The NHS needs to change the way it talks about weight
The start of a new year is tough on our bodies and minds – especially our body image, as the pressure of “new year, new you” fitness and diet-related resolutions permeate our social media feeds. .
And it’s not just a January problem. According to YouGov, half of Britons say they feel somewhat pressured to have a certain body type, with women in their 20s and 30s feeling it the most.
To compound this problem, our healthcare system is not doing all it can to ensure that our body image values are as healthy as possible.
Beyond the devastating impact the gender health gap has on women’s ID bodies – conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis are understudied, and 57% of women fear they have been misdiagnosed, with a quarter believing it is due to being female – the way weight loss and gain is discussed at medical appointments is also criticized.
Women are increasingly talking about unsolicited and damaging advice from the NHS about their weight, and how triggering and unnecessary it can be.
Laura, 28 years old, recently tweeted a screenshot of an unsolicited text message she had received from the NHS informing her that ‘you have extra weight’ and referring her to ‘weight management programs to suit your needs and lifestyle’. She tells GLAMOR that receiving this message left her “upset” and “offended.”
“We already have to endure endless conversations about weight around Christmas and food culture in January, which could trigger a lot of people,” Laura says.
I myself experienced my own version of this harmful bias a few years ago during a routine birth control appointment with a nurse. She glanced at her screen, which detailed various bits of my medical history, and smiled. “Well, congratulations,” she said, “the good news is you’ve lost weight since the last time you came.”
I smile back, trying to make sense of my discomfort. I called my mom immediately afterwards, trying to figure out why a woman (who has no doubt faced the pressures of body image herself, because what modern woman hasn’t?) would congratulate me on losing weight, without having a clue why it might have happened.
I tend to lose weight faster when I’m stressed, depressed, heartbroken, or all of the above. So when a medical professional saw nothing but positivity when it came to shedding a few pounds, I felt quite uncomfortable during this assessment. It didn’t seem to be based on medical advances, but on internalized fatphobia.
“Weight loss and weight gain have been taboo topics among the public for many years and remain an often overlooked and misunderstood area in the healthcare industry,” says Rhiannon Lambert, Registered Nutritionist and Master Practitioner in eating disorders.
“How we talk to people who have eating disorders or eating disorders is of the utmost importance, because in this vulnerable situation, any passing comments can potentially trigger more of those negative thoughts or emotions towards their relationship to food or body image, and lead to further complications later.