While weight inclusivity is not a new term, it is one that is quickly gaining traction in the health and wellness industry. So what does it mean and why is it important for health coaches to implement weight-inclusivity in their practices? In this article, we’ll cover that and more!
What is Weight Inclusivity and Why It’s Important?
Weight inclusivity, as it pertains to health, simply means that as health coaches we are aimed at fostering better healthcare by focusing on the well-being of our clients rather than weight loss or management.  In other words, weight-inclusivity is about making sure that the care and recommendations that we provide to our clients are not based on their weight.
What we know from the literature is that weight stigma poses significant threats to the health and wellbeing of our clients. Weight stigma has been shown to contribute to people being misdiagnosed or going undiagnosed. For example in a 2020 study in Clinical Obesity, researchers found that factors, such as weight stigma can negatively impact the assessments of patients in larger bodies and can lead to grotesque misdiagnosis when comprehensive assessments aren’t completed.  In this particular case, several physicians had diagnosed a patient with “monstrous obesity” when upon further assessment they discovered the patient had a tumor that was contributing to their unexplained weight gain. If the physicians had taken a more weight-inclusive approach from the beginning they might have discovered the tumor a lot sooner.
This is why weight inclusivity is so important in healthcare. Because when weight isn’t being used as a proxy for health, everyone has a chance to receive the quality of care that they need to improve their health outcomes. And that's what being a health coach is all about! We’re here to work with our healthcare counterparts to ensure that we’re delivering the best possible care to our clients. We cannot do that if weight is the measuring stick that we’re using to define a person's health and well-being.
What Does Weight Inclusivity Mean for Your Health Coach Business?
As health coaches, we have an amazing opportunity to be part of a movement that is transforming the way that we think about the connection between weight and health. For many years, there was a tendency to ignore the impact that a person’s fitness level, level of activity, nutrient intake, dieting history, or socioeconomic status could have on their health.  Now we recognize that a person’s health outcomes have more to do with their zipcode than their weight.
Further, the weight-inclusive approach provides health coaches the opportunity to show our clients that they can achieve health and wellbeing independent of their weight. By not focusing exclusively on weight loss as the primary goal when working with clients, we get the opportunity to help them see sustainable healthy habits as the ultimate goal. Studies have shown that behavioral changes related to dietary habits and physical activity can contribute to improvements in depression, body image, self-esteem, and binge eating behaviors.  Even though many health coaches worry a weight-inclusive approach doesn’t deliver “tangible” results, many studies have shown quite the opposite.
From a business perspective, I have seen the immense benefits that adopting a weight-inclusive approach has had for my practice. Not only has a weight-inclusive approach helped me differentiate myself in the market, but it has opened up many opportunities that I didn’t even know existed. From speaker opportunities to brand partnerships, being weight-inclusive has opened up many doors that have allowed me to make more money while having a bigger impact.
Now that you know the what and the why let's dive into how you can implement more weight inclusivity into your health coaching business.
How to Be More Weight-Inclusive in Your Business
1. Don't Make Assumptions About What Clients Want or Need
I think we’ve all had that experience working with a physician, coach, or trainer who made assumptions about the reason we came to see them or the goals that we were looking to achieve. Don’t be that health coach to your clients. Instead of making assumptions ask your clients what they want or need.
And, don’t just stop at the surface-level concerns. Make sure you ask them why this particular goal is important to them. Or, what they believe will happen once they reach this goal. By “starting with why” as Simon Sinek would say, you’ll help your clients understand the purpose for the goal so that they can reverse engineer the right steps for achieving that goal.
2. Be Accessible and Inclusive in Your Marketing
It should go without saying that being weight-inclusive means that you’re going to have the opportunity to work with a variety of different body types. It’s important that you ensure that you have created an environment in which people will feel comfortable working with you no matter their body type.
This might mean for those who work in an office, ensuring that the environment is accessible and accommodating for people in different bodies. For those that are working online, it might mean ensuring that the images you use in your marketing are inclusive of people in different bodies. When people feel that they will be seen and heard, they will feel more comfortable working with you.
3. Respect Your Clients' Boundaries
This should come as no surprise to you. Even though you might think you know what’s best for them, it’s important that you don’t overstep your boundaries as a health coach. This is important from a scope of practice as well as a client-coach standpoint. From scope of practice standpoint, you want to make sure that you don’t get yourself in any legal trouble by providing care that is beyond your scope of practice.
When it comes to the client-coach relationship, you want to make sure you’re being mindful of the interactions you’re having with your clients. What we know from the literature is that quality interactions between patients and doctors (or in your case client and coach) are associated with better patient satisfaction and improved health outcomes. If you’ve ever worked with a doctor or coach that overstepped their boundaries while providing care, you know all too well how important boundaries are. So, make sure that you’re implementing them in your practice.
4. Use Your Platform to Promote Weight-Inclusivity
Even though I’m not a fan of the term ‘influencers” we all have the potential to influencer others in a positive way. As a health coach, you have a platform that you can use to positively influence our industry to become more weight-inclusive. The great thing about having a platform is that you get to amplify the voice of those who have been doing this work for years.
If you’re not doing it already, I highly recommend that you start following accounts on social media that are speaking about topics, such as weight inclusivity, Health At Every Size®, intuitive eating, and body positivity. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with everything that they’re saying it’s important to hear from others' perspectives. It’s one thing to read about these topics in a book. It’s another to learn about these topics from the lived experiences of others.
When you are able to be weight-inclusive in your business, it is a win-win for both you and your client. You have the opportunity to work with people who may not have been on your radar before, which will expand your reach as well as provide new insights that you can use to grow your practice. Plus, your clients get access to more personalized care that they might not otherwise have had access to before. By being mindful of weight inclusivity, you can use this concept successfully and build an amazing practice around health coaching!
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- 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, 1-6. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12916-018-1116-5
- Palmese, F., Reggidori, N., Pappas, G. & Gramenzi, A. (2020). More than a “monstrous obesity”! Time to overcome the “anti-fat” bias. Clinical Obesity, 11(1), 1-3. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/cob.12413
- Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10, 1-13. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
- Provencher, V., Bégin, C., Tremblay, A., Mongeau, L., Boivin, S., & Lemieux, S. (2007). Short-term effects of a "health-at-every-size" approach on eating behaviors and appetite ratings. Obesity, 15(4), 957–966. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2007.638
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