Weight Stigma-Related Stress in Your Environment
You are in the grocery store doing your weekend shopping. In the checkout line, you notice people looking in your cart.
Wow, should she be buying that?’ You can tell from their raised eyebrows that’s what people are thinking as they peer into your shopping cart. Your face reddens, and you want nothing more than to race right out of there, Supermarket Sweep style.
But you swallow down your embarrassment and finish your shopping. Unfortunately, experiencing weight-related stress isn’t new.
How Weight-Related Stress Can Damage Your Health
You hear all the time that stress is bad for you. But did you know stress is a survival mechanism?
Imagine a bear is chasing you. You get tunnel vision. The only thing on your mind is running.
Your body experiences stress. Your adrenaline increases. Your cortisol increases and your body releases sugar into your bloodstream.
Congratulations! Your body is primed to run. Stress is going to keep you alive.
However, when your environment creates 24/7 stress, you experience all of those reactions constantly. Being on high alert all of the time is bad for your physical health.
Experiencing weight stigma creates 24/7 chronic stress. Studies have shown that cortisol, a stress hormone, actually increases after you experience a weight stigmatizing event.1 Being hyper-focused on the weight discrimination you experience damages your mental health.
It can make it hard to see anything else.
Studies have shown that people who experience weight stigma have an increased risk of depression and anxiety.2 Studies have, also, shown that people that experience weight stigma may have poorer sleep and increased alcohol intake.1
Weight stigmatizing experiences are so bad for you.
And, unfortunately, weight stigma is all around you.3 Work is being done to end weight stigma in our society.
I hope we will end it soon but until then what can you do to manage your weight stigma-related stress?
5 Ways to Manage Weight Stigma-related Stress
1. Be mindful of what causes your stress.
This can be difficult because to start you need to know what causes you stress. This means checking in without self throughout your day.
If you start to feel stressed, think back to what may have caused it.
Write it down.
Do this for a few days to see what bothers you. Looking at what causes you stress can be stressful.
You may notice that a lot of your stress is the result of weight stigma and discrimination. Can you find anything you can change?
2. Change what you can.
What can you change from your stressor list? Is scrolling through social media causing you to feel bad about your body or food choices?
Curate your feeds.
It is okay to follow people and companies that support you on your journey to ditching diet culture and weight self-stigma and unfollow people that make you feel crappy for the body that you have.
Are your friends constantly discussing their diets or speaking negatively about their bodies? If you feel comfortable with them, talk to them.
Tell them about the journey that you are on to weight-neutrality. Share with them how uncomfortable you are when they discuss dieting.
You can do the same with other people in your life. Most of the time, your friends and family want to support you and don’t want to leave you feeling bad. They will likely respond well to your requests.
They may even ask for help. You can direct them to this blog post for more information on why dieting doesn’t work.
3. Take time for yourself.
You spend so much of your day doing things for others at work, at home, and in your community.
And the whole time you are exposed to weight stigmatizing events. Make sure you take breaks just for yourself during your day.
Taking time to do things just for yourself can give you a break from diet culture and weight stigma and allow you to relax. Getting a break from the chronic stress that weight stigma provides is so important for your body and your mind.
Pick a time and activity that you will do just for yourself. It doesn’t have to be something big and time-consuming.
Even taking 10-15 minutes out of your day to focus on yourself can be beneficial and help reduce your stress. A quick walk to appreciate nature or playing with your pet can be great mini-stress-reducing breaks.
What do you love doing? Try to add more of that into your life.
If what you love to do is one of the things that you identified as causing you stress in Step 1. It might be a good idea to give that one a break when you are feeling really stressed out.
4. Try mindful breathing.
When you feel stressed, take a few moments for mindful breathing. You can use this time to reset. The idea is that you put all of your focus into your breathing. This allows other thoughts to slip away.
If you feel yourself refocusing on negative thoughts or experiences, that is normal. Gently redirect your thoughts to your breathing.
Breathe in for 4 seconds, out for 4 seconds, and repeat for several cycles until you start to feel the stress melt away.
If you want something more guided, there are plenty of apps that can guide you and redirect you through breathing. One app that I enjoy for this purpose is Be Okay.
5. Remind yourself that this is not a you issue.
Take time when you experience weight stigma-related stress to recognize that diet culture and weight stigma is not your fault.
You didn’t do anything to deserve to be the victim of diet culture.
You aren’t the problem. The problem is the environment and ingrained diet culture of our society. One study found that almost 50% of people feel like they are treated differently at work or school because of their weight. One-third reported being teased for their weight.4
Remind yourself of it out loud that this is a problem with your environment. The more you hear it the easier it is to believe it.
If you can, feel empathy for others and how they are letting diet culture rule them. Most of us were bound to diet culture at some point. You found a better way. One day, they may too.
What to Remember When Managing Weight Stigma-related Stress
Remember that you are more important than those raised eyebrows at the grocery store. Don’t let them ruin any more of your time. They aren’t worth it.
While you can’t change their minds, there are things you can do to reduce their impact on you:
- Be mindful of what causes you stress.
- Change what you can.
- Take time for yourself.
- Try mindful breathing.
- Remind yourself this is not a you issue.
Taking these steps is part of your daily self-care routine. By reducing the stress you experience from weight stigma, trust that you are improving your health.
You can reduce the damage that weight stigma can cause.
I am here to help you with this! Together we can find out those areas that cause you stress and manage them to reduce their impact on you. Schedule your free clarity call here.
- Lee KM, Hunger JM, Tomiyama AJ. Weight stigma and health behaviors: Evidence from the eating in America study. International Journal of Obesity. 2021;45(7):1499-1509. doi:10.1038/s41366-021-00814-5.
- Magallares A, Bolaños-Rios P, Ruiz-Prieto I, Benito de Valle P, Irles JA, Jáuregui-Lobera I. The mediational effect of weight self-stigma in the relationship between blatant and subtle discrimination and depression and anxiety. The Spanish Journal of Psychology. 2017;20. doi:10.1017/sjp.2017.1.
- Puhl RM, Himmelstein MS, Quinn DM. Internalizing weight stigma: Prevalence and sociodemographic considerations in US adults. Obesity. 2017;26(1):167-175. doi:10.1002/oby.22029.
- Puhl RM, Telke S, Larson N, Eisenberg ME, Neumark-Stzainer D. Experiences of weight stigma and links with self-compassion among a population-based sample of young adults from diverse ethnic/racial and socio-economic backgrounds. Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2020;134:110134. doi:10.1016/j.jpsychores.2020.110134.