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The Weight of Blame and Shame


By: Alison Ross, LMFT, CEDS & Barbara Cook

Would you ever tell a friend that they are lazy, that they shouldn't eat so much, or that they should exercise more? Would you tell someone that if they're unhappy with the size and shape of their body, well, that's just their own fault? Most pAbouteople would think that was pretty unacceptable, but many people do precisely that to themselves.


Lots of people think that they need to talk to themselves (or about themselves) like this. They feel that putting themselves down will motivate them to do better, work harder, or be more disciplined. And if they could only do better, work harder, and be more disciplined, their body would look the way it's "supposed" to, and life would be perfect.


But new research suggests that blaming, shaming, and negative self-talk won't improve your health and eating patterns or cause weight loss in the long term. Shaming your own body and eating are examples of internalized weight stigma. And, weight stigma perpetrated against you, or upon yourself, can lead to disordered eating, increased stress hormones (which contribute to stress-induced weight gain), and a sinking feeling that you've lost control. A recent study found that "when participants were manipulated to experience weight stigma, their eating increased, their self-regulation decreased, and their cortisol (an obesogenic hormone) levels were higher relative to controls." (Tomiyama et al, 2018) In other words, self-shaming or being shamed by others triggers physiological and behavioral changes that can negatively impact metabolic health and perpetuate disordered eating patterns and weight gain. This research reveals the health benefits of exerting boundaries with anyone who might put you down, including yourself!


Watch how this works in your life. You might find that self-shaming keeps you on a diet in the short term or even causes temporary weight loss. But over time, the hustle to "fix" your body sets up a cycle of equal and opposite reactions - weight loss to weight gain, food restriction to binging, feeling proud to feeling a sense of failure, etc. As shame becomes a habit, you might notice that you are hungrier, more dependent on highly-rewarding food and substances, and feel that you've lost control of your eating.


The good news is that you can be free. Instead of being pushed around by shame, you can learn to regulate the feelings that drive the cycle. You can learn to calm the storm inside by taking care of yourself instead of punishing or giving up on yourself. You can even learn to love your body and enjoy the way you look without changing anything. You can learn how to stop putting yourself down and shine the light of self-acceptance into the lives of everyone you know for a more body-positive world.


If you're ready to release the emotional weight of blame and shame, let's talk.


Tomiyama, A. J., Carr, D., Granberg, E. M., Major, B., Robinson, E., Sutin, A. R., & Brewis, A. (2018). How and why weight stigma drives the obesity 'epidemic' and harms health. BMC Medicine, 16(1), 123. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5

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