Being Weight Neutral Makes Sense but Can Be Hard
I recently watched an interview with Brendan Fraser about his role in the movie The Whale, in which he plays a man who’s so obese that he’s housebound. Fraser wore prosthetics for the role to add weight, and while some have criticized the decision not to cast an obese actor, I thought Fraser made an interesting point about the prosthetics.
He said that most fat suits don’t convey what it’s like to be in a larger body, but he felt his prosthetics showed how gravity impacts those who are heavier.
It struck me because so often, it seems that no one talks about the reality of being obese, in the sense of how hard it is physically.
I don’t mean 20 or 30 pounds overweight, but 75 pounds, 100 pounds, or more. When you start carrying that much extra weight (assuming it’s not muscle), it’s tiring and difficult. You don’t fit in chairs or down aisles as well as others, or sometimes you won’t fit at all. And that doesn’t even address the stigma and fat-phobia that people express, including those in the medical community. Oh, and let’s not forget the challenges of finding clothes that fit, or at least sort of fit, but that probably aren’t in any way flattering.
I don’t think about this as often as I used to, now that it’s been a little over 20 years since I was at my heaviest. But I can remember it if I try, and it’s not a great memory.
I think this is one reason why some people struggle with the idea of being weight neutral. It seems like you’re being told that your weight doesn’t matter – but sometimes, it really does.
Even so, the weight neutral approach has a lot of value, and in my opinion, it’s something you can embrace even if you’d like to be in a smaller body.
What does weight neutral mean?
A weight neutral approach means focusing on developing healthier habits and improving health without being focused on weight as the main goal. In this approach, weight is not considered an indicator of health. Instead, your health is evaluated more holistically by considering other factors (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.)
Benefits of a weight neutral approach
It may not seem like shifting away from a focus on weight could make that big of a difference, but it has many benefits. These include:
Reduced weight stigma: when you stop thinking about weight as the primary way to judge health, you also stop judging people themselves based on their weight.
Improved body image: focusing on the numbers on a scale can negatively impact your body image, but once you can step away from those numbers, you can focus on how you feel in your body, and you’ll often start to feel better about yourself and your body.
Better relationship with food: thinking about weight often leads to diets and restriction and some sort of disordered eating, so when you let go of the weight focus, you can let go of the diet approach and become more mindful about eating.
Less chance of weight cycling: with diets comes weight cycling (i.e., losing and gaining weight repeatedly), which has many negative health impacts – such cycles are much less likely if you take the focus off your weight.
Get the healthcare you deserve: too often, those who are heavy may avoid doctors because they know they’ll experience weight stigma and fat shaming, and any problems they may be experiencing may be swept aside as being because of weight – but if more people, doctors among them, take a weight neutral approach, you can get the healthcare you deserve, no matter your size.
Adopting a weight neutral approach
If taking the focus off weight sounds appealing to you but you’re not sure how to get started, here are some tips:
1. Remember weight and health are not the same: being heavy doesn’t automatically mean you’re unhealthy, and being thin doesn’t automatically mean you’re healthy, no matter what anyone else might try to tell you.
2. Focus on behaviors you can control: as much as people like to talk about willpower, the reality is that how much you weigh isn’t really in your control, so instead, focus on behaviors that you know you can change, such as eating more mindfully, listening to what your body is telling you, and seeing if you can find some types of movement or physical activity that you enjoy.
3. Use other metrics of health and progress: if you’re trying to become healthier, you can focus on so much more than weight, especially since if you replace fat with muscle, you may lose inches but not weight – some other things to focus on include how quickly you can walk, if you have an easier time going up stairs, what your heart rate is, and more.
4. Practice self-awareness: being weight-neutral means paying attention to how you feel in your body, rather than relying on numbers on a scale to decide how you should feel, so take some time and notice what your body is telling you.
5. Work on your own weight bias: if you’ve been the subject of weight stigma, you’ve almost certainly internalized it to some extent (or to a large extent) – changing your own thoughts about weight and other people who are heavy will go a long way toward helping you accept yourself as well.
Your weight doesn’t define you
Although society tries to tell you otherwise, you’re not defined by your weight. Your worth isn’t measured by the numbers on a scale, nor is your kindness, your morality, your creativity – or your health.
You may want to be in a smaller body because sometimes it’s physically very difficult to be in a larger one, or you may want to stop feeling bad about your body and accept yourself as you are. Either way, taking the focus off weight and looking at other measures of health will improve your self-esteem, reduce weight stigma, and lead to a better relationship with food – and all of those are good results, no matter what else comes of it.