Fat Shaming - Where Does it End?
In this crazy world of the Internet, information highways, and connections that are made with people at what seems the speed of light is it any wonder that our human nature shines through with prejudices and negativity?
Cyberbullying in on the rise and can be attributed to many different factors. We are, as a society intrigued by someone with physical problems and even have shows about it. My 600-Pound Life, Biggest Loser, and My Big Fat Fabulous Life to name a few.
Related - How We Can End Childhood Obesity
We watch these shows with a sick anticipation, hoping for the best, but wanting to see the train wreck if it goes sideways. We replay it, we talk about it, we are disgusted but curious about how someone can get so out of control that they are bed-bound, have health issues, or can't lose weight because they love cake way too much.
Fat Shaming Positively
According to the journal of the Obesity Society, it was found that fat shaming actually has the opposite effect for individuals who are morbidly obese. “They often feel ashamed because of their weight and are more likely to avoid exercise and consume more calories to cope with this stress.”
Subsequently, the obese individual can bring on health issues that may not have been there prior to being fat shamed. Their actions that are due to being humiliated show internalization and depression, which in turn causes the obese individual to have a negative self-view, i.e. thinking they are lazy, unattractive and stupid.
Blaming and shaming obese clients is not an effective tool for promoting weight loss and should be a behavior that is mitigated among those that are not compassionate or understanding about someone's weight problem.
Bottom line: Fat shaming does not work.
It's hilariously sad that even our health care system does this to patients who are obese with many co-morbidities. Stating the obvious is one thing, however, shaming someone - anyone for that matter - who has a legitimate health problem that has come to a physician for help is inappropriate, to say the least.
It isn’t new information that just throwing a diet at a morbidly obese patient just doesn’t do the trick; diets fail. Lifestyle changes are really where it's at, and showing these patients how to do that work is really the key to losing weight and keeping it off.
It's About What Obese People Put in Their Mouth, Right?
Yes, and no. A morbidly obese person obviously has a weight problem for a reason-they likely eat too much. Now, there are those instances that they are fat due to a metabolic problem or even a genetic problem, such as Prader-Willi Syndrome, but as a nurse, this is very rare.
To be blunt, fat people hold the fork, so why can't they just stop eating too much?
That is the question most non-morbidly obese people have about someone who is fat. I can say this bluntly because I myself have been diagnosed as “super-morbidly obese” and felt the judgment of others. I have asked myself this question over and over again.
Let's talk about what works and what doesn’t.
What Works for Lasting Weight Loss and a Morbidly Obese Person?
Habit change. Changing one's habits changes their brain wiring. Identifying the habits you want to change, looking at why you do what you do, then replacing those unhealthy habits with new ones.
Once you “break” a habit, there is something called neuroplasticity. This is basically the brain's capacity to change and adapt. It actually changes when you start a new habit - that connection gets stronger while the old habit that you are no longer participating in gets weaker.
Therapy. Some of us eat emotionally. When there is an emotional trigger, our way of dealing with this is to eat versus take care of the problem. Therapy can get to the root of the problem and help with mitigating overeating by learning other ways to deal with emotional issues that can handicap even the best of us.
Gastric bypass or gastric sleeve. Both of these are more common place in our society now that we have more obese people in it. The caveat with this type of drastic measure is if they have had an evaluation for a bypass or sleeve and if they have proven that they can lose weight prior to the surgery.
Some would argue that if they can lose weight prior to this surgery, then they can do it on their own. This may be the case; however, even if an obese person gets the surgery, it is not guaranteed that it will work or that they will not gain back their weight.
What Does Not Work for Lasting Weight Loss?
Degrading another by shaming them into a diet or way of eating. Shaming a person does not work. I have seen this time and time again as someone who was morbidly obese and as someone in the health and fitness field.
I think we can all agree that if someone is shamed for a perceived weakness either on their person or for who they are as a person, that will inevitably backfire. I have yet to see a client or a patient that changed their habits after being shamed.
I myself have been told, “You are so fat that I cant believe you get up in the morning.” Huh. For some reason, this doesn’t inspire me to be my best. Call me crazy…
Crazy diets. Diets. DO NOT work. I say this with love, because most go on a diet, and I often use the word diet inappropriately as well. A diet that is too restrictive, too unbalanced and too crazy will not get you where you need to be permanently.
I have done the cabbage soup diet, keto, low carb, low calorie etc “diets” that honestly made me crazy AND I couldn’t stick to them.
So now we know what does not work and what works for someone who has some weight to lose, and all they need to do is just do it so they won't get fat-shamed.
Duh, easy, right?
Wrong. Someone who is bullied in any fashion will likely repress feelings, retreat into themselves and cause other health issues with emotional eating or other habits that may not have even been a thing until they were shamed, bullied or plain treated poorly.
Can You Stop Fat Shaming Please?
Well, I do think that bringing it to light is wonderful, but that is only a part of it. Yes, it sheds light on others that feel the need to “help” in such a sweet and thoughtful way (said with sarcasm), but it does not stop this at all. To me, shedding light on this only makes it more ok.
Shaming anyone is not OK. If they are obese, depressed, have a physical deformation, etc. None of this is OK.
A poll was taken among children who were fat shamed and asked if it was only their peers that did it. In well over 50% of the cases, it was not; it was adults at their school. Yes, teachers, or other “well meaning” or just “mean” adults were fat shaming children.
Some of you will be mortified by this display of shaming and state that it is not to the degree that the one being shamed thinks. I can attest to the fact that when I was a child I was fat shamed by adults and peers alike, and at that time (pretty much because I am old and this was back in the day) it was acceptable.
I have been told I was a “fat stinky girl” by my P.E. coach and given a bar of soap. I have been told that I was too fat to buy cookies as a blue-haired older woman took things out of my cart at a grocery store. I was told at age five I was too fat and that I should stop eating dinner.
Yes, I was put on a diet at age five.
The reasons I tell you these stories is so that you realize that fat shaming is a real thing. Demeaning someone close to you so that they can conform to another’s expectations is absurd, to say the least.
Fat Shaming and Disease
So we know that fat shaming is bad, or at least you should after reading this article. It doesn’t work and it actually counteracts the end result that the actual fat shamer is doing it for - most likely to help someone lose weight.
In fact, because of only seeing someone who is fat from the outside, often their other disease processes are ignored. In May of 2018, a woman used her obituary to shed light on the discrimination of obese people among healthcare professionals.
Ellen Bennett, age 64 actually attacked health care professionals in her obituary for “fat shaming” her. In her obituary, she states that she was not listened to when she sought medical attention for feeling unwell.
“No one offered any support or suggestions beyond weight loss.” As much as our health care system is here to help others, our own weight biases may do the complete opposite, such as in this case.
This type of bias can prevent patients who are obese from seeking medical care and attention, making symptoms or co-morbid conditions worse such as endocarditis, ischemic bowel disease, and lung cancer go undiagnosed due to biases among the healthcare team.
Fat shaming and any form of it does not work. It may be well-intentioned; however, psychologically and physically it has the opposite effect.
Continued bullying and fat shaming can cause an individual to sink inward and may even cause depression as well as suicidal tendencies... And that is only naming a few psychological issues that can come from this. Long-term eating disorders, body dysmorphia and the like can wreak havoc on someone who is trying valiantly to lose weight.
Even among healthcare professionals, there is a constant underlying discrimination that can be felt by someone who is morbidly obese. This may be the reason for medical non-compliance among those that are morbidly obese.
Diagnosis of certain diseases can go unnoticed due to the healthcare professional focusing on weight as the sole problem in their patients.
As a morbidly obese nurse, I also had the same biases. I am ashamed to say this.
I felt like I did this to myself and that patients also did the same. I do not take the responsibility away from the patient; however, it is not ok to not look further to see if they have a true disease process going on versus judging their outward appearance.
Addiction is addiction. Instead of bullying, prodding and fat shaming, it would behoove us as a society to change that thinking.
If prevention were the main focus, then there would be more successes; however, it is easier to go through a drive-through and more acceptable (well, unless your overweight) versus cooking and eating healthy. Oh, and did I mention that eating well can be more expensive unless you really research how to do it?
So, just to be clear... Stop the hate. Stop fat shaming your cousin because you think “she needs to hear it.” I can guarantee you that she doesn’t need you to point out she is fat, I am pretty sure she can see it when she looks in the mirror.
How about you focus on being kind, helpful and there for her when she decides she wants to lose weight on her own? Shocker, but it seems kindness wins out over being a jerk.
1) "Fat Shaming Interferes with Patients? Medical Care, Experts Say." MDedge, www.mdedge.com/gihepnews/article/144505/obesity/fat-shaming-interferes-patients-medical-care-experts-say.
2) "Woman Uses Her Own Obituary to Shed Light on the Medical Profession's 'fat Shaming?" The Independent, 31 July 2018, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/canada-woman-obituary-fat-shaming-medical-profession-newfoundland-times-colonist-a8471091.html.
3) Great Valley Publishing Company, Inc. "Health Care Providers' Fat Shaming Triggers Anxiety, Depression." Social Work Today Magazine, www.socialworktoday.com/archive/JF18p32.shtml.
4) "Fat Shaming Linked to Greater Health Risks." ScienceDaily, 9 Oct. 2018, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/01/170126082024.htm.