Let’s Get Loud: Weight Stigma is Learned

Leslie Schilling - Twitter Headshot LSchilling
Leslie Schilling, MA, RDN, CSSD, LDN is a master’s level, registered dietitian working in the field of disordered eating. She owns Schilling Nutrition Therapy, LLC, a nutrition therapy practice in Memphis, TN. As an expert speaker, she uses humor and personal experience to educate consumers and professionals alike on treating compulsive dieting and food issues with an “Eat Real Food” approach. When she’s not tweeting as @NutritionLeslie, you can find her recipes, rants and research tidbits on her blog Born to Eat®
BEDA promotes cultural acceptance of, and respect for, the natural diversity of sizes, as well as promoting a goal of improved health, which may or may not include weight change.  The views expressed by our featured bloggers are their own.

Fortunately, I’ve worked and trained with wonderful professionals who recognize that people are supposed to look different, move differently, think differently and fuel differently. As a dietitian in a “diet” world, it would be easy to proclaim that you should eat only ‘this’ and look like only ‘that’ to be “healthy” but that’s simply not the case.

The fight against weight stigma and dieting is moving slowly, but many are realizing that the shame approach simply doesn’t work. Unfortunately, under the guise of “health,” weight stigma continues run rampant in our society. It waits silently in doctor’s offices for the scale to be tipped ever so slightly and lurks in the home of the parents fearful to have an overweight child.Like many false beliefs, it can become an ingrained thought pattern that flows with an heir of superiority and infects like a virus. Not so sure about that? Take a quick journey with me…

Outside it was hot. I mean why bother showering, smoldering hot. A perfect night to enjoy a baseball game right? My husband and I were just getting into the game when I overheard a young woman talking about what another young woman was wearing. It wasn’t just that the young woman was wearing short cut-offs and a tank top on a very hot Memphis night, it was the fact that she was overweight. The young woman behind me seemed angry that the other young lady had the nerve to leave the house “looking like that.” She even suggested that everyone should have a full length mirror that was strongly consulted prior to leaving the house. When I turned around, in utter horror, no one in her party (kids, parental figures, etc,) seemed the least bit disturbed by her tirade.  My heart was breaking for the young woman who luckily heard nothing, not even the growl of exasperation as she walked by our row. I wanted to cry for her. Then I realized I was sad for the girl spewing hateful comments behind me as well. Could she help what had entered her mind and then flowed out her angry lips? One day, I hope that she will know better but as a teenager learning the “rules” of life, thoughts can be simple regurgitations of what we’ve learned or experienced. In the bottom of the eighth inning, I grasped an even greater problem.

Leslie Schilling - Mom and Daughter
You read that right. Much like many other prejudices, weight stigma is learned. But, it doesn’t have to be.

Combating it starts with you, with me, with all of us willing to speak up. We aren’t numbers. We are more than our appearance. We are strong, loving, capable, helpful, compassionate… the list of positive attributes go on and on yet it doesn’t include our size or shape. We can make a difference and here are few tips to get you started.

  • Question your own beliefs and their origins. Ask why do I feel this way about myself or that person?
  • You can speak up against weight stigma when you hear it or experience it. My favorite comment is “that was an inappropriate comment and I’d like to share some information about weight stigma with you.”
  • Educate others about weight stigma. Don’t be intimidated by a title. Doctors, nurses, dietitians (like myself), therapists, trainers, friends, family member and many others need to know weight stigma is wrong and a form of prejudice.
  • Practice self-compassion and acceptance. Show the same to others. We don’t know everyone’s journey.
  • Recognize that acceptance doesn’t mean complacency. We can continue to better ourselves (mind, body, spirit) while accepting our uniqueness and personal struggles. Get professional help if you need it. Let’s face it, many of us need it and that’s totally okay.
  • Speak up and speak out about harmful diets and advertising. Comment online, write letters or share information to educate them. Disengage with companies that profit from weight stigma.
  • Meanwhile, I hope you’ll practice my motto and eat real food. 🙂

Are you ready? Let’s get loud!