Far too many people today face stigma and discrimination for being overweight.
What’s more, this discrimination is often rationalised as OK.
But please don’t be fooled: there is nothing that is OK about this.
The presence and tolerance of this discrimination is largely a result of these 3 dangerous myths we believe about our body weight:
1. Overweight and obesity are the direct result of overeating and inactivity. It’s your fault if you’re fat.
2. Being overweight is always unhealthy. For you to be healthy, you need to lose weight.
3. Sustainable weight loss is easy. If you just had the willpower to continue eating better and moving more, the weight will stay off.
Each of these 3 beliefs are very, very wrong.
First, scientific research shows body weight is a highly heritable trait. Our genes directly affect how our appetite and metabolism respond when we overeat, and in this way determine how sensitive we are to gaining weight. Indeed, the heritability of our body weight has been estimated by some to be as high as the heritability of our body height.
Second, weight loss is not a prerequisite for good health. Research shows good health is possible at a wide range of body weights, and that better health can easily be obtained without losing a significant amount of weight. Not only is it more important to live healthily and happily than it is to lose weight, but we are now seeing a growing understanding that dieting and the pursuit of weight loss often causes more problems than it solves.
Third, once we are overweight, our bodies fight hard to keep it. Decades of research shows that almost all persons who lose weight regain it within the next 5 years. Our bodies have a biological set-point that means our weight typically remains stable over the long-term, no matter how much willpower we may have.
We should all be made aware of the myths that we believe about our body weight.
Not just because we are currently buying into a worldview that is wrong. But because we are also currently buying into a worldview that helps to foster a discrimination that’s hurtful and dangerous.
When we are told and believe that how we are is wrong, not enough and less than, we feel lost, hopeless and worthless.
Slowly but surely, it breaks us down and damages the very core of who we are.
It is essential to understand too that harmful words are not helpful. Shaming and belittling others does not create greater motivation or encourage one into eating better or moving more. Indeed, research suggests shame may erase the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.
So, how can we help to reverse this stigma and discrimination?
Together, we can speak up. When we hear someone making comments about someone’s weight, we can tell them that it’s not OK and that it hurts. It doesn’t matter if the person they are talking about is us or someone else. It doesn’t matter if they are in the room or not. And it doesn’t matter if they are talking about someone specific, or just people in general. We can tell them that saying hurtful things is never OK by us.
Together, we can say sorry. If we have ever said something hurtful to someone based on their weight, it’s not too late for us to apologise. We all make mistakes and say things we regret, and it will likely do them the world of good to know that we are sorry and that we care.
And together, we can love ourselves. Research tells us that we judge people in the areas where we are vulnerable to shame, especially those who are doing worse than we’re doing. When we feel good about our body, we lose the need to make others feel bad about theirs. Loving ourselves also gives us the leverage to tell someone we know who has been affected what we really think about them: that they are beautiful, both inside and out.
Doing these things are important and they truly make a difference.
We are all deserving of being loved, and accepted, for exactly the way that we are.