By Mom and RD, Elyse Falk
When you see or get introduced to a person who appears to be overweight, what thoughts go through your mind? Perhaps you’ve been thinking—“He/she needs more exercise or to go on a diet, is lazy or has low self-esteem or a lack of willpower, is unhealthy or not very bright and/or just may be depressed.” Yes, there surely are some overweight people who may have some of these character traits, but do you ever think these same things about thin people? Why not? More often than not, when we see a slender person (not too slim!), we may have these thoughts—“Beautiful, healthy, smart, high self-esteemed”—when in fact we can be completely wrong! This weekend I attended an eating disorder conference where I learned the term “weightism.” It’s defined as weight stigma, weight bias, and weight discrimination. Our society, including doctors, can be a bit harsh…making judgments just by looking at people’s sizes. There are many healthy fat people! And there are many unhealthy thin people! Let’s not look at people’s sizes and draw conclusions about what their health circumstances might be.
What’s really crucial is the behaviors people choose to incorporate into their lives such as eating mindfully, being active most days of the week, participating in feel good exercise routines, connecting with others and treating their bodies with respect. Bodies come in many different shapes and sizes; just because someone falls into the overweight category doesn’t mean he/she is destined to have a heart attack. There is actually little evidence that risk factors for disease will be lowered if heavier people lose weight. There is also little evidence that “diets” really work in the long term.
Are these judgments that we make about other people’s sizes trickling down to our thoughts and feelings about our own children’s body sizes? Do our children hear us talking about body size and then pass these judgments on to their peers? “Weightism” starts at a young age, even as early as three! It’s essential to facilitate positive associations with all types of people at all different weights. From one mom to another, I ask you to think seriously about whether you are teaching your children this biased thinking…or perhaps even judging your own children in this way. I encourage you to think about promoting healthy, positive self-care behaviors like engaging in physical activities; using coping skills rather than drugs, alcohol or tobacco; eating regular meals and snacks instead of dieting or binging; meditating to help prevent internalizing; and the list goes on and on… The most significant factor in good health is what we are doing…not how we look! Perhaps with January so near, this is the time to make a firm resolution to refuse to contribute to “weightism.” You can speak about any bodily shapes and sizes in a neutral manner; then ask questions about behaviors before coming to your own conclusions. Most important…love and nurture your children no matter what size they are and never put them on diets. As we already know, diets lead to binge eating and weight gain. For more information research HAES – Health At Every Size and www.BodyImageProject.com. Additional information obtained from the lecture of Dr. Deb Burgard and her website, www.bodypositive.com.