September 23-27 is Weight Stigma Awareness Week.
On the third day of our "Am I Hungry?" retreat, I surprised everyone by asking them to step on the scale. The energy in the room shifted noticeably. My request was met with a mixture of surprise, audible groans, nervous giggles, outright rebellion and even frank hostility.
You see, by this point in the retreat, we had bonded around the common goals of breaking free from the eat-repent-repeat cycle, improving our health and pursing a vibrant life fueled by fearless, pleasurable eating. I had made it very clear that none of those goals could be measured on a scale. Yet here I was, inviting them to step on.
As the first person, Kim, tentatively approached the scale, she set her jaw, slipped off her shoes, and stepped on. When she looked down, relief and a huge smile spread across her face. Instead of some arbitrary number, the verdict read, "sexy."
Soon, everyone in the room was excitedly lining up to step on the Yay! Scale (created by Marilyn Wann) to discover whether they "weighed in" as perfect, ravishing, cute, lovely, etc. We laughed as some of them still insisted on taking off their shoes. What a difference there was in the energy in the room!
Afterward, we talked about the negative impact that living in a weight-focused culture has had on our health and well-being. Some of the consequences that people described were:
- Lowered self-esteem
- Yo-yo dieting
- Guilt and shame
- Holding back from living their lives until they reached some arbitrary weight goal
- Feeling that they were undeserving of many of the things that they deeply desired
- Temporary pride that was ultimately unsatisfying
- Consuming precious time, energy, and focus
- Distraction from focusing on a sustainable healthy lifestyle
- Dismissing one's intrinsic self-worth
We also discussed the effect that weight stigma has on lives. It is clear that weight bias hurts rather than helps, yet many people had absorbed those same messages and were using them against themselves. A more deserving use of our energy is to live the vibrant lives we crave and deserve.
It is time to end weight stigma. Question the weight-based messages you hear from the outside. Are they hurtful, shaming, biased, or discriminatory? Become aware of your internalized messages. Remember, when you say negative things to yourself, your body can hear you! Self-care begins from a place of unconditional acceptance.
Here's a little "homework" that may help you begin to heal your relationship with your body: Have your body write a letter to your brain to let it know how it feels. Allow it to tell you what it really wants and needs.
Open the letter with Dear __________ (your name),
Allow your body to express hurt, anger, or sadness about the things you've thought, said, or felt about it in the past. Let it talk about the effects of those thoughts and words. Then move on to let your body tell you what it really wants from you: unconditional love, acceptance, appreciation, a variety of nutritious and delicious foods, joyful movement, rest, play, and/or other specific requests. End the letter with:
For more by Michelle May, M.D., click here.
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