Surprise: Not Shaming People About Weight Helps Combat Both Anorexia and Obesity

Aug 24 2016

Surprise: Not Shaming People About Weight Helps Combat Both Anorexia and Obesity

August 24th, 2016

Former Glee star Naya Rivera has written a memoir called Sorry Not Sorry, to be released September 13, in which she opens up about her struggle with anorexia:

“I was so young and it just seemed to be the norm. Everyone was going through similar stuff,” Rivera told People. “I had no way of knowing if I was going through it worse. I was juggling my feelings and it makes me sad that there are girls still going through that 15 years after I went through it.”

A new report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) affirms that many girls (and some boys, at a rate of one to every nine girls) still struggle from eating disorders. They give the scary statistic that in the US from 1999 to 2006, “hospitalizations for EDs [Eating Disorders] increased 119 percent for children younger than 12 years.”

They also, helpfully, connect eating disorders with obesity, and recommend that a similar approach that focuses on health, rather than weight or dieting (“defined as calorie restriction with the goal of weight loss”) is the key to combatting both. This is a good thing, as L.V. Anderson writes at Slate:

Dieting is a hazard to teens’ mental and physical health whether they’re fat or thin, and for the AAP to recognize that is a huge milestone. Doctors, alas, are often a central source of fat-shaming in people’s lives, and so if the AAP can convince doctors that their “focus should be on healthy living and healthy habits rather than on weight,” they stand to improve heavier people’s interactions with the medical system. 

One approach that the AAP recommends to health-care providers is Motivational Interviewing, an approach used widely in treating problematic substance use. Delivered correctly, Motivational Interviewing, which involves supporting the client in assessing the pros and cons of their behaviors, can be a compassionate, harm-reduction-oriented approach that focuses on the person’s own (rather than the treatment provider’s) goals.

The report also details other factors associated with eating disorders and obesity. Some, like eating together as a family, have a positive impact on both, while others, like “weight talk” by family members (about the weight-talker’s own weight or the weight of others), have a negative effect.

Though Rivera may be sad to see that eating disorders are still prevalent, the fact that health care providers are increasing their understanding that shaming people for their weight or eating choices can worsen, rather than help, both obesity and eating disorders is a step in the right direction.