Weight Stigma

If we’re really going to get to the other side of eating disorders, we need to start addressing weight stigma in a general sense and in the eating disorders recovery community. Weight bias is known to be a major contributor to eating disorders. Weight stigma can be defined as negative attitudes about weight, particularly towards bodies that fall outside what is considered culturally to be “ideal”. These attitudes lead to all sorts of problems: bullying and discrimination for people whose bodies don’t fit into our narrow sense of acceptable and also self-blame, self-hate and eating disorders. Weight stigma also creates problems in trying to recover from an eating disorder. When we assume that health can be achieved at a BMI of 18.5 to 25, we make it harder for people whose bodies settle a bit heavier naturally to recover.

If we want to stem the tide of eating disorders we first need to address this cultural problem of weight stigma. ALL PEOPLE need to step up and take a stand to end weight stigma. ALL BODIES are ok. Thinner is NOT better. The problem is NOT our bodies, the problem is the way we think about bodies. A campaign to end weight stigma is needed, from all directions. Teachers need to start teaching that bodies come in a diversity of sizes and shapes and all bodies deserve love and to be taken care of. Health professionals need to stop assuming that weight equates to health and that anyone can lose weight if they try hard enough. In the media, we need to see more examples of healthy women, men, boys and girls in a variety of shapes and sizes. As individuals, we need to disengage from negative body talk. No more “fat talk” where we say things like “does this make me look fat?”. Assuming fat is negative creates all kinds of problems. As a culture, it used to be normalized to say things like “that’s so gay”. Now, that is socially unacceptable because homosexuality should not be a slur. Neither should “fat”. We all need fat to live, let’s stop demonizing fat and shaming bodies.

Incorporating awareness of weight stigma into eating disorders recovery and treatment is also important. Recovered bodies, like all bodies, come in ALL shapes and sizes. Individuals need to be aware of and prepared for their recovered body to fall outside the cultural “ideal”. Very few people’s bodies fit into that so called ideal, suggesting the ideal is the problem, not our bodies. Treatment providers need to be aware that for some people recovery requires weight restoration, EVEN IF their body is already in a so called “healthy” weight range. Also, some sufferers can be very sick, although their bodies may not appear to fit the stereotype of having anorexia. It is important in these senses to avoid saying things like “you look healthy”. This is a very minimizing experience for sufferers and points to the importance of trying to avoid weight based assumptions.

~ Caitlin O’Reilly

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