The fear of weight gain alongside the desire to lose weight is the most common thing I see in my clinical practice. Not everyone in my clinic wants to lose weight but almost everyone fears gaining weight. It is present in clients regardless of body size.
The fear of gaining weight is something that is incredibly important to explore and unpack as you are healing your relationship with food, eating and your body. I don’t believe that we can just work on our relationship with food without also looking at how weight and our relationship to weight / body size / fatness plays a role. This of course also means that we need to look at Diet Culture, and the deeper roots of Diet Culture.
So why are so scared to gain weight? And how do we get through that fear of weight gain?
The short answer: Weight stigma and internalised fat phobia
First of all I want to acknowledge your feelings, and second of all I want to acknowledge the fact that this blog post will fall short of all of the intricacies of this question, which is why I have listed a list of resources at the end to add to this and to invite you to go deeper.
Thirdly, I want to acknowledge my own thin privilege. Though I have held a lot of internalised fat phobia for decades, I have not lived in a body which has been discriminated because of size.
When I think back, I can remember times, even as a pre-teen being conscious of my body and what other people might think of it, and how thinking that it was too big. Where and when did I learn that?
Where and when did you learn that your body was a problem?
It is cited that girls as young as five are body conscious and by the time they are 10 they will either have dieted or is thinking about dieting. Where do they get this message?
As kids our developmental stages are such that we cannot easily differentiate between what is not about us and what is us. We make everything about us, because this is how our brain functions at that time in our life. There can be a lot of diet messaging in the family (common), and there is also a lot of sneaky subtle messages in kids’ books and films about how certain body types are more preferred and better than others, so no wonder we internalise this message!
Weight stigma hurts everyone, but it hurts people in larger bodies more. This is as a result of direct discrimination such as stereotyping, less chance of getting a higher paid job (despite qualifications), less or no option for comfortable seating in restaurants, hospitals, planes etc.
Others are things like: unsolicited comments on food choices when eating, or body comments simply for walking down the street. This is something people like me in smaller bodies tend to be shielded from, thanks to our thin privilege.
Typical stereotypes of people in lager bodies are: lazy, gluttonous, lack of willpower, stupid, less intelligent amongst a few.
Weight stigma hurts people in smaller bodies too, including those who have lost weight and is now live in a smaller body. If that is you a big part of why you might be afraid of gaining weight is that you if your body gets bigger, chances are you will now be treated like a fat person, which tends to be not very nice at all.
You might have been bullied about your weight in the past or you might have had well-meaning parents or relatives who decided to try and protect you from bullying and instead put you on a diet at a young age.
It makes sense that you will do what you can to try and protect yourself, or someone else from harm. However, dieting in itself is causing harm as it is the leading cause of people developing eating disorders or disordered eating.
Maybe your fear of weight gain is because of health?
Of course if (or when) your body changes, how you experience your body will also change. This is until your proprioception (how you experience your body in space) has adjusted. This tends to be more challenging the more rapid the weight gain is.
The of course there is the whole conversation about health and weight, which is another topic altogether but this article is a great place to start your unlearning about that.
So now what? Let’s look at some tips and strategies to help you navigate fear of weight gain, as it comes up for you on your journey to body trust and food freedom.
– Journal on: If you could eat anything you wanted knowing it would not affect your weight, what would you eat?
– Journal on: When did you learn that your body was wrong?
– Journal on: What would it mean if there was nothing wrong, and nothing to fix?
– Question the stuff that you have internalised.
– Be honest with yourself, are you prepared to spend the rest of your life focused on trying to lose weight or maintaining your weight if it takes over your life?
– Accept that bodies change. They are living breathing beings. Your body will not be a 20 year old’s body when you are 40, or 60.
– Diversify your social media feed to see bodies of all sizes. Body diversity is real, but it is not happening on social media unless you make it happen. Don’t underestimate how powerful this one strategy is to undo some of the internalised messaging around bodies and weight.
– Be kind and compassionate as you are navigating this. A lot of feelings will inevitably come up. Anger, grief, sadness, joy, liberation, and more. Go gently.
– Remember, you can trust your body and show your body that it can trust you too, by feeding it regularly and adequately, doing movement that feels good and rest when needed.
Further resources to read:
More than a Body by Lexie & Lindsay Kite
Reclaiming Body Trust – A path to liberation by Hillary Kinavey & Dana Sturtevant
Body of Truth by Harriet Brown
Fearing the Black Body by Sabrina Strings
What we don’t talk about when we talk about fat by Aubrey Gordon