How effective is “fat shaming” in gaining health?

Welcome book launch partner and guest blogger Becky Henry, founder of Hope Network, a support program for those caring for a family member suffering from an eating disorder or related issues. Thank you Becky for sharing your experience and wisdom with us. As an expert in the field and author of best-the selling book, Just Tell Her To Stop: Family Stories of Eating Disorders, your insight is extremely valuable and is sure to touch the life and heart of any individual challenged by food and eating issues.

How effective is “fat shaming” in gaining health?

Guest post by Becky Henry

While preparing to read this article I took many deep breaths and prepared my research to help promote an honest, respectful, heart centered dialog to get answers to the question; How effective is “fat shaming” in gaining health?

Why the deep breaths? Well, I remember when many people felt it was okay to use the offensive “N” word to describe black people. (Yes, I’m THAT old.) And, once the world changed and that became totally unacceptable, many folks have admitted how ashamed they are to have ever used that word. Well, that is how I feel that I ever believed: A. Fat = Unhealthy and B. Fat shaming is a useful, effective and non-cruel way to “help” people gain health. I no longer believe either of those statements.

Here is the article my fellow eating disorders activists/advocates posted on Facebook today…

Fat-shaming may curb obesity, bioethicist says

So Daniel Callahan in his paper in the Hastings Center Report is trying to find a solution to help obese people be healthier and he feels that shaming will help them be healthier and lose weight (which he equates with better health). I’m glad he wants to help obese people be healthier but I don’t believe shaming anyone is going to create more health for them, and he is assuming that all obese people are unhealthy.

Having studied eating disorders for about 13 years now I’ve changed my perspective a LOT about the role of fat in health as well as my perspective on what helps “fat” people to GAIN health (not to “lose weight”). Why do I care? I have been the parent of a child with an eating disorder for over 13 years now. She got lots of messages (even at birth when the anesthesiologist called her “thunder thighs”) that her larger body (which is genetically just exactly as it is meant to be) was not okay and needed to be smaller to be healthy. These messages did exactly what the science says it will do – they backfired and she got less healthy in many ways. The causes of developing a life threatening eating disorder are not clearly known. It is believed that for those with the biological pre-disposition that dieting and body shaming can be contributing factors.

As her mom I trusted the doctors that she needed to be “thinner” to be healthy. I have since learned that this is in fact not true. That is something that many reading this will likely take issue with. Before you start hollering at me saying things like, “But what about heart disease? What about diabetes?” Obesity is not an illness. Please read some of the websites I’m sharing below.

In studying, I found the science to help change my thinking. From the ASDAH site you can read studies that back up statements such as these:

  • “Multiple studies are suggesting that a focus on weight as a health criterion is often misdirected and harmful.”
  • “Singling out larger children and youth for weight-related interventions in schools increases both anxiety for the child and stigmatization, prejudice, and harassment towards the child.”

And from The Body Positive site:

Current treatments can cause health problems, e.g., dieters are more likely to binge; weight cyclers are more likely to develop hypertension; as a population, the more we diet, the fatter we get (iatrogenic issue).

After you have read through both of those sites then we can have a respectful discussion. Please look at the science. When Galileo said the world was not flat everyone thought he was crazy. When Bill Gates said he wanted a computer on every desk in America, people thought he was nuts. Please consider that there is so much we do not yet know.

As a follow-up on this article, I am happy to report that Chevese Turner, Founder of The Binge Eating Disorder Association has extended an invitation to Daniel Callahan to attend the 2013 Binge Eating Disorder Conference. And he is considering attending. You can see her Facebook Post here.

Thank you for opening your mind and considering the possibilities.

It is a sign of great inner insecurity to be hostile to the unfamiliar. ~ Anis Nin. 1949

Touch base with Becky: