Was food restricted in your house? Was a parent ashamed of you because of your weight? Did you grow up hearing a parent expressing contempt for their own body or weight? If you were labelled fat as a child, were you shamed in public as well as at home?
Fat shaming our bodies is conditioned in our culture from early childhood and continues throughout life. It leads to suffering, disconnection from our bodies and worth, and a compulsion to escape, including through food.
Diets fail for 95% of people because they work against the way we evolved to store fat to survive famine. For some, decades of using food for comfort and emotional survival has set up deep biological grooves and habits. This is part of what is in play with people who become insulin resistant and develop Type 2 Diabetes.
We are subject to persistent manipulation by advertisers who push high fat high sugar “fast foods” that are cheap and available everywhere. These foods set up a dependency in our body that becomes compulsive. Eating them stimulates dopamine and creates a temporary relief. Many eat these foods all day, and some eat healthy during the day and only binge at night or in secret.
People who are a heavier weight, or who lose and gain weight through dieting, are subjected to judgments, stereotypes, and shaming comments. In our fatphobic culture, we receive approving looks and comments when we lose weight. When we predictably gain the weight back, responses range from deafening silence to patronizing “you have such a pretty face“, and “I’m just worried about your health” to more honest judgments that adults don’t usually say out loud but express through the look on their face.
Our inner critic and shaming can be even more contemptuous and devastating. We internalize the myth that we fail at keeping the weight off through dieting because we are a failure. This keeps us mired in an ongoing shame storm from which we naturally try to escape, often through more food.
We get unasked for nutritional advice when a lack of information is not the problem, and we are almost always stared at when it appears we are enjoying our food. I have enjoyed ice cream in public at my current weight and at a “normal” weight. I know the difference.
We can’t accurately assess a person’s relationship with food and their body by their size. Many people who eat and shame themselves compulsively are a “normal” weight. People with bulimia may keep their weight down by vomiting or excessive exercise. They avoid public fat shaming, even as they viciously shame themselves. People who are a heavier weight have the added vulnerability of visibility. We wear it on our body.
Diet restrictions set up “good foods/bad foods” that morph into “I’m good/I’m bad” and encourage either/or thinking and “last supper” binges. Moving to an intuitive eating approach makes sense and it is scary to let go of the hope of permanent weight loss promoted by the dominant diet culture. It takes time to overcome a lifetime of conditioning and shaming around food and weight. The focus I keep coming back to is to see clearly and stay firmly on my own side.
What are you feeling right now reading this? Do you feel connected to your body? Are you in your body or have you escaped because it is too painful? Are you judging or shaming yourself?
To move shame out of your body, try some of these. Reverse the shame posture by bringing your shoulders back and down to open the chest. Take some deep breaths or do box breathing. Bring your head and eyes up. Make eye contact with someone friendly (in person or a picture). Move your body.
The size you are now might be the size you are the rest of your life. It is possible to come home to accepting yourself as you are now. We can resist condemning ourselves for losing the war on fat. We can cultivate a kinder, connected, compassionate relationship with ourselves and our body.
Just like everyone else, I have been hurt and conditioned by difficult life experiences and I have sought comfort. Just like everyone else, I am worthy of unconditional acceptance, kindness, love and compassion.
We are working with fat shaming this week in our Sunday class. You are welcome to join us.
Please also see this related post from last week: https://lynnfraserstillpoint.com/i-love-my-body/