Weight Stigma: Pushing Back to Move Forward 

It takes strength and courage to embark on a weight management journey. 

After all, the journey demands physical and mental effort and determination to stay on track and overcome obstacles.

One strategy that can keep you moving toward your weight management and healthy lifestyle goals is pushing back against weight stigma.

Weight stigma refers to negative attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions about heavier people, and it can lead to stereotyping, rejection, and discrimination. You might encounter this type of weight bias when you’re out shopping, at the gym, at work, or even when you are among friends and family. You might even internalize weight stigma, turning negative feelings and attitudes inward against yourself. 

Weight stigma can take a real toll on your emotions, mental health, and physical well-being.

Weight, Weight Stigma, and Well-being

According to the CDC, about two in five American adults (42%) are considered obese. That’s an increase from less than 1 in 3 adults (31%) 20 years ago. Many factors can lead to excess weight gain, including family history and genetics, eating habits, activity level, sleep patterns, medical conditions, medications, and access to healthy food.

In the United States, weight stigma persists despite the increasing number of heavier people and the many causes of obesity. Overweight people are often stereotyped as lazy, unmotivated, or lacking discipline. 

Whether the stigma is coming from others or from your perception of yourself, it can result in negative thoughts about your body and can sometimes even contribute to feelings of depression or anxiety.

In fact, people who face weight stigma are more likely to experience mental health issues. In one nationwide study, heavier people who experienced weight discrimination had higher stress levels and were twice as likely to also experience mood and anxiety disorders than those who didn’t experience discrimination.

To make matters worse, these mental health effects can affect your physical health. 

People who feel judged by their doctor for being overweight, for example, may be less likely to join weight management programs and achieve weight loss success, and those who experience weight stigma may be less likely to try to improve their health by eating better and being physically active.

These effects can derail your weight management efforts and block your path to a healthier lifestyle. The good news? You can overcome weight stigma.

A Healthy Approach to Lifestyle Change

Actually, you’re already on the right track! Taking part in a supportive, behavior-based program like your Pack Health journey has been shown to improve the chances of achieving lasting weight loss and lowering risk for health issues like diabetes.

Here are a few other tips for weight management success:

  • Focus on what you can control. 
  • Look for opportunities for physical activity in your daily life. 
  • Choose nutrient-rich foods to help you feel more satisfied with fewer calories.
  • Practice helpful coping strategies like self-love and acceptance, including positive self-talk, instead of unhelpful strategies like isolation and negative self-talk.

These and other approaches that we’ll review during your Pack Health journey can support improved well-being and better mental and physical health. 

Don’t let weight stigma hold you back. Tap into the strength and courage that helped bring you here and push back to move forward! 

And remember, you don’t have to do it alone. If weight stigma ever feels like too much to handle on your own, talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional. Your Health Advisor is here with resources to start the conversation.

 

References:

Overweight & obesity statistics. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published September 2021. Accessed January 12, 2022. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/overweight-obesity
Physical activity for a healthy weight. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Published March 9, 2022. Accessed April 12, 2022. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/physical_activity/index.html
LeBlanc ES, Patnode CD, Webber EM, Redmond N, Rushkin M, O’Connor EA. Behavioral and pharmacotherapy weight loss interventions to prevent obesity-related morbidity and mortality in adults: updated evidence report and systematic review for the us preventive services task force. JAMA. 2018;320(11):1172. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.7777
Hunger JM, Major B, Blodorn A, Miller CT. Weighed down by stigma: how weight-based social identity threat contributes to weight gain and poor health: weighed down by stigma. Social and Personality Psychology Compass. 2015;9(6):255-268. doi:10.1111/spc3.12172
Emmer C, Bosnjak M, Mata J. The association between weight stigma and mental health: A meta-analysis. Obesity Reviews. 2020;21(1). doi:10.1111/obr.12935
Pearl RL, Wadden TA, Hopkins CM, et al. Association between weight bias internalization and metabolic syndrome among treatment-seeking individuals with obesity: Weight Bias Internalization and Metabolic Syndrome. Obesity. 2017;25(2):317-322. doi:10.1002/oby.21716
Vartanian LR, Pinkus RT, Smyth JM. Experiences of weight stigma in everyday life: Implications for health motivation. Stigma and Health. 2018;3(2):85-92. doi:10.1037/sah0000077
Phelan SM, Burgess DJ, Yeazel MW, Hellerstedt WL, Griffin JM, Ryn M. Impact of weight bias and stigma on quality of care and outcomes for patients with obesity. Obes Rev. 2015;16(4):319-326. doi:10.1111/obr.12266

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