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Karen's Blogs

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The Destructive Power of Internalized Weight Stigma

Many higher weight people think that weight stigma may only affect their self-perception and self-esteem. Not so. It may also negatively impact their health.

According to research (Himmelstein, M. S., Puhl, R. M., & Quinn, D. M. (2017, November 9). Weight Stigma and Health: The Mediating Role of Coping Responses. Health Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/hea0000575, accessed 11/17/17), “A large and methodically diverse literature links exposure to weight stigma to a range of poor health outcomes including obesity, weight gain, metabolic syndrome, physical activity avoidance, heart disease, stress, and depression.” For this reason, “…it may be useful to address weight stigma and coping in the context of weight management and obesity treatment programs, to help protect individuals from negative health effects of experiencing weight stigma.”

If you have depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or difficulty accepting your body at a higher weight, weight stigma may be having a negative impact on you. The good news is that if you use fewer of the behaviors that research cites as exacerbating health consequences and more of the adaptive ones, you may be able to reduce these consequences. Self-blame, negative self-talk, crying, isolation, and avoidance are considered maladaptive coping mechanisms, while adaptive ones include positive self-talk and recognizing that society is to blame for stigmatizing you. I would add to coping strategies maintaining social ties, focusing on internal and not external validation, not dieting or weighing yourself, and learning to value your body whatever its size.

You may be caught in a vicious cycle. Feeling badly about your size, you may isolate and stop seeing friends, thinking, “I can’t bear for them to see me this big” or “What will they think if they see me like this?” You may cease engaging in activities you enjoy—physical, mental and emotional—and stay at home more. This will make you more sedentary and more likely to be bored and lonely. And we know what that can lead to: comfort eating. Or you may hate your body so much (due to internalized weight stigma) that you diet or deprive yourself of nourishment and engage in excessive over-exercise to the detriment of your health.

The researchers who authored this article conclude that, “In general, coping via healthy lifestyle behaviors was associated with better health (less frequent depressive symptoms, greater self-esteem, higher physical health scores, and higher psychological well-being scores.” Start practicing healthier coping behaviors, especially engaging in more positive self-talk. Talk with a therapist or life coach. Return to activity and social engagement. You’ll feel better about yourself and won’t be so vulnerable to weight stigma.

Best,

Karen

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This website is owned and operated by Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. It contains material intended for informational and educational purposes only, and reasonable effort is made to keep its contents updated. Any material contained herein is not to be construed as the practice of clinical social work or of psychotherapy, although adherence to applicable Florida States, Rules, and Code of Ethics is observed. Material on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment for mental health issues or eating disorder problems, which should be done only through individualized therapeutic consultation. Karen R. Koenig, LCSW disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained on this website. This website contains links to other sites. The inclusion of such links does not necessarily constitute endorsement by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW who disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained in this website. Further, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or current usefulness of the material contained in the linked sites. Users of any website must be aware of the limitation to confidentiality and privacy, and website usage does not carry any guarantee or privacy of any information contained therein.  Privacy Policy