industry that depends on you failing and coming back again and again and again. We could stop selling weight loss to each other and conforming to dieting practices under the guise of health when, mostly, we are motivated by fear of fat. It is now time, as Kelly Diels says in her research about the negative impact of The Female Lifestyle Empowerment Brand, "to make it clear that it's not you, it's the world you're living in. It's the world that has to change." Reducing the systematic oppression that increases stress and negatively impacts health is what will make the biggest difference in peoples' lives.

The data on weight stigma is truly astonishing--weight discrimination is on the rise, increasing by 66% over the past decade. Weight bias disproportionately affects women, and was found to be more common than age and gender discrimination in employment settings. This matters because weight stigma impacts a person's quality of life and poses serious health consequences: elevated blood pressure, unhealthy weight control and binge eating behaviors, bulimic symptoms, negative body image, low self-esteem, and depression among children, adolescents and adults (Tylka et al, 2014). So the risks we associate with a higher body weight might be caused by the stigma of living in a larger body, and not by the weight itself!

Shifting our dialogue about weight and health would have a profound impact. We would create space for others to step into the limitless inhabitation of their own bodies. Liberation, personal freedom, and power live here. The culture is not sending peace warriors to go first. Permission isn't coming. Someone needs to go first, and we believe now is the time. We can do it together. Healing is possible.

Ever wonder how to talk about weight without slipping into that not-so-elevated discussion rooted in how we have been taught to judge? Know this: our body beliefs (and the shame encircling them) tend to live quietly, but painfully, in hidden away places inside of us. You are not alone if the thought of body acceptance has you feeling worried or scared or unprotected. But, truly, there are not enough green smoothies or cleanses that can touch the places of deeply distancing internalized body shame that most of us carry. Disordered eating has become a way we hustle to get away from the body shame, and it does not work. It becomes a hamster wheel that many struggle to exit. Disordered eating is prevalent in ALL ages and stages of life. Pervasive weight bias will not improve disordered eating. This we know for sure. It is time to focus more on healing than fixing.

We cannot approach our adipose tissue with a different set of rules than we have for honoring our own heart wisdom. They are one in the same. Every part is you. Every ounce is sacred. If we "weight" for our bodies to be in the form we deem worthy of our dreams, we may find ourselves living lives rooted more in shame than worthiness, and never pursue the things that really matter to us.

What are some things you can do? Stop talking about other people's bodies, either with judgment or aspiration. Begin to follow people in social media who support body acceptance, are body positive, and who are bravely sharing their body as it is, without apology. Do not seek healing and treatment for disordered eating or body shame from someone who markets weight loss. And finally, do not judge people for eating or apologize for the food in front of you.

To care about and promote the acceptance of body diversity is the medicine we need, today and for future generations. We must bring this issue into the light, pick it up and examine it from all angles. It is possible for us to bravely go deeper together, inviting this conversation--with its vulnerabilities and uncertainties--to illuminate the power in our body stories. Healing is possible, but only if we separate it from the traditional weight paradigm. Vulnerability paves the way for connection, and the real truth of people's lives will not be found in the judgment of one another based on size.

Be Nourished believes body trust® is a birthright. We offer online courses for helping professionals and the general public to support healing relationship to food, body and self. The next course for the general public begins June 27th. For more information about our programs, including provider certification, visit www.benourished.org. You can also find us on social media:

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