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How Body Positivity Can Lead to Better Health Choices

body positivity Mar 07, 2022

As a health coach, you may find that some of your clients are body positive while others are not. This is for good reason. For many years, people - especially women - have been told that they need to be thin in order to be healthy. Or, maybe you've told this to your clients? This can leave those in fat bodies feeling like health is something that they simply cannot achieve. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is a strong correlation between those who have a positive body image and those that make healthy choices. Though you can't make assumptions about an individual's health based on their level of body positivity, research has shown that learning to accept your body as it is can lead to better decision-making.

In this article, I show you how body positivity can lead to better health choices and how to help your clients practice body positivity in their own lives.

 

What is Body Positivity?

There are many misconceptions when it comes to what body positivity is and what it isn’t. According to VeryWell Mind, body positivity affirms that:

Regardless of societal views, all persons deserve to have a body-positive image independent of their shape, size, or appearance. [1]

What that means is that body positivity is about challenging societal views about bodies. Despite the average dress size for women in the United States being between 16 to 18, thinness is often deemed “normal” and fatness deemed “abnormal.” [2]

In reality, there is nothing abnormal about fatness. Nor should those in fat bodies be seen as inherently unhealthy. That’s why body positivity is about promoting the acceptance of all bodies regardless of a person's size, weight, or shape. Not doing so could contribute to weight stigma. What we know from the literature is that weight stigma is associated with lower body image, higher rates of depression, and higher occurrences of suicidal ideation in adolescents. [3]

While on the one hand body positivity is very much a social justice issue, it is equally a health issue. From a social justice lens, every person deserves equal rights and opportunities to be healthy. And, for their health not to be predetermined for them solely based on their size, weight, or shape. From a health standpoint, we know that weight stigma can dissuade people from seeking routine and preventative care. [4] When people are not receiving the care they need this can increase the likelihood of disease which can lead to higher healthcare costs. Thus, when we’re making calculations regarding the healthcare burden of obesity we must not ignore the contribution of weight bias. [5]

 

How Weight Stigma in the Media Affects Our Health

However, weight stigma is not solely present in healthcare settings. Weight stigma in the media has also served to negatively impact public health. In the media, people with fat bodies are often portrayed more negatively than those with thin bodies. [3]

Part of this negative portrayal of people in fat bodies is based on the assumption that weight is controllable. Therefore, the media has perpetuated the belief that people with fat bodies are lazy, self-indulgent, or personally responsible for their condition. [3] Research has shown that is not the case. A person's body weight can be the result of genes, biological factors, behaviors, or even a person's socioeconomic status. [6]

Furthermore, the media has overwhelmingly stressed the importance of maintaining an “ideal” appearance and body shape. [7] As a result, this has negatively impacted the way that people view not only others' bodies, but their own. This has done a number on our client's mental and physical health. From a mental health standpoint weight stigma can contribute to developing a negative body image. As a result, it can impact their physical health when they begin engaging in unhealthy habits to align their body with societal ideals. That's why recognizing the impact of weight stigma is essential for providing care that improves the health and wellbeing of our clients. 

 

How Practicing Body Positivity Can Lead to Better Health

1. Promote a Healthy Body Image

Whether you realize it or not, a healthy body image is key when it comes to the health choices that we make. The current hyperfocus on weight loss has contributed to body image dissatisfaction which undermines our health and wellbeing. [8] That’s why practicing body positivity is vital for helping people develop a healthy body image. One where they are more focused on their wellbeing instead of their weight, size, or shape.

2. Reshape our Image of Health

It should go without saying that reshaping the image of health serves those not only in fat bodies, but those in thin bodies as well. Because thin people are assumed to be healthy it can lead to unhealthy habits, such as disordered eating and exercise addiction. While body positivity might not make people thinner it can prevent people from developing disordered eating habits, loathing their bodies, or engaging in risky weight-loss strategies to be thin. [9]

3. Avoid Extreme Weight Loss Tactics

Even though weight loss may be a goal of your clients, they may not be aware of the toll that extreme weight loss strategies can have on their health. What we know from the literature is that extreme weight loss strategies can lead to cycles of weight loss and gain, body hatred, eating disorders, and exercise addiction. [9] Whether or not, weight loss is the goal of your clients, it’s vital that you educate them on the toll that extreme weight loss tactics will have on our health.

Nevertheless, I know that getting started with body positivity can be difficult in a world that isn't. Here are four simple tips that can help your clients practice body positivity in their everyday lives. 

 

Tips for Practicing Body Positivity in Everyday Life

1. We Don’t Need to Be Positive About Our Body to Accept It

Even though being positive about your body has its merits, I know that idea may come with a lot of baggage for your clients. That’s why it’s important to let your clients know that they don’t need to be positive about their bodies to start accepting the skin that they're in. It’s important to help our clients recognize that body positivity is a journey. They might not be at a place where they can truly love their body right now. That doesn't stop them from taking conscious steps toward learning to accept their bodies where they currently are. 

2. Show Body Respect By Eating for Wellbeing

There is a mental shift that your clients will need to make when they transition from eating for weight loss to eating for wellbeing. Instead of counting every calorie they eat or tracking every macronutrient, their focus will shift toward eating for pleasure and nourishment. This might feel impossible at first. Encouraging them to learn more about intuitive eating can help with understanding how to eat foods they enjoy again without feeling guilt or shame for their food choices.

3. Engage In Enjoyable Movement

The benefit of encouraging your clients to engage in physical movement that they genuinely enjoy is that it’s restorative. Yes, movement can be restorative when it's done in a healthy and sustainable way. That means there is nothing wrong with encouraging them to try out new workouts or engaging in a club sport from time to time. That said, it's also nothing wrong with encouraging them to stop doing workouts and sports that they don't enjoy.

4. Be Kind to Ourselves Along the Journey

Last, but certainly not least, we must learn to be kind to ourselves along this journey. There will be days when we can be body positive without thinking about it. Sadly those days are often when we are adhering to societal standards. This means the days when we may loathe the skin we’re in is likely the days when we aren't adhering to societal standards of beauty, health, or success. In those moments, it's important to remind our clients to give themselves grace. Rewiring our brains to think positively about our bodies will take time. So, remind your clients that all good things take time and that is a great thing! 

So, I hope that this article has provided an empowering view of body positivity. Despite many criticisms of the body positivity movement, the idea that all bodies are inherently worthy regardless of their size, weight, or shame is an idea worth promoting. 

Through practicing body positivity we can improve the health of our clients in a number of ways. First, it can help them make healthy choices because they’ll want to take care of their body instead of beating themselves up over perceived flaws. Second, when they see more diverse representations of bodies in the media and in their everyday life, they’ll feel less likely to feel bad about their own appearance. Finally, body positivity can lead to self-acceptance, which is essential for helping our clients see health beyond the scale.

Are there any additional ways that practicing body positivity has led to better health outcomes for yourself or your clients? Let me know below!

 

Source

  1. Cherry, K. (2020, November 21). What is Body Positivity? VeryWell Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-body-positivity-4773402
  2. Bacon, L., O’Reilly, C., & Aphramor, L. (2016). Four: Reflections on thin privilege and responsibility. Counterpoints (pp. 41–50). Peter Lang AG.
  3. Daníelsdóttira, S., O’Brien, K.S., & Ciaoc, A. (2010). Anti-fat prejudice reduction: A review of published studies. Obesity Facts, 3(1), 47-58. https://doi.org/10.1159/000277067
  4. Falk, M. (2021, November 5). The ‘Health at Every Size’ approach to health care is aiming to put an end to weight stigma. Shape. https://www.shape.com/lifestyle/mind-and-body/health-at-every-size-haes
  5. Schwartz, M.B., Chambliss, H.O., Brownell, K.D., Blair, S.N. & Billington, C. (2003). Weight bias among health professionals specializing in obesity. Obesity Research, 11(9),1033-1039. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2003.142
  6. O’Hara, L. and Taylor, J. (2018). What’s wrong with the ‘war on obesity?’ A narrative review of the weight-centered health paradigm and development of the 3C framework to build critical competency for a paradigm shift. SAGE Open, 1-28. https://dx.doi.org/10.1177/2158244018772888
  7. Elran-Barak, R. and Bar-Anan, Y. (2018). Implicit and explicit anti-fat bias: The role of weight-related attitudes and beliefs. Social Science and Medicine, 204, 117-124.
  8. Logel, C., Stinson, D. A., & Brochu, P. M. (2015). Weight loss is not the answer: A well-being solution to the “obesity problem.” Social & Personality Psychology Compass, 9(12), 678– 695. https://doi.org/10.1111/spc3.12223
  9. Robison J. (2005). Health at every size: toward a new paradigm of weight and health. Medscape General Medicine, 7(3). https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/506299

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