If you’re reading this, chances are that you have a fear of gaining weight, if not you, maybe your daughter, sister, or another loved one in your life does.
Unfortunately, this is a very normal fear. It shouldn’t be normal (what’s actually normal is weight gain itself) but it is normal. It’s normal to live with weight gain fear and to do everything in your power to try and prevent weight gain, while also often trying to lose weight.
So where does this fear come from? Why do we fear the inevitable? Well, that is what I am here to cover today. We're going to dive deeper into weight gain fear, where the fear of gaining weight comes from and how to work through it.
Weight gain fear described
The term “weight gain fear,” is pretty self explanatory. Essentially it means you’re scared to gain weight. However there are two terms (obesophobia and fatphobia) that commonly come up when we discuss weight gain fear that I am going to define further here.
Obesophobia, also known as pocrescophobia, is the irrational fear of gaining weight or becoming “obese.” It’s characterized by an intense anxiety or dread associated with the idea of gaining weight or being “overweight.”
Important to note that not everyone who is worried about putting on weight has obesophobia.
Fatphobia refers to the societal bias and discrimination against individuals perceived as fat or “overweight.” It can be characterized by the idea that being thin is ideal and makes an individual superior, while larger bodies are demonized and seen as problematic.
Essentially both involve the fear of weight gain or fear of fat, though obesophobia is typically used to describe an individual's feelings towards themselves whereas fatphobia is often used to describe how society views weight gain and fat.
Where weight gain fear comes from
At some point in time (around the late 1800s to early 1900s), it was decided that thin bodies were superior, healthier and more attractive.
At this time, there wasn’t scientific evidence to prove that being in a thinner body meant being healthier (nor is there now), rather, there was a strong cultural bias against fatness and the idea that thin bodies were better took off.
Just like the rest of society, health professionals (i.e. doctors) at the time were very much influenced by this cultural bias and started to believe themselves that being thin was the way to go. Patients were asking for weight loss advice and eventually they started giving it.
The weight loss advice provided at the time was not based on any sound evidence that weight loss interventions resulted in long term success (i.e. keeping the weight off) and better health outcomes (nor do we have any solid proof of this now).
Rather weight loss advice was based on the sole fact that eating less and in restrictive ways resulted in weight loss (no shit, this type of behaviour normally will result in weight loss SHORT TERM).
Just like modern day weight loss and dieting advice, the negative impacts weight loss interventions have on our health and the fact that these interventions do NOT result in sustainable long term weight loss and likely rebound weight gain, were not considered.
So anyways, getting back to my point, this is where the whole fatphobia thing comes into play. We now live in a society in which we’re told fat is bad, fat is unhealthy and fat is unattractive. So naturally we’re all going to have a fear of fat, or fear of getting fat or fear of being fat.
People living in all body sizes face some degree of weight stigma, however, those in larger bodies have it by far the worst.
Weight stigma may include negative comments or assumptions about a person’s body, however it goes far beyond just comments. It could also look like misdiagnoses of medical conditions, improper furniture sizes in public settings, inability to walk into a clothing store and find your size, or lack of positive representation of your size in the media.
We’ve all been influenced in some way, shape or form to dislike larger bodies and body fat and fear weight gain. Whether by friends, family, teachers, coaches, the media, or other sources.
Think of a time a person made a rude comment about the size of someone’s body. Maybe that person wasn’t in the room, so you didn’t think much of it. Because it’s not like they said it directly to their face right?
Well think how that could affect everyone else in the room that hears that comment. This could either directly or indirectly influence every single person in the room regardless of their body size.
The person in the room in a larger body will likely immediately feel ashamed of their body size. The person in the thinner body will likely have instilled ever more fear of gaining weight. In both cases it creates further dislike and fear of fat bodies.
In turn, this results in a whirlpool of disordered eating and exercise behaviours that cause further harm.
The problem with weight gain fear and fatphobia
There are a lot of issues that come with the fear of gaining weight or fatphobia. One being weight stigma, which I already briefly touched on. The other piece I would like to talk about is its promotion of disordered behaviours.
More people now than ever, children and youth included, are engaging in disordered food and exercise behaviours in order to try to control their body size, and essentially prevent fatness. For some people this leads to a more severe form of disordered eating (i.e. eating disorders).
The unfortunate thing is that a lot of these disordered behaviours are actually praised and seen as normal rather than problematic, which only further fuels them.
Without going into too much detail of what exactly these behaviours are, in general we can sum them up to be any food or exercise related behavior that is being carried out for the purpose of weight loss or prevention of weight gain.
Whenever body weight or size is the focus, disordered behaviours are being engaged in. Period.
At some point we decided it was “healthy” and necessary to deprive ourselves of essential nutrients (i.e. often carbs, resulting in other essential nutrient needs not being met), force ourselves to eat less than what our bodies actually need and punish ourselves when we fail to fight biology.
These behaviours that are praised and seen to be as “healthy” are actually quite the opposite.
There is SO MUCH harm that comes from engaging in weight loss behaviours. Too much to sum up here but I lay it all out for you in my other blog post: The Disadvantages of Dieting and I highly recommend you check that post out when you’re done here.
But what I want you to know now is that weight gain is a very normal process of aging and when we try to exert control over our body size and prevent it’s natural progression, we often end up not only worsening our health but putting ourselves further away from the body goal we were striving for.
Genetics and normal weight progression
We all have our own genetically predetermined body size. And by this I mean that our weight is just as genetically determined as our height. So you can see why trying to control your size is extremely difficult.
The reality is you can’t expect to achieve your favourite thin influencer’s body by copying their diet and exercise routine, nor can you expect your body to be the same size at age 40 as it was at age 18.
Yes, our bodies have a natural weight or size that they want to be at but it’s also completely normal that we gain weight with age. Think of all the things your body potentially goes through- puberty, pregnancy, postpartum changes, menopause, etc.
WE ARE SUPPOSED TO GAIN WEIGHT AS WE AGE. This is not something that should be feared. And trying to prevent this weight gain from occurring is actually what often results in even more weight gain than what is considered healthy for us.
If we just all let our bodies be, we engaged in intuitive eating (like we were born to do), moved intuitively, and essentially lived intuitively, rather than by a bunch of diet and exercise rules, we would be a lot better off.
We would be healthy and we would maintain a weight that is healthy for us. Now, keep in mind, a healthy weight is different for everyone. Being in a larger body does not make a person unhealthy, nor does being in a thin body make a person healthy.
How life could look if you could get over your fear of gaining weight
Weight gain fear has a way of controlling our lives. Every decision we make is rooted in “how is this going to affect my body size.” Rather than considering our health, enjoyment and overall well-being.
So, if you could move past this fear of gaining weight and stop letting your diet and exercise routine consume your thoughts and take over your life, these are a few changes you may expect to see.
No more stress or overthinking when it comes to eating and exercise, rather more pleasurable experiences with food and movement
More time and energy to do the things you enjoy and are passionate about
Maintenance of your healthy weight, with normal body changes
A more positive body image
Improved physical and mental health outcomes
Overall improved relationship with food, your body and loved ones
Better quality of life and life satisfaction
AND SO MUCH MORE
How to work through the fear of gaining weight
1. Understand that your health is not determined by your size
Your whole life you have been told that weight gain, body fat and larger bodies are unhealthy. In addition to thin bodies being perceived as more attractive, this is enough to make you fear weight gain.
The reality is, having body fat, gaining weight or being in a larger body, does not make a person unhealthy. And as we already mentioned, weight gain is a normal and expected process with aging.
In terms of larger bodies, we’re often told that being larger or having a higher BMI (body mass index) results in having poorer health outcomes. Here’s the thing, this is not true and if you actually critically read the research that claims this, you would see a lot of flaws.
One of many flaws includes the fact that information presented is correlation NOT causation and there are a lot of variables uncontrolled for (i.e. weight stigma and weight cycling) that contribute to the poor health outcomes being noted.
2. Put the trust back into your body
Your body is not just looking for ways to continuously put on a bunch of weight. Your body has a natural set weight range it prefers to maintain and it will do so if you quit interfering and trying to control your weight.
Put the trust back into your body, and start listening to its needs for food, movement, rest and other means of self-care. When you meet your body's needs, your weight will eventually settle to a place it wants to be at.
3. Set boundaries around food and body talk
People love to talk about their diet and weight loss accomplishments as well as comment on other people's bodies and food choices. When you’re working on overcoming weight gain fear or accepting your body as is, these comments can be really difficult to hear.
Compliments about smaller bodies and weight loss reinforce that fact that people believe smaller bodies are better, just as negative comments about larger bodies or body fat reinforce the fact that these bodies aren’t accepted. Either way, not helpful.
Remove yourself from these conversations as much as possible. In a group setting, it may be easier to just slip away. But in a one to one setting with a friend or family member it may not be as easy to just ignore it.
In this case, you can either choose to explain what you are working on and how these conversations are not helpful with your current journey, or, if you don’t want to get into it, simply change the topic.
4. Avoid scales, body checking and comparison
Have you ever heard the saying that comparison is the thief of joy? It's true, continue comparing your body to others and you will never be happy. Remember all bodies are supposed to be different, we can’t sculpt our bodies to look like our friends or our favorite celebrity.
I also highly recommend avoiding scales and body checking. Both of these behaviours have the power to control how the rest of your day goes. Don’t like what you see in the mirror today? Not happy with the number on the scale? Your day is officially ruined.
5. Direct your anger towards diet culture and fatphobia (not yourself)
It’s about time you stop beating yourself up for not being able to prevent normal weight gain or for being unable to lose weight and instead start directing your anger towards fatphobia and diet culture.
The diet industry makes money off of your insecurities and failures, so diet culture as a whole will continue to convince you that you need to prevent weight gain at all costs. Instead of buying into this bullshit, start fighting against it. Take your life back from diet culture.
I fight the unrealistic body standards, fatphobia and diet culture daily on my Instagram, so go follow me there (@dietitian.krista) and join the fight. It can be quite liberating.
Weight gain fear summed up
Okay we covered a lot here in this article, so to sum it up, it’s normal to fear weight gain as we have all been conditioned our whole lives by diet culture that weight gain and fat are bad, unhealthy and unattractive.
This fear creates a lot of problems such as engagement in harmful disordered behaviours in attempts to prevent weight gain and lose weight. When you learn to overcome this fear, your health and quality of life will drastically improve.
So take some time to work through this fear and free yourself from diet culture and societal standards.
If you are left with unanswered questions after reading this article please feel free to leave a comment below or reach out to me directly.