Battling Weight Stigma
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photo by Ludovic Bertron

I came across an interesting study recently about the stress of being judged for being overweight. Brenda Major, from the University of California-Santa Barbara, conducted a study of 99 women of varying sizes. Based on BMI, each group had approximately 1/3rd normal weight, 1/3rd overweight and 1/3rd obese females.

The women were asked to give a speech about themselves as potential dating partners, which they thought would be evaluated for potential dating ability by researchers. Half thought they were being video taped while the other half thought there were being recorded for audio only (not visible).

Women with a higher BMI saw marked increases in blood pressure and stress, with poorer performance on executive control tests than their normal weight counterparts when they thought they were being video taped.

The cause: the anxiety from a fear of being judged for their size.

Now imagine that every day in the real world: job interviews, grocery shopping or shopping for clothes. People treating you as though you aren’t there, not wanting to look you in the eye. Perhaps making jokes about food or size at your expense. Or people branding you as lazy due to your size. It happens more often than we think and we may do it when we aren’t even aware of it.

The stress of it all doesn’t help. It perpetuates it. It takes glucose from the body, glucose the brain needs to make good decisions and say no to the awful junk that society is peddling as food. The stress and disrespect create a vicious cycle for those trying so hard to make positive changes in their health and fitness.

Most overweight people are actually trying quite hard every day to not be overweight. It takes a lot of effort to starve oneself with liquid diets, eat bland frozen meals or to self inject questionable hormones. Many fad diets are quite a challenge to maintain. That’s why they don’t work for long. Those that figure out the real way to get healthy and fit still face an uphill battle because of the way our society and lifestyles are set up. The bad choices are everywhere; to make good ones takes a lot of work.

To make progress in the health of those we love (or even those we don’t know) we need to leave the judgment behind. Everyone deserves respect and support, we are all human beings trying to do the best we can in an obesegenic society.

Take a moment today and think of one way you can make a positive change and create a more healthy and fit environment.

  • Take the candy dish off your desk.
  • Ask a co-worker to go for a walk.
  • Give your employees time off each week for exercise.
  • Donate the fitness DVDs you don’t use anymore to a local women’s shelter.

One small action may not solve the obesity epidemic but they could change one or two lives for the better.

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.”- Mahatma Gandhi

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