Boost Your Body Acceptance For Better Health
We all can feel the effects of weight stigma, no matter what our size. In this episode, we help you feel good about the body you're living in and give strategies to improve your health without obsessing about your weight.
Recognize that weight stigma can actually harm your physical health.
Here's what to remember: In one research study, people were pulled out of what they thought was a "shopping psychology" study because they wouldn't fit into the designer clothes set up for the experiment. Afterward, those people had higher cortisol levels than those who weren't excluded. Prolonged exposure to excess cortisol can cause your body to deposit fat in your belly region, which is the kind of fat associated with a greater risk of heart disease and Type 2 diabetes.
"Experiencing weight stigma can sort of trigger these processes that ironically make you gain more weight," says Janet Tomiyama, a health psychologist at UCLA and senior author of the study. "And that could put you at even more risk for weight stigma."
Weight and body mass index are imperfect indicators of your health.
Some pro athletes, for instance, can be labeled obese based on their BMI — or body mass index — because of all the muscle in their body. Too much focus on BMI misses the broader health picture, says Tomiyama. Zooming in on BMI alone can add to weight stigma and actually make people avoid behaviors that promote good health, like cancer screenings or other preventive care.
Focus on well-being by practicing healthy behaviors, regardless of your weight.
That focus should include mental health, says Gary Bennett, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University and an obesity researcher.
"One of the things we as a community need to talk more about," Bennett says, "is [that] all this effort that goes into trying to change our shapes exacts a toll on our emotions that may be more risky than the health consequences of obesity."
Body acceptance is hard work, but practical strategies can help. To start, focus on building an environment of acceptance. Start in your own home, particularly in your closet, says Judith Matz, a clinical social worker and author of The Diet Survivor's Handbook.
"An example of that is looking at the clothes you have in your closet and making sure that you have clothes that fit you at the size you're at now, and that you actually like," Matz says. "Instead of letting the scale determine whether it's going to be a good day or not, put your scale away for now."
Don't put off an activity until you lose weight, either, she says: "You deserve to live fully in the world in the body that you have now."
Practice self-compassion, Matz suggests. "How you talk to yourself matters," she says. "People often have a monologue inside their mind full of negative body thoughts. Instead, think about how you would talk to a friend or a child."
Find a body-positive community on Facebook, Instagram and in podcasts, and do things that make you feel good, she says. "Maybe you notice that you enjoy a walk through a nature preserve or maybe it's the feel of a hot shower on your body."
Finally, even if you don't experience weight stigma in daily life, ask yourself: Am I helping to perpetuate it?