Part 1 of 2
It's called the last socially acceptable prejudice. It's so visible that you can see it on sitcoms, on the Internet, in schools, in workplaces and maybe even in your own home.
It's weight bias — discrimination against overweight people. And unlike discrimination based on race, ethnicity, physical disability, sexual orientation and religious beliefs, there's no legal protection for those who suffer this kind of bias.
Interestingly, weight bias persists even though the majority of Americans are overweight or obese. In fact, weight bias is so ingrained in American society that even those who are overweight buy into it. Maybe they don't attack others, but by judging themselves harshly based on their weight, they're accepting this way of thinking.
On too many occasions, I've heard patients say, "I'm a disgusting fat slob." Equally sad are the children and adolescents who are mercilessly picked on and called names simply because they are overweight.
Incorrect assumptions are often made about people who are overweight or obese — specifically that they eat too much and are lazy. The fact is that obesity can have many causes, including environmental, social, genetic, dietary and psychological factors. Each overweight person may be overweight for different reasons — which is why taking a one-size-fits-all approach to obesity doesn't work.
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Some of the most prevalent myths about overweight people are that they:
Eat too much. Some people who are overweight eat no more than another person who isn't overweight. Some have such long histories of rigid dieting, they actually eat less than they should in order to be healthy.
Are lazy and have no self-control. Overweight people are no less industrious than others, and perform equally well at their jobs.
Eat unhealthy foods. I've seen many thin people with horrific diets and overweight people who love vegetables and fruit.
Don't exercise. Some overweight people are actually more active than some of their thinner counterparts. There are skinny couch potatoes and overweight gym rats. You won't know this just by looking at them.
Don't care about themselves. Most overweight people care immensely, and have long histories of dieting to prove it.
Are stupid. There is no relationship whatsoever between weight and intelligence.
Aren't hurt by insults. The consequences of weight bias include depression, anxiety, poor self-esteem, poor body image, unhealthy eating behaviors and self-isolation.
Are unhealthy. Recent research suggests that there's a larger range of weights in which people can be healthy than previously thought. Good nutrition, not smoking, moderate drinking and an active lifestyle are more indicative of health than weight alone.
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On the flip side, people assume that because someone looks thin that they are healthy, in control, and have no problems.
Actually, thin people with eating disorders are less healthy and have more severe emotional issues than many overweight people. I remember the time when our office deliveryman commented that he loved coming to my office because it was filled with beautiful women. Little did he know that the women he admired had eating disorders and suffered from ill health, lack of self-control and self-defeating behaviors. They were neither happy nor healthy and they certainly didn't feel beautiful.
Next time you see an overweight person, remember that you know nothing about them. They could be healthier than you, eat better than you and be more active than you.
Then ask yourself what life would be like if everyone around you made negative assumptions because of your physical features. Try to reach the compassion inside you and treat everyone the way you would like to be treated.
Lavinia Rodriguez, Ph.D., is a Tampa clinical psychologist who specializes in weight management. Reach her at (813) 240-9557 or firstname.lastname@example.org.