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Weighed down: Week aims to end stigma tied to body size

“End Weight Hate” is this year’s slogan for Weight Stigma Awareness week, which began Monday.
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Photo by AllGo - An App For Plus Size People on Unsplash

End Weight Hate” is this year’s slogan for Weight Stigma Awareness week, which began Monday.

Weight stigma is defined by the National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA, as “discrimination or stereotyping based on a person’s size.” According to Chevese Turner, chief policy and strategy officer for NEDA, people in all size bodies, fat to thin, can experience discrimination.

NEDA is the largest nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting individuals and families affected by eating disorders,” according to its website.

This week marks the second year NEDA has dedicated a full week to bring awareness to how weight stigma and weight discrimination effects people of all sizes, according to the website.

In 2016, 71.6% of Americans 20 and older were overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

More than 30 million Americans suffer from eating disorders at some point in their lives, according to Turner. She said one person dies every 62 minutes from an eating disorder, which makes eating disorders the second highest cause of mortality of any mental health issues, behind opioid use.

"These are deadly disorders, they are difficult to treat, they show up with many other comorbid mental health issues, depression and anxiety but even personality issues. These disorders are very prevalent and very underserved,” Turner said.

Turner herself has struggled with an eating disorder since the age of 5.

“As I began to learn about these disorders and struggled and found help and recovery, I realized that the structure of the eating disorders community was really set up to center and work for young, thin, white women with eating disorders,” she said. “Those who had anorexia, I was not that.”

Turner refers to herself as fat because to her it is not a negative term, except when used as an insult. She and others like her have been trying to take back the term and use it as a descriptor of a body type, not as an insult.

“I have always been in a fat body,” Turner said.

Turner was also clear that “not all people who are fat have an eating disorder,” but that overweight individuals make up the majority of people with eating disorders.

One of the consequences of weight stigma is people in heavier bodies get caught in what is referred to as weight cycling, where they experience extremes in weight loss and weight gain, said Turner.

From 2013 to 2016, the CDC reported that 66.7% of adults with obesity and 49.0% of overweight adults attempted to lose weight.

“At various stages, I weight cycled to lower weight bodies but those were the points that I was most ill,” Turner said.

Longmont resident and mother of two, Candie Mumm, also has struggled with her weight since she was a child.

“I feel it held me back from a lot of relationships, in my younger years, because I wasn’t comfortable in who I was,” Mumm said.

Deciding to change her body image, Mumm joined a popular weight loss program and lost more than 100 pounds in her mid-20s. Mumm noticed that the dramatic change in weight caused complete strangers to be more helpful and friendly to her.

After a tragic loss in her family, Mumm grew depressed and unmotivated to continue her exercise routines and she gained back the weight.

“There were things I couldn’t do. I couldn’t mentally go for a run,” she said.

Although Mumm has not been diagnosed with an eating disorder, she said she has always viewed food as comfort. While she was in the process of losing weight she said she would obsess about the scale to the point that if she didn’t like the numbers she saw she would punish herself by not eating or doing extra strenuous workouts to burn the calories. She also discovered that shopping for clothes was not only cheaper but easier when she was a size small versus an extra large.

"Just the price alone is different, but the availability is different, too,” she said.

Mumm is mindful of what foods she eats, changing her view of food to one of fuel rather than comfort. She also is aware of family health risk factors and keeps up with an exercise routine. However, that has not changed how the world views her.

“It’s really disheartening because people should be accepted for who they are, not by the size they are,” Mumm said.

Mumm isn’t the only person in a heavier body that struggles with how the world perceives them. Turner recounts countless stories of people who have shared their experiences with weight stigma. NEDA is taking a look at how weight stigma, especially in the medical field, can lead to patients not getting treatment for health issues because doctors see the weight first before exploring other ailments, Turner said.

“If I go into the doctor with a broken finger, I’m going to be told ‘well you need to lose weight and that’s the answer to that broken finger.’ And while that sounds ridiculous there are countless stories that we have collected and other organizations have collected that have documented the oversight of serious disease that has been dismissed as something that is due to weight and that losing weight would be the answer,” Turner said.

NEDA is dedicating part of the week to sharing stories it has gathered through a blog. Click here to see personal stories of the impact of weight stigma.

 

While no Longmont-centric celebrations are happening this week, NEDA is using #endweighthate as the theme for pushing past its own community to help people understand that “weight stigma is oppression that has serious consequences,” Turner said. It also is speaking with legislators to help them understand the topic and to work toward ending discrimation associated with weight stigma.

“People in higher weight bodies are at the receiving end of a lot of hate and a lot of fear. Fat-phobia, which is another name for weight stigma, limits people in housing, it limits people in health care, it limits them in jobs, it is something that is internalized into all of us. We see it as ‘a bad’ and as an ‘other.’ And we put the personal responsibility of body size onto people. We think that we can change that easily and we can do whatever we want to do to manipulate that. It’s not a healthy way of looking at the body and it results in oppression and discrimination,” Turner said.

 



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