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Karen's Blogs

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life.Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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Body Image and Fear of Rejection

One of the most debilitating issues about having a high weight is the stigma attached to it by this culture. The debilitation comes in great part from fear of social rejection. My hunch is that how you feel about rejection in general is a major factor in how you perceive negative reactions to your weight or body size in social situations. In “Unpacking the psychological weight of weight stigma: a rejection-expectation pathway” (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, vol. 63, 3/16, pp. 69-76), authors Blodorn, Major, Hunger and Miller studied expectations of social rejection in women and men who had various body weights and BMIs. No surprise that “Men’s responses were largely unaffected by body-weight” in the dating context of the experiment. However, the study concluded that, “As predicted, high body-weight women reported increased expectations of social rejection…which in turn predicted decreased self-esteem, increased self-conscious emotions, and increased stress.” Of course, culturally...
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Fat Shaming Is Down, But...

I’d love to tell you that fat shaming is well on its way to being eradicated forever, but isn’t. According to 2015 ObesityWeek study, “Data from research with more than 70,000 US adults beginning in 2014 suggests that ‘the public increasingly understands that obesity is more complicated than simplistic notions of personal responsibility or blame.’” (ConscienHealth, “Fat shaming is down, but weight bias persists, retrieved 11/13/15). It’s fantastic news the public is finally recognizing how complicated the subjects of eating and weight are and that fewer folks are buying into the shame-and-blame model of weight stigma. I hope you’re one of the enlightened, both when you view higher weight individuals and if you have a higher weight yourself. As eating disorder therapists and researchers have been insisting for decades, gaining weight, not losing it, or not keeping it off is not about a simple eat-less-exercise-more formula. Far from it. Science has...
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Using People-first Language to Avoid Obesity Stigma

We’ve long known that the language used to describe people can strongly impact how they’re viewed and how they view themselves. In social work school, I was taught to describe clients as people “with” or who “have” a condition—people with addictions rather than addicts or people with schizophrenia rather than schizophrenics. This is called people-first language.The editors of the journal Obesity recently developed a statement about the language to use in describing people who have high weights. Here are some excepts from it: “Describing individuals as obese as opposed to having obesity could have a negative impact on how people view them. People-first language has been widely adopted for most chronic diseases and disabilities, but not obesity.” For example, persons with diabetes, rather than diabetics or persons with disabilities, rather than the disabled. “Labeling individuals as obese creates negative feelings toward individuals with obesity, perpetuates weight bias, and must be avoided....
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Virtuous Aging and Body Image

I heard someone in her 40s say that, being middle-age, she was worried about her aging body. For some people, aging automatically brings about a shedding of body image concerns, while for others, it amplifies them. Did you know that there’s an increase in eating disorders among aging women? Forget culture and the media, we have it in our power to decide how we want to view the inevitable changes in our bodies, so, for goodness sake, let’s choose a viewpoint that is positive and healthy. According to Joann M. Montepare, director of the RoseMary B. Fuss Center for Research on Aging and Intergenerational Studies at Lasell College in Massachusetts,the view of “researchers may be part of the problem—that focusing on how to mediate and mitigate the ravages of growing old can fuel negative self-perceptions among those of us engaged in graying…Ultimately, we need to figure out how to make peace...
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View on Fat and Obesity Changing

For those of you who fear being stigmatized for your larger-than-average size, finally, some good news. The article, “Fat stigma fading? Fewer see obesity as problem of bad personal choices, survey says” (11/6/14, WBUR’s CommonHealth), tells us that new research indicates that “the general public and health care providers are starting to view obesity as a ‘community problem of shared risks’ as opposed to a personal problem stemming from ‘bad choices.’” Quotes from the Obesity Society News suggest a “significant shift in perceptions of obesity in 2014,” and that “data also show differences among various demographic groups. In 2014, younger and higher income respondents more likely view obesity as a community problem. Older respondents more likely view it as a medical problem. Male and rural respondents more likely view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices.” Says Rebecca Puhl, PhD, Deputy Director at Yale University’s Rudd Center for Food Policy...
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How Control Issues Morph Into Body and Weight Concerns

Control is a major issue for us all. We want to control our environment and people’s behaviors to help us survive and thrive. Although we have little control over either when we are children, we become more empowered as we mature. But, fact is, we will never have complete power over our lives, even as adults, and this is a crucial fact to remember so that we don’t keep questing after something that is unattainable. We cannot control the forces of nature or the actions of others. Accidents, life upheavals, and catastrophes occur no matter how hard we try to keep them at bay. The best we can do in these situations is whatever is possible to empower ourselves and accept our fate. Knowing that we are neither totally powerless nor all powerful is a platform for effective life management. For disregulated eaters, it may mean the difference between obsessing about...
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Why People Shame Fat People

It seems to me that there are two kinds of fat shaming: about what and how much a person eats and about their size. Why does fat shaming happen? The simple answer is because we all let it happen. We need to call this abuse by its name and stop it in its tracks—make it taboo—or it will continue. You can start by not shaming yourself. Shaming someone about what or how much they eat is common place: Are you going to eat all that? Do you really think you should eat so much? Why don’t you eat something more low fat or low calorie? You know you shouldn’t eat that! Let’s assume that some people who say these things love you and care about your health and well-being. If you don’t tell them that their words are hurtful—and totally unhelpful—how will they know in their ignorance that they’re making things...
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More on Fat Shaming

If you are going to get past fat shaming—letting others do it to you and doing it to yourself—you will have to understand the dynamics of why and how it happens. If you are still allowing (yes, allowing!) fat shaming to happen, then you are part of the problem. Remember, it takes two not only to tango, but for shaming to take place. An article in The Guardian online, “Fat-shaming: how the slim and sanctimonious help to cause our obesity crisis” by Gaby Hinsliff (9/11/14), provides an excellent discussion of the topic as it is experienced in the UK. Hinsliff explains why “sitting in judgment of fat people” has become so official and public: “Doctors are told not to be afraid of the word ‘fat,’ to stop muttering about body mass index and starting telling it like it is” and in tough economic times she reckons that employers think, “Why should...
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Weight Stigma Can Make You Fat

Generally we think of weight stigma as a result of being overweight, but what if it is also a trigger to putting on pounds? We already know that stigma stresses the body and produces more of the chemicals that harm optimal well being. Now we are discovering how this process takes a psychological toll as well. In “Stigma and the perpetuation of obesity, Alexandra A. Brewis (Social Science and Medicine, vol. 118, pages 152-128) tells us that “social stigmatization of obesity seems to be strengthening and globalizing” and describes “four mechanisms by which a pervasive environment of fat sigma could reinforce high body weights or promote weight gain, ultimately driving population-level obesity.” Stop and think about what this means. I mean really reconsider, because disregulated eaters generally view fat as an individual problem, a la “I did this to myself.” This study is saying the opposite, and it’s an enlightening new...
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Science Weighs in on Body Size Stigma

It’s Weight Stigma Awareness Week! Because size stigma is a cultural problem, that is, large people have difficulty due to the negative meanings society ascribes to fat, they fare better when they understand the physical effects that stigma has on their nervous systems and can resist internalizing such arbitrary prejudices. *STUDY: “Associations of weight stigma with cortisol and oxidative stress independent of adiposity, “Tomiyama, A. Janet; Epel, Elissa S.; McClatchey, Trissa M.; Poelke, Gina; Kemeny, Margaret E.; McCoy, Shannon K.; Daubenmier, Jennifer, Health Psychology, Vol 33(8), Aug 2014, 862-867. doi: 10.1037/hea0000107.Result: “Independent of abdominal fat, weight stigma was significantly related to measures of cortisol…as well as high oxidative stress. Perceived stress mediated the relationship between weight stigma consciousness and the cortisol awakening process. Conclusion: “…Weight stigma is associated with greater biochemical stress, independent of level of adiposity. It is possible that weight stigma may contribute to poor health underlying some forms...
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Proof—Fat Phobia Is a Cultural Phenomenon

No matter how much I insist that fat phobia is nothing more than a cultural phenomenon, disregulated eaters are unwilling to believe this fact. Well, here’s a great illustration of the truth from an article entitled “Much too fat: the doctor says it’s time to slim down.” (The Economist, 6/14/14, page 44). The article comes out of Johannesburg, South Africa and describes how that country’s people are now considered the fattest in Africa. It reports that high weight “is evidence, to many South Africans, of the good life: fast food, a fast car, an urban lifestyle. Moreover, a chubby woman traditionally betokened health and beauty, whereas thinness smacked of disease. Among men, a big belly is often thought to spell maturity, wealth, and success. South Africa’s latest government is a portly crew, with many a ministerial suit bursting at the seams.” The article goes on to observe that “Most South Africans...
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Body Dissatisfaction

Our view of our bodies is not fixed as you might think. The way people think about their overweight bodies may be due to the size and weight of people around them. Or so says a new-1.3 million person study from the University of California-Boulder. According to a Journal of Health and Social Behavior study analyzing the three-way relationship among obesity, life satisfaction and where you live (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 6/10/14, 29E), “obese men and women who live in U.S. counties with high levels of obesity are much happier than obese men and women who live in slender areas. Nor do people of ‘normal weight’ enjoy much advantage in neighborhoods with more flesh per capita.” The study’s conclusion: what is important to us is that in order to feel satisfied, we need to “look like the people around us.” The study was done by asking people to rate their satisfaction and the...
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Tight Clothes

An interesting discussion on my Food and Feelings message board was about wearing clothes that are too tight. If your weight goes up and down, wearing clothes that fit just right might be a challenge for you too. Here are my thoughts on the subject. If you’ve put on weight or if your body weight has shifted and clothes are restrictive and pinch your flesh, it’s important to examine this situation from several angles. Here are some questions to answer: What does my body feel like in tight clothes? What does my body feel like in loose clothes? What does my body feel like in clothes that fit just right? How do I look to myself and others in too tight or too loose clothing? What are my reasons for wearing clothes that are uncomfortable? Many people continue to wear clothes that are too tight because they refuse to buy a...
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Re-categorize Fat in Your Brain

Our brain uses its own shorthand to help us negotiate life. It categorizes people, places, events, etc. as life-enhancing or life-threatening based on its initial encounters with them in childhood or adolescence. As adults, we’re able to delete them from one category and add them to another. Imagine doing this with how you think about “fat.” Say as a school-age child, your first encounter with body fat is that your family thinks you’re adorable because they’re all a bit on the stout side. Then, when you get to school, your teacher leads discussions about body diversity and no one mentions that you’re a bit chubbier than many children in class. You’re active and value yourself and don’t think much about carrying more weight than other kids. How might your brain categorize fat in terms of “good,” “neutral,” or “bad”? Probably as good or as neutral. On the other hand, as a...
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No Upside to Body Comparisons

Once again, I’m grateful to a client for bringing up an issue that too often plagues disregulated eaters: the compulsion to compare your body with that of others. In this, the most fat-phobic, thin-obsessed period in the history of the world, comparison may seem like normal behavior. But, truth is, it’s anything but. My client related her ah ha moment to me. There she was out shopping in her body that she wished were 30 pounds thinner than it was and out of the corner of her eye, she caught another woman walking by. Without thinking, she might have glanced at this woman and automatically done the quickie assessment so many disregulated eaters do, asking herself, “Is this woman thinner or fatter than I am?” But because she has been trying to accept her body as is, she willed herself not to glance at this female passer by. She said she...
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Great Body Image Video Series

A negative body view too often accompanies eating problems and it can be hard to shake. If you’re serious about wanting to feel positive about your body at any weight, you won’t want to miss BODY COMPASSION, Jean Fain’s new (free!) video series. This series is a natural follow-up to THE SELF-COMPASSION DIET, a book by Jean Fain, LICSW, which is really no diet at all, but an approach to loving your body into health and fitness. Her five-part video series is a great teaching tool. Part 1, Why Body Image Matters, describes the health and mental health risks of having poor body image and how developing a positive body image actually can help you reach your eating and weight goals. My bet is that you put lots of mental energy on how you feel about your body, but perhaps not so much on how those feelings affect your eating and...
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Nix the Fat Talk

Much as I encourage clients and Food and Feelings message board members to speak their minds, I draw the line at fat talk which involves putting your body or someone else’s down because it is fat, large, or unshapely. This kind of talk is dangerous to self-esteem and mental health. Fortunately, we all can play a part in ending it. Psychological researchers define fat talk as “body-denigrating conversation between girls and women” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 6/4/13, “‘Fat talk’ can carry a steep cost” by Jan Hoffman, Health and Fitness, p. 28E). Of course, men can take part in these exchanges as well, but are less likely to do so. Hoffman explains fat talk as a “bonding ritual” that can be “contagious, aggravating poor body image and even setting the stage for eating disorders.” How many women participate in fat talk? One study concluded that “93% of college women admitted to engaging in...
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Doctors’ Bias Against Obese Confirmed

If you’re overweight or obese, you may have had the experience of not getting the attention you need at medical visits. A recent Journal of Academic Medicine study confirms why (Time/Health and Family online, “Medical students may already be biased against obese patients” by Alexandra Sifferlin, 5/24/13). Yes, there’s bias against you, but that’s no excuse for not getting the medical care you require and deserve. The study “shows that two out of five medical students have a subconscious bias against obese people…and that this way of thinking can appear before doctors even start to treat patients.” The study involved explicit bias, which occurs when people are aware of their prejudice, and implicit bias, which occurs when they’re not. “Based on the results, 39% of the students had a moderate to strong subconscious bias against the overweight, and less than 25% of the students were aware of their bias.” A February...
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Changing Beauty Standards

I was lunching with a friend who mentioned having read a biography of Lucrezia Borgia, an Italian femme fatale, which described the extreme lengths women went to in order to have a ghostly white complexion, the epitome of beauty back in the 1400 and 1500s. Frankly, they make as much sense as what women do nowadays to be thin. Here’s the skin beautifying description that Sarah Bradford provides in LUCREZIA BORGIA—LIFE, LOVE AND DEATH IN RENAISSANCE ITALY (page 146). “Foreheads were to be kept high, white and serene by hair removal, by applying a past of mastic overnight. Perhaps the most revolting beauty treatment for whitening the skin of the face, neck, hands and other parts of the body ‘whiter than alabaster’ was this…from Marinello: ‘Take two young white doves, cut off their necks, pluck them and draw out their innards, then grind them with four ounces of peach stones, the...
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Body Variations

While shopping here in Florida, I stopped to sit down to rest and people watch. One of the first things I noticed is the amazing variety of bodies to be seen. I mention being in Florida because without lots of clothing, our body outlines are so clearly visible. Let me share my observations, then I’ll tell you why I think they’re important. My major one was that there seemed to be a greater variety of men’s shapes and sizes which would be deemed “acceptable” than there are for women. Now, I know this is no big surprise, but it’s worth noting. Here are the male body shapes I noticed. One man walking by had broad shoulders which tapered down to a small waist and thin legs. His adult son, walking next to him, had the same contours. Another man was as broad, practically all neck and shoulders, and the rest of...
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