Introduction:

In recent years, the concept of medical fatphobia adn weight-stigma has gained attention and raised concerns about the way healthcare professionals approach patients in larger bodies. This blog post aims to shed light on the impact of medical fatphobia and provide insights into advocating for compassionate care.

Inspired by a podcast conversation between Jenna Talleda and Marie-Pier (The Balanced Practice founder), we will explore the definition of medical fatphobia and its effects on individuals’ health and relationships with food & their bodies. By understanding the roots of fatphobia in healthcare and learning practical advocacy tips, we can work towards a more inclusive and supportive medical system.


Prefer to listen to the podcast? You can do so here (episode 149)


Understanding Medical Fatphobia

Medical fatphobia refers to the bias and stigma healthcare professionals hold towards individuals in larger bodies. It is characterized by a focus on weight and body size as the primary concern in healthcare encounters, disregarding the patients’ other health issues. It often leads to individuals not

This narrow focus often leads to misdiagnosis (or no diagnosis at all), improper care (or no care at all…), vilification of food, assumption regarding the person’s lifestyle and the belief that weight and body size are the sole cause of all health problems (and therefore weight is the only solution). Which we know is untrue.

The truth is that health is impacted by a multitude of factors (both controllable and uncontrollable!) and medical fatphobia fails to acknowledge these complexities which leads to poorer health outcomes.

Note: At The Balanced Practice, our care is completely weight-inclusive.

Effects of Medical Fatphobia

The impact of medical fatphobia is far-reaching, affecting both individuals with and without eating disorders. Weight stigma harms people by:

Research shows us that weight stigma is an independent risk factor for an array of negative physical health outcomes, such as diabetes and heart disease.

It’s no surprise that many folks in larger bodies will avoid accessing medical care altogether due to the fear of judgment and mistreatment they have received. And when they do seek care, they often encounter biased treatment and a lack of proper diagnosis and treatment options. This can have severe consequences.

Effects of Medical Fatphobia in Eating Disorder Treatment

Moreover, the influence of medical fatphobia extends to individuals with eating disorders. The weight-centric model in eating disorder care is EXTREMELY harmful to folks in recovery. It harms folks in all phases:

1- Prevention: Fatphobia is a HUGE risk factor in the development of eating disorders. If your health care provider perpetuates fatphobic ideologies, it increases your risk factors.

2- Detection of the Eating Disorder: Weight stigma leads to misdiagnosis of eating disorders. People of all body sizes are at risk of developping eating disorders. However, weight stigma creates a barrier for folks in larger bodies to receive a diagnosis and appropriate care. (Read this blog for early signs of ED)

3- Treatment: A weight focused approach int he treatment of eating disorder is extremely HARMFUL and unethical. In our experience, it is a maintaining factor for the eating disorder, which makes recovery much more diffcult. We also believe it leads to “semi-recovery” where folks may have less ED behaviours but continue to have many ED thoughts and poor body image.

4- Maintenance of Recovery: Maintaining recovery in a fatphobic world is challenging on it’s own. If you experience medical fatphobia, it increases that challenge by ten-folds.

Moving Towards a Weight-Inclusive Approach

Weight-inclusive care is an approach to healthcare that promotes the well-being of individuals regardless of their body size. It recognizes that weight is not a reliable indicator of health and focuses on supporting individuals in reaching their goals without focusing on weight loss as the marker of success.

This approach emphasizes the importance of body acceptance, self-care, and body autonomy. Weight-inclusive care is rooted in the principles of Health At Every Size (HAES) and aims to create a compassionate and inclusive healthcare environment for all individuals.

Benefits of Weight Inclusive Care:

1- Improved Health Outcomes:

Weight-inclusive care focuses on promoting health behaviours without using weight loss as a measure of success. This approach recognizes that health is determined by various factors, such as physical activity, nutrition, sleep, stress management, and mental well-being. By prioritizing these health behaviours rather than pursuing weight loss, weight-inclusive care can lead to improved overall health outcomes for individuals.

2- Reduced Weight Stigma:

Weight-inclusive care aims to reduce weight stigma by creating a safe and non-judgmental environment for individuals of all sizes. This can contribute to improved mental health, self-esteem, and body image, while also reducing the risk of developing disordered eating behaviours.

3- Positive Body Image and Self-Acceptance:

Weight-inclusive care emphasizes body acceptance and self-compassion. It encourages individuals to move towards radical acceptance of their bodies and move away from solely focusing on the body’s appearance. By promoting positive body image and self-acceptance, weight-inclusive care supports individuals in developing a healthier relationship with their bodies, leading to improved mental well-being and overall quality of life.

4- Sustainable Behaviour Changes:

Traditional weight-focused approaches often involve restrictive diets and intense exercise regimens, which can be difficult/impossible to maintain long-term. In contrast, weight-inclusive care supports sustainable behaviour changes that prioritize self-care, intuitive eating, and joyful movement.

5-Inclusivity and Equity:

Weight-inclusive care recognizes that health is not determined by body size alone and that individuals of all sizes deserve access to compassionate and effective healthcare. By promoting inclusivity and equity, weight-inclusive care challenges weight-based discrimination and supports individuals in receiving the care they need without bias or judgment. This approach acknowledges the diverse experiences and needs of individuals, leading to more equitable healthcare practices.

At The Balanced Practice, we believe that this approach is required in order to provide a higher standard of care for the treatment of eating disorders. By adopting a weight-inclusive approach in eating disorder treatment, healthcare professionals can create a safe and supportive environment to support their clients in exploring all aspects of their eating disorder and achieving recovery.

Another significant benefit of weight-inclusive care in eating disorder treatment is the reduction of stigma and shame associated with body size. Many individuals with eating disorders already struggle with body image concerns and self-esteem issues. By focusing on weight as the sole indicator of health or success in treatment, traditional approaches can exacerbate these feelings of shame and inadequacy. In contrast, weight-inclusive care helps to create a more compassionate and supportive treatment environment, allowing individuals to heal from their eating disorders without the added burden of weight stigma.


The Balanced Practice’s Eating Disorder Recovery Program will be opening doors in September 2023! If you are ready to recover from your eating disorder in a weight-inclusive and safe space, this is for you! Click here to join the info session 🙂


Advocating for Compassionate & Weight-Inclusive Care

While our current healthcare needs systemic changes, individuals can take steps to advocate for themselves and promote compassionate care. Here are some practical tips for your next doctors visit:

  1. Provide informed consent: Recognize that weighing is not mandatory during most medical appointments. Patients have the right to consent to or decline any procedures, including weight measurements. Remember that protocols may need to be challenged, as many healthcare professionals are not accustomed to patients refusing to be weighed.
  2. Seek support: Bringing a trusted person, such as a friend or family member, to medical appointments can provide emotional support and help advocate for your needs. Having someone who understands the importance of compassionate care can empower you during challenging conversations with healthcare professionals.
  3. Communicate your needs: If the topic of weight loss arises, redirect the focus to your overall health concerns. Ask questions such as, “If I were in a smaller body, how would you treat me with this condition?” or express your concern about the negative impact of focusing on weight and body size on your mental health or eating disorder recovery. Encourage healthcare professionals to explore alternative approaches to care.
  4. Be gentle with yourself: Remember that advocating for compassionate care may be met with resistance, as some healthcare professionals are deeply entrenched in fatphobia. Recognize that your experiences and expertise in your own body are valid. Practice self-compassion and avoid placing blame on yourself for the challenges you face.

Conclusion:

Medical fatphobia has a significant impact on how individuals relate to food and their bodies. By understanding the roots and effects of this bias, we can empower ourselves to advocate for compassionate care.

Remember that you have the right to refuse weight measurements and to prioritize your overall health concerns. With resources, support, and open conversations, we can work towards a medical system that treats individuals in all body sizes with dignity, respect, and appropriate care.