Body Image

The intersection of weight stigma and eating disorders

July 27, 2018

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A Certified Eating Disorders Registered Dietitian (CEDRD) with a master's degree in dietetics & nutrition. My passion is helping you find peace with food - and within yourself.

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It’s nearly impossible to understand eating disorders without talking about the backdrop in which they occur.  I’m referring to WEIGHT STIGMA and the fat phobic culture we live in.

Sometimes also referred to as “weight bias,” it is the prejudice and stereotypes that we have against people in larger bodies.

From a young age, we teach children that it is bad to be fat.  

Now, we [usually] don’t say it to them that bluntly, but there are many ways in which this message is conveyed to children:

  • Food policing the what kids pack in their school lunch
  • Teaching kids that there are good and bad foods
  • Weighing kids at school and sending home BMI report cards
  • Labeling children as overweight
  • Telling a child they are eating too much
  • Doctors telling kids they need to lose weight
  • Teaching kids about the “health risks” of obesity
  • Villians in kids shows being fat, while the good guys are thin
  • Adults obsessing about their own weight
  • Parents dieting (kids notice these things)


There are tons of other examples, but these paint a picture of how widespread this messaging is for our children.  These children grow into fat-phobic adults.

Studies have shown that half of girls age 3-6 are scared of being fat.  There’s something wrong with this. Something seriously wrong. Why are preschoolers and kindergarteners worrying about such a thing?!


The society of adults that are sending these weight biased messages to kids are weight biased themselves.  

Consider the stereotypes that exist about fat people (and please know that I say fat people in a completely non-derogatory way, while I am aware that it has negative connotations due to the very issue we are talking about).  Tons of studies have demonstrated the following assumptions that are made about fat people:

  • Lazy
  • Gross
  • Disgusting
  • Unhealthy
  • Lack of willpower
  • Low self-esteem
  • Overeats
  • Sedentary
  • Unintelligent
  • Unattractive


If we are making these assumptions about fat people, of course nobody wants to be considered fat!  What an awful experience to be judged this way, not only by others, but by ourselves too. When you think to yourself I feel fat, you are subconsciously also telling yourself that you are these things listed above.  


Eating disorders prey on this.

Body shame is rooted in what we call “internalized weight bias” - which is when we experience the judgment against ourselves about being or feeling fat.  When we are in a state of body shame we feel deeply inadequate and flawed.

And that’s why it’s key that we are talking about weight stigma when we are treating eating disorders, because how is a person supposed to find peace within their body if they can’t see the fear mongering that is all around?


Crossing the intersection

We must recognize that weight stigma, fat phobia and fear mongering are contributing to the negative body image that coincides with eating disorders.  

This intersection of weight stigma and eating disorders is a public health crisis.  Yet, all you’ll ever hear about is the “health crisis” of obesity. All people with eating disorders are impacted by weight stigma in our society, and those individuals with eating disorders who are living in larger bodies are impacted the most because they are living in a body that the rest of us are told to fear.  They are used as a cautionary tale for the rest of us living in the privilege of thinness.



My hope is that talking about this will help build your resilience when it comes to healing your body shame.  When you can put it in the context of cultural weight stigma, you can start to see that there is nothing wrong with your body, and that the fear of being fat is something that you were taught and that has been reinforced around every corner.  

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