Body Positivity: it’s SCIENCE, bitchez

To be clear: the ‘bitchez’ I refer to in the title of this post are, quite specifically, the fitpro douches running around the internet ridiculing fat women and conflating ‘loving yourself’ with ‘being lazy’. This particular brand of internet warrior isn’t able to understand the ways that self-care and self-improvement intersect, and sees any expression of gentleness or graciousness as weak and lazy. They think that ‘body acceptance’ means ‘promoting obesity’ and are happy to tell anyone who utters the words that they are fat, weak, lazy and undesirable. This fitpro’s general philosophy is ‘mock and ridicule the fatness away’.

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Oy, the internet can be an ugly place.

So today, I’m going to tell you how scientific evidence supports body positivity.

First, let’s acknowledge this: the current cultural paradigm of shaming fat people in an effort to get them to lose weight isn’t working. We can see that. We can FEEL that (as the majority of us are actually the targets of that shaming, and it hasn’t worked on us). Not only is it not helping us lose weight, it appears that it’s actually making us FATTER.

A recent meta-analysis revealed that people who perceived themselves as overweight (even if they weren’t) were more likely to GAIN weight over time than people who didn’t. The researchers said they couldn’t be sure whether the weight gain was due to habitual overeating or a cycle of crash diets followed by regain, which is a cycle most of us are all too familiar with. Diets make you fat. According to Eric Robinson, one of the study’s authors, “The widely accepted finding is that these types of diets don’t work in the long run and the debate is over how much of a harmful effect they have,” he said. “Weight regain is going to happen.” (source). Earlier research has shown that adolescents who are weight conscious tend to gain more weight over time than those who aren’t; this research shows that it’s a phenomenon that affects people over the entire lifespan, and not just during adolescence. Dieting and weight preoccupation during adolescence also predicts weight gain, not weight loss, a finding that is echoed throughout the literature. 

So, perceiving oneself as overweight predicts weight gain; what about how others perceive us? Over and over, research shows that weight discriminations and fat shaming predict weight GAIN, not weight loss. Angelina Sutin, assistant professor at the department of behavioral sciences and social medicine at Florida State University College of Medicine showed that overweight people who experienced weight discrimination were more than twice as likely to become obese than those who didn’t. Jane Wardle, Professor of Clinical Psychology and Director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behavior Research Centre at University College London, had similar findings: weight discrimination was significantly associated with weight GAIN and the risk of obesity.

When you consider that our culture, and fitness culture specifically, fixates myopically on obesity and weight loss, frequently to the point of ridicule, it is no wonder that so many people are overweight and obese. The way we approach weight management is designed to promote weight gain. Clearly, our preoccupation with weight, fat and dieting is making us fatter, not thinner. We are doing it wrong.

So, how do we do it better? More and more researchers, doctors and fitness professionals are realizing that focusing on people’s weight is not the answer. A growing movement is afoot, one that focuses on positive, health promoting behaviors like daily physical activity, quality sleep and diet improvements rather than fad diets that eliminate foods and food groups.

I’ve written at some length about how self-compassion promotes successful behavior change. Actual scientific evidence shows that the people who achieve the best habit change outcomes are the ones who afford themselves the grace and compassion to make mistakes, have bad days, seek out community support and practice positive self-care, self-talk and self-acceptance (I will link my own posts on this topic at the end of this post). According to Angela Sutin, “We should not be classifying people as overweight and giving them a label that has a stigma attached to it, but enabling people to make healthier choices.” And Eric Robinson says “The way we talk about body weight and the way we portray overweight and obesity in society is something we can think about and reconsider. There are ways of talking about it and encouraging people to make healthy changes to their lifestyle that don’t portray adiposity as a terribly deviant thing.” (source)

Finding an activity you ENJOY is KEY to successful habit change. Enjoyment = Self-Care.

Finding an activity you ENJOY is KEY to successful habit change. Enjoyment = Self-Care.

Body positivity, self-acceptance and self-compassion. Those fitpros I mentioned at the very beginning of this post may see these things as weak and lazy, but the evidence says they are important contributors to the achievement of positive habit change. Body positivity is actually evidence based, and predicts improved health and weight outcomes. That’s why self-compassion and body positivity are central to my own coaching program and philosophy. I follow the evidence, and the evidence leads to compassion, grace and self-care. Perhaps that is why our Habit Project clients see long term results, and the fitpro douches I mentioned above just stay in their endless parade of circle jerk douchery with each other.

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Read more of my posts on this topic:
The Science of Self-Care
The Real Key to Weight Loss Success
Moderation is Evidence Based
Nurturing Self-Compassion
Self-Compassion is the Cure for Extremism
Self-Compassion and Others