Hello from Oklahoma! I’m sorry it’s been so long since I made a blog post. Starting up my private practice while continuing to work elsewhere has proven to be a challenge. Anyway, I wanted to touch on the subject of thin bias, what we commonly refer to in the HAES literature as “weight bias”. Society has put into our heads that thin is the preferred body shape (especially for females), and that fat bodies somehow represent less value. Let’s delve into the psychology of this today, as I’ve been dealing with it a lot recently in the patients I see, as well as in the world around me.
Have you ever had someone tell you, “Wow, you look so great! Have you lost weight?”. Your knee jerk (emotional) response is usually flattered, with an instinctive thank you, or also finding something about your admirer that you may comment on in a positive light as well. But, deep down, a lot of us feel a bit of CONFUSION around… “did they not think I looked good before?” Another example might be, you are clothes shopping with a friend. You come out of the dressing room reluctantly because you don’t like the way it makes you look or feel. Your verbalization of this phenomenon is, “Gosh, I look so fat in this shirt”. What does the friend usually say in response? You probably guessed it. “No it doesn’t! You’re not fat”. This pathologizes the inclination that we feel when we ask people how we look in something. They never dare say that we look fat, EVEN IF we are living in a higher weight body. The word “fat” is taboo, and shouldn’t be discussed (as per society). Wrong. Next time when you’re presented with a similar situation, perhaps as the friend on the receiving end, instead of trying to pacify the fat comment, simply say, “Let’s find a shirt that you may like better”. This is a weight neutral comment that completely leaves weight out of the equation. And, any of you men and women who have a favorite store or embody a favorite style know, there are PLENTY of clothes that can compliment your body and make you feel good in your own skin.
So this right here is one example of how society, and really fat shaming if we’re being honest, seems to work. You lose weight, which is valued, you get more attention, therefore you think it is the right thing to do. For those of us with a predisposition to an eating disorder, be it genetics, environmental, trauma-related, or otherwise, we latch onto that verbal praise as we begin to lose weight, and it drives our eating behavior for years and years to come. We’re constantly seeking that verbal validation of “you are enough. You are valuable because you are thin”. And when that verbal praise goes away if you were not able to keep the weight off, that cycle is further perpetuated by the comments ending. Restring and/or overexercising, or whatever disordered behavior to keep weight from creeping back on, begins again. It can be very damaging to people. So try to keep your weight comments and criticisms to yourself, as it can seriously harm someone, especially if their trajectory is toward eating disordered behavior.
Now. This information may be new to you. That is why I tend to stop and make myself clear for those people who think I’m bashing their beliefs about weight.. about counting calories.. etc etc. I’m only offering you a different perspective. I am not shaming you for not pondering this information before, because, as of two years ago, I did not even realize it. But I’ve done a lot of growing in my career and my thoughts around dietetics, nutrition, and how I can help others. And this information right here tends to be the meat of it. It’s raw. It’s truthful. And, until you can look at your own internal biases about weight and body size, you will never be able to understand what I, and the patients I treat, are feeling when they are faced with fatist comments, or even are turned away from admission into an eating disorder program because they don’t meet “weight criteria”.
My next blog will discuss in depth how weight centric eating disorder programs and insurance reimbursement guidelines can be damaging to those with an eating disorder who do not portray the “underweight sick body type” of anorexia.