Weighing the Rituals of Body Weight

Heavy ReliefWhat is it about body weight and obesity that activates so many people in so many different ways? As people weigh the rituals of body weight, the reactions may be very different, but they are often just as intense as they are diverse. In the Washington Post today, Fortesa Latifi writes with intensity about telling health professionals to weigh her if they must, but not to tell her what the reading is. She’s “reaching toward weight neutrality.”

In a very different place, we learn about people who have found better self-confidence, mobility, and body image by losing some weight and maintaining that lower weight.

The WW Registry

Suzanne Phelan and colleagues used machine learning and natural language processing to analyze the words of 6,139 persons. They came from a registry of WW International members. These were people who maintained an average weight loss of 54 pounds for 3.4 years on average. They were answering six open-ended questions about their experiences.

Their journeys were rewarding to them, with highs and lows. The authors describe the themes that emerged:

“Advice for others to succeed in weight-loss maintenance coalesced on two recommendations: perseverance in the face of setbacks and consistency in tracking. Rewards for weight management included improved confidence, pain, mobility, fitness, body image, medical status, and affect. Two thematic negative consequences were clothing costs and sagging skin.”

Though most of them (74 percent) routinely track their weight, 82 percent also find inspiration in non-weight victories. So even for these people paying attention to their weight, it is far from the only thing that matters.

Weight Neutrality

Latifi tells us that she has very different goals:

“I dream of the day I feel neutral about my weight. Even now, as I look away from scales and toss after-visit printouts in the trash, my weight is on my mind. Sometimes I wonder how much time I have spent thinking about the size of my body and willing it to be smaller. I know it is a waste of time, and still, I cannot stop.

“I don’t think body positivity is in the cards for me, but weight neutrality seems like something I could reach toward.”

One Size

We do tire of people who have the answer on subjects of weight, health, diet, and body image. For the last 24 hours, we’ve been watching a stream of angry tweets from fat activists reacting to survey research about the intersection of weight management and eating disorders. Their message is clear – nobody should be thinking about body weight. It is a forbidden subject.

Obesity care, weight loss, intuitive eating, body love, making peace with my body – everyone seems to be chasing different goals. Some find success. Others find frustration and anger. But all of this comes in the context of a fat-phobic, body-policing culture that tries to tell people one size – one way of thinking about this – is right for everyone.

That lie, whether it comes from fat activists or a fat phobic doctor, does great harm.

Click here for Latifi’s commentary and here for the research from Phelan et al.

Heavy Relief, painting by Kurt Schwitters / WikiArt

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February 10, 2022