Interior Feelings

An Awful Mashup: COVID, Stigma, and Eating Disorders

A new paper from the Rudd Center reminds us how noxious the weight talk in popular media is right now. Rebecca Puhl and colleagues found that weight stigma during the COVID-19 pandemic is toxic. In young adults, past experience of stigma predict problems in coping now. The risk of binge eating triples. Symptoms of depression are more likely in response to the pandemic.

Dianne Neumark-Sztainer was senior author. She explains:

“Our findings importantly identify weight stigma, independent of BMI, as a factor that may worsen eating behaviors and psychological distress for young adults during this pandemic. These increased health risks, particularly for binge eating, indicate a need for supportive and educational resources to help lessen the negative impact of stigma on eating behaviors.”

“I Am Terrified”

In Clinical Obesity, Andrew Grannell, Carel le Roux, and Deirdre McGillicuddy describe the human experience. They conducted depth interviews of 23 men and women living with obesity. A great diversity in how we are experiencing this pandemic emerged. But one thing is clear. It evokes fear. One of the subjects, Katie, described it:

“I literally have been afraid to go down the road because the road is very narrow and the neighbours are there, they will stop, they will come over too close.”

Noxious Weight Talk

If you are thinking of a story about “the COVID 15,” stop yourself. Before you hurt someone. It is certainly true that obesity, especially for younger people, is an important risk factor for severe complications with COVID-19. But weight loss is not the best answer for everyone facing this issue.

Some people have already lost weight and are still living at a high BMI. Others are coping with multiple issues and ideal solutions are not available. One size does not fit all. Good obesity care does not focus on weight first. It focuses on health.

Above all else, though, comes the imperative to first do no harm. Promoting weight stigma and fat phobia harms everyone. It evokes more anxiety and difficulty coping in these already difficult times. With stigma in the mix, health outcomes are worse.

So please, drop the weight talk. Put health first.

Click here for the study by Puhl et al and here for the Grannell paper. For further perspective on the interaction between this pandemic and eating disorders, click here and here.

Interior Feelings, photograph © enviied / flickr

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October 5, 2020