No Shame

Just how prevalent is fat shaming? In a study recently published in the Journal of Health Psychology, 50 women were asked to keep a diary for one week, documenting every time they were insulted, humiliated, or bullied because of their size.

The results: 1,077 instances when people’s reactions made the women feel “less than.”

Most of us know from personal experience that humiliation can lead to demoralization. When we feel devalued, that can hamper healthy change. And it’s even worse when we talk to ourselves negatively. Acceptance and appreciation appear to be much more powerful catalysts to making positive shifts: Research shows that loving-kindness meditation—the practice of sending love to others or to oneself—is linked to greater life satisfaction, including better relationships and better health.

There’s a growing movement to counteract all the trash talk around weight, as evidenced by groups such as the Yoga and Body Image Coalition, whose mission is to support yoga that acknowledges and reflects diversity and “challenges industry leaders and media creators to expand their vision of what a yogi looks like.”

That’s a worthy goal—but one that we can’t wait around for. The change, as the Buddha said, must come from within.

“Lasting, positive change around eating habits and weight comes from self-acceptance—radical compassion plus right action,” says Kripalu Healthy Living faculty member Aruni Nan Futuronsky. “Without that, you’re simply modifying behavior, and nothing changes.”

What doesn’t work, according to Aruni? Diets. Willpower. Pressure from family and friends.

What does work? Small, incremental modifications inspired by a desire to feel better, not look better.

“One small shift practiced over time is really the route of transformation,” says Kripalu Lead Nutritionist Annie B. Kay. That could be as simple as getting outside more, taking a few minutes each day to breathe deeply and consciously, or connecting more with people you love. Notice—none of those things are related to food.

“It’s not about the food,” Aruni says. “It’s about asking yourself what you really need. Where else can you give yourself sweetness?”

Sometimes, dropping pounds isn’t even part of the equation—what people lose instead is the weight of shame and guilt.

“It is possible to be obese and healthy,” says Annie. “It’s the habits, not the number on the scale.”

Healthy Living faculty member Lisa Nelson, MD, says that while there is a correlation between obesity (especially the obesity associated with metabolic syndrome, which is on the rise in the United States and globally) and chronic disease, there are individuals who are obese while still remaining metabolically healthy. That means they don’t have the biomarkers associated with chronic disease, such as insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar, CRP, triglycerides, and LDL cholesterol levels.

“I would also broaden our notion of health to include emotional, spiritual, and mental health,” Lisa says. “Aside from the numbers on the scale, it’s also how we feel on the inside. Vibrant? Energized? Self-compassionate? This sense of well-being is influenced by our habits—such as eating whole foods, moving our bodies in joyful ways, meditation—in the same ways that our weight is. So moving toward health will impact well-being from the inside out, whether we come down to a normal BMI or not.”

If you struggle with maintaining healthy eating habits, Annie recommends starting with one simple, powerful change: Stop feeling bad about what you’re eating, and just enjoy it. You will be amazed, she says, at where that first step will lead you.

Bottom line, says Aruni: “A healthy person is a person who’s comfortable in their body.”

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