Turning Weight Bias on Yourself

Weight Bias is someone else’s problem — until you turn it on yourself and begin to believe it diminishes your self-worth. This internalized weight bias is the subject of some new research that sheds light on the uniquely destructive effects of weight bias turned inward. People with internalized weight bias essentially buy into false stereotypes of people with obesity being lazy, undisciplined, or otherwise deficient.

Rebecca Pearl and colleagues from Yale compared the impact of experiencing weight bias to the impact of internalizing it. She looked closely at exercise behaviors and found that experiencing weight bias appears to be very different from internalizing it. Simply experiencing weight bias, if anything, is associated with people reporting more physical activity.

But those who internalized the weight bias reported considerably less physical activity, less motivation to exercise, and less confidence that they could stick with it.

In the second study, published in the January issue of Obesity, investigators from the University of Leipzig found that internalized weight bias brings a markedly increased risk for diminished health. Internalized bias was linked to low self-assessments, as well as increased depression and anxiety. Other studies have shown that experiencing weight bias can lead people to avoid healthcare. But in this study of people who internalized the bias they experienced, the investigators found significantly higher rates of healthcare utilization.

A growing body of research points to the importance of new approaches for helping people who have internalized the weigh bias pervasive in our culture. Working to reduce weight bias is a good start. But the help of skilled clinicians to cope with internalized bias is essential, too.

Click here to read Pearl’s study of internalized bias and exercise, and here to read the study of internalized bias and health.

Eye to Eye, photograph © TangoPango / flickr

Subscribe by email to follow the accumulating evidence and observations that shape our view of health, obesity, and policy.