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Strategies for Wellness at Work

The Obesity Issue – Let’s Stop Fat Shame

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It’s that time of the year again.  All those inspiring ads about how this weight loss program or that weight loss program can get you to your ideal weight.  There’s a ton of testimonials about how much weight was lost, the health benefits, and just how good they feel.  There are great ‘before and after’ pictures.  Then there are the medical and surgical solutions being advertised.  Just one treatment and magically you’ll be a better you.

And yet here we are.  

  • More people getting diagnosed with type II diabetes. 

  • More people, particularly young people, are becoming obese.  

  • More costs related to weight-related issues for both companies and programs like Medicaid and Medicare.

And yet we still think losing weight and keeping it off is mostly just about self -discipline, a better diet and getting more exercise.

Let’s be clear. Fat shaming doesn’t help people lose weight. 

Fat shaming is just another form of bullying.  With weight being such a hot button issue for so many, something doesn’t add up. 

  • Personally, I’ve always had a struggle with weight.  I was diagnosed with a hormonal disorder in my late 20s and the medical professionals I’ve worked with believe that has impacted how I gain or lose weight.  It’s my own personal challenge. Hormones do impact weight gain or loss and it is different for every woman.

  • I had a friend that was fighting cancer and the treatment caused her to gain weight.  Yes, that can happen.  She got fat shamed while fighting cancer.

  • There have been other people I know that are taking care of children or older parents, and working two jobs which results in them having less time to exercise and get adequate sleep. They generally also have higher levels of stress.   

  • I’ve met people that are overweight in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction. They are working hard to stay clean.  At that point in their life, that needs to be their priority, not being shamed for physical appearance.  

  • There are many people working third shifts/overnight shifts.  It is harder for people working night shifts to loss weight.  They may not have an option to move to a day shift.

  • People that are recovering from eating disorders may not be the “ideal” that society tells them to be.  Weighting them or telling them to loss weight may re-trigger their eating disorder.

All of these challenges can contribute to how people gain and retain weight.  None of these are areas where that person has much, if any, control over the barriers.  These are just a few examples.

Society tends to view heavier people as less disciplined, just not willing to do the work.  Heavier people often get treated as “less than,” not as good, smart or talented as a thinner person. 

How does that play out for people who have heard this message their whole life?  It turns into: 

  • I’m not good enough if I don’t look like this pictures/image. 

  • I’ve failed if I gain weight back, don’t seem to be losing weight, or overweight.   

There is a lot of fat shaming going on without any understanding of the whys.  We often form an opinion without knowing anything about that person or the challenges they personally face.  Some of it unrecognized bias and some of it is intentional.

Anyone that is considerably overweight knows it.  They know they are being judged.  And, yes, they are aware of how people look at them, or quietly take pictures of them to post on social media.  They even have total strangers come up and tell them about the benefits of losing weight and why they should do that. They are then given unsolicited “advice” without any attempt to know or understand about individual challenges.

There is no doubt that many weight loss programs make a lot of money.  There is very little evidence that the vast majority of people that want to loss weight actually keep it off for at least two years, once they hit their targeted weight.  We have a long way to go before we have real solutions for the vast majority of the population regarding losing weight and maintaining that weight loss.

Thankfully there are many smart people, researchers at Columbia, Yale, Harvard and other institutions working to find better paths to address the issue in a more impactful way.  There is no doubt that not being overweight means less stress on joints, has an impact on how medications get metabolized, lowers your chances of developing type II diabetes, and other benefits.  We do need to find better ways to help people that struggle with getting to and maintaining a healthy weight.  But some of the smartest minds still haven’t solved this.  And shaming people who are heavier doesn’t help.

Let’s stop pretending there is a silver bullet for weight loss and start supporting better overall health and wellbeing.

If you are looking at corporate or an individual weight loss program, remember that it is a buyer beware world.   Weight loss programs that can’t produce real data showing how most of the people that have participated in their program have kept the weight off for over two years probably aren’t something you want to do.  There are always the one-off stories.  There are always beautiful before and after pictures.  But that doesn’t mean these programs will work long-term.

Let’s stop shaming people because they are not our ideal or society’s ideal of the perfect body.  

  • Let’s take a minute to listen to our internal reactions to someone we view as overweight and how we judge ourselves. 

  • Let’s call out fat shaming, whether at work or in our personal lives. 

  • Let’s work to support more whole person, whole community strategies to helping people thrive, no matter where they are in life. 

Our value is not and should not be determined by a number on a scale or a waist or dress size.

If we judge others and ourselves by weight alone, think of all the people being excluded from contributing their knowledge and skills to their families, societies and businesses.  Let’s do better in 2019.  Let’s be more intentionally inclusive.

At Motivity Partnerships, we focus on helping organizations build a meaningful, outcomes-focused strategy based on a thorough evaluation. 

Some additional research related to weight loss and weight loss programs:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4777230/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6162665/

http://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2018-40989-001.html


About the Author

Mim Senft is the founder of Motivity Partnerships a workplace wellness consultancy that offers an integrated solution with vetted wellness partners that work for your culture and your team. She has over 20 years of corporate experience in project management, benefits design and wellness program strategy and implementation.  She is a certified as a Worksite Wellness Specialist through the National Wellness Institute; has her GBA group benefits designation through the International Foundation of Benefit Professionals (IFEBP); her property and casualty insurance certification, Accredited Advisor in Insurance (AAI), through the Insurance Institute of America; and became a certified yoga instructor in 2006.  Mim is a regular speaker at conferences and roundtable discussions on topics related to employee benefits, corporate wellness/wellbeing programs, and keeping a competitive edge in today’s workplace. Mim Senft is also a co-founder of Global Women 4 Wellbeing (GW4W), a non-profit that empowers more healthy female leadership at all levels.