Our Mind Waves Project Manager Rosie shares her learning and reflections from the Health and Social Care Academy’s recent event which explored weight stigma.
I used to think that being a healthy weight was pretty simple – you eat less and you move more.
Sure, I understood that weight is linked to mental health – that being depressed can mean that you comfort eat, or mean you lack the motivation to exercise. I knew that feeling rubbish about your body makes you miserable. I even knew that income and deprivation played a big role, that lack of access to healthy food was a problem for people living in poor communities.
But this week I attended the Health and Social Care Academy #WeightStigma event and it made me question everything I thought I knew.
I’m thin. I always have been. But I’ve never judged people for being heavy. I was always sympathetic (I’m now cringing at how stigmatising it is to use that word). I knew that shaming people (especially women) over their weight wouldn’t help. I knew about hashtag body positive and loving your curves, and yet…
… I thought that, if we just supported people to overcome the barriers to eating better and moving more, that they’d all lose weight and be healthier. I came away from the day realising that aiming for weight loss really isn’t a healthy goal at all.
We heard from Ly Kerr, who told us about how she nearly died when doctors repeatedly failed to diagnose a serious health condition. They’d blamed her weight for her symptoms. In reality, it was dieting that was causing the problem.
We also heard from Lucy Aphramor, who describes herself as a “radical dietitian”. I won’t try to summarise what she told us, because it was all so new to me. But she talked about social justice, poverty, trauma, shame and the social and emotional role of food and it just made so much sense.
I learned that we need to separate conversations about mental and physical health from conversations about weight. I learned that there is no “healthy weight” and that pushing people towards weight loss, as well as making them miserable, is likely to make them more physically unhealthy. Getting outside, exercising and enjoying a mix of foods with people we care about is good for our physical and mental health – whether it leads to losing weight or not.
We heard about how in Highlands and Islands, they’re successfully applying these principles in their “Well Now” approach to health. It will be interesting to see what happens next across Scotland – this is a message that health professionals and policy makers need to hear.