Fat Shaming/Obesity Stigma: Research and Opinions

Ok, time to address a controversial issue again (who woulda guessed lol). Some of this will be things I've said in the past, but I've had some new thoughts after seeing the community's attitude for awhile now. No amount of disclaimers will keep people from taking this out of context so I'm citing the shit out of it and I'd ask you read the research linked before disagreeing..

Obesity stigma. Fat shaming. It's a very divisive topic. We have the fitness douches on youtube in their stringers talking shit about how lazy and disgusting fat people are, and then we have the fat acceptance movement telling us everyone is perfect just how they are and you can be healthy at any size.

Now usually our research based niche takes a moderate approach because specificity rules and what works for different people can vary drastically. But on this topic it seems different. It seems the community is very far to one side, that fat shaming can't work and suggesting otherwise is crazy and you're a shitty person who hates fat people if you do. In fact, I have a little story.

This issue came up on a post sometime last year, and a man who we'll refer to as Nolan for the sake of this, was arguing fat shaming can't work. This is a man who specializes in one of my weaknesses and whose opinion I held in pretty high regard. However, when I pointed out that while fat shaming is counterproductive in general and shouldn't be recommended but it can work, as it did for me, he said I was wrong. Apparently I have no idea what motivated me.

Now for those of you who don't know my story, my fitness journey began immediately after watching a fat shaming video. Jailbaitwarrior yelled about how disgusting fat people are for 8 minutes and it made me think to myself "fuck i can't let this tool be better than me in any way." Now as I started teaching myself about fitness I realized I loved it, so it wasn't my sole motivation at all. But if I had never watched that video I doubt I'd have ever decided to change. I wasn't uncomfortable with myself in general and had never even thought of getting in shape before watching that video. Sometimes people need a catalyst to make large life changes. Extrinsic motivation can be great to kickstart intrinsic motivation, but this is already going to be long so I won't get into that.

But Nolan, this man who has always spread good information and backed it up with evidence, sat here telling me I was wrong. I succeeded in spite of the shaming because it only held me back, it didn't help me. He insulted me in many different ways before blocking me because i was so stupid to think that the direct cause of my life change positively affected me. It was not only insanely stupid, it was insulting. The fact that people in this niche can be so emotionally attached to a topic to become so ignorant and closed minded is mind blowing to me, and a good amount of the industry does it on a smaller scale also.

Now I'm not saying fat shaming is a good thing, it's been shown to harm physical and psychological health in general in both adults and children (1,2), however to say it never works is just ridiculous. Outliers aren't a new thing, and some research has shown potential positives effects to obesity stigma (5,6). Obesity is a very complex issue (3) and "eat less move more" simply doesn't work. Fuck nothing works very well statistically apart from surgery and trt for hypogonadal men (underutilized method imo). But it's not hopeless, and with correct methodology some coaches, trainers, and doctors are having great success helping the obese lose weight. Dr. Spencer Nadolsky is one of the best and anyone interested in effective ways to combat obesity should buy his book, it's invaluable to that end (4).

Self identification of being overweight or obese has decreased over the years (although average bmi hasnt followed the trend), and being overweight is starting to be considered normal (7). Stigmatization has also gone up. However not everybody is affected by it (8,9). In fact, it seems those that are affected most by it are those that internalize anti-fat attitudes themselves (10,11). This is a very important point I'll allude to a lot from now on, those affected most negatively were those that had the same attitude as the people making them feel like that about themselves. On the other side of the spectrum, fat acceptance, more specifically normalization of plus size models, recently showed increases in unhealthy behaviors including increased calorie intake and decreased motivation to be in better shape (12).

So what does all this mean? There's really no reliable way I've thought of to determine if someone would benefit from shaming, because it's rarely effective anyways and often counterproductive. I can think of one time I've used it in my life and it was with my best drinking buddy since 7th grade. Calling him fat after I was the fat one and lost weight (still early in my journey) motivated him very well and he lost successfully on a program I gave him. So maybe it's not always the worst thing in the world to try with a close friend you know well and who has no interest in getting healthier when more traditional attempts at motivating them have failed. I'd advise if you do that you be careful to make sure it doesn't just discourage them, but I've never had a friend that couldn't take a few fat jokes so I can't imagine trying with a close friend you think it would work for would be disastrous. Anecdotally a lot of the former obese people I've talked to have indicated shaming in some form helped them at a point along their way also (more on this in a future post).

However due to the relation between anti-fat attitudes and negative psychological effects of stigmatization maybe we should just not give a fuck what society and others think. I mean come on, with society in the state it's in now you really give a fuck if people don't like that you have extra fat on your body? Fuck those that don't like it, don't let it hold you back from bettering yourself. Stigmatization consistently discourages healthy habits being formed with exercise and lifestyle and also causes increased intake. How nice would it be to just say fuck it? Fuck fat acceptance, fuck fat shaming, fuck obesity. Find a good program or a good coach (we have slots open lol), and make a change. Focus on yourself, not what others or society thinks. What you think is what matters.

Don't let the negative bullshit of others hold you back from achieving things you set out to. People have actually reported not pursuing long term goals and dreams due to obesity stigma. How fucking sad is that that people are practically giving up on life because of letting the opinions of others affect them? People are losing years they could spend with their families due to health complications from something they could have changed if they weren't made to feel like shit all the time. It's far from easy, I lost 100lbs in a year, I know what it's like. But it can be done. Don't let society's bullshit tell you it can't.

In conclusion, industry please pull your head out of your ass. Fat shaming is just like any other topic, and research rules. Feelings and emotions do not. There definitely needs to be more research done on obesity stigma and how to stop it, but we also can't ignore the fact it motivates some, and research needs to be done on why that happens also. To the obese out there who are struggling with feeling like shit due to being stared at or called names, fuck the people making you feel like that, what they think doesn't matter. What you think matters. Avoid internalization of anti-fat attitudes and you'll be better set up for success. If you need help with methodology feel free to pm us if you're interested in coaching, and I really can't recommend Spencer's book linked below enough, it really is fantastic.

1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866597/
2. https://www.researchgate.net/…/6244412_Puhl_RM_Latner_JD_St…
3. http://www.virtualpet.com/weightloss/charts/aspects.pdf
4. http://www.amazon.com/Fat-Loss-Prescription-…/…/ref=asap_bc…
5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18502551
6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19237486
7. https://www.bostonfed.org/economic/wp/wp2009/wp0903.pdf
8. https://www.researchgate.net/…/51671809_How_do_obese_indivi…
9. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2010.234/epdf
10. http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/13667/
11. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1038/oby.2010.234/pdf
12. http://www.acrwebsite.org/volumes/v40/acr_v40_11741.pdf