Living in a small town where you are known by your work role (I’m a registered dietitian) can sometimes be a challenge. Awhile back, a stranger approached me in the grocery store, peered into my basket and said, “Just making sure you’re following your own advice,” and walked away. I can brush this incident off knowing that what was in my basket was in line with what I believe and say about healthy eating. This position includes a variety of foods – the foods highlighted in Canada’s Food Guide, but also chocolate and the occasional summer hot dog roast. But, this got me thinking about how we are judged by the foods we eat and this can impact what we eat, how we view ourselves, and – ultimately – our health.
“Fat” is not a four-lettered work. It is a descriptive word like short, tall or blond. Being fat is no more negative or positive than being thin. Healthy bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes; sometimes these bodies are fat and sometimes they are thin.
Unfortunately, weight bias (negative assumptions, beliefs and judgments based on body weight) and weight stigma (being devalued based on your body weight) are more common than we’d like to admit.
No matter our size or weight, we all have the right to health. When I hear people talk about “getting healthy,” their first step is most often to try to lose weight. This comes from three very common myths:
- Weight loss will improve health – Strategies to lose weight are not always healthful. Attempts at weight loss are associated with increased rates of disordered eating and overall long-term weight gain. Studies have shown that weight “yo-yo”ing is more harmful to health than being at a stable, higher weight.
- Fatness causes disease and early death – Studies show that people in the “overweight” body mass index (BMI) category live longer than those in the “normal weight” category and that poor health is more likely at the extremes (very “underweight” and very “obese”).
- Weight management is about energy balance – Eating less and moving more is thought to be the magic bullet to lose weight, but this doesn’t consider things like family history, personal dieting history, socioeconomic status, the environment and the many other factors that impact one’s weight.
Research tells us that people who are the victims of weight bias and stigma are at risk for poor body image, low self-esteem, loneliness, depression, anxiety and suicide and are more likely to avoid medical care, experience stress-induced illness, avoid physical activity and engage in unhealthy eating behaviours. That doesn’t sound like health to me. We would all benefit from this prescription for life:
- Eat well
- Move daily
- Hydrate often
- Sleep lots
- Love your body
- Repeat for life
- Let your weight settle where it is meant to be
Weight bias and stigma must stop. Have you noticed weight bias in your day to day life?
About Flo Sheppard
Flo has a dual role with Northern Health—she is the NW population health team lead and a regional population health dietitian with a lead in 0 – 6 nutrition. In the latter role, she is passionate about the value of supporting children to develop eating competence through regular family meals and planned snacks. Working full-time and managing a busy home life of extracurricular and volunteer activities can challenge Flo's commitment and practice of family meals but flexibility, conviction, planning and creativity help!