The messages women and girls receive about their weight from those closest to them can significantly impact their future weight loss or gain, two new studies find.
The first study, published in the journal Personal Relationships (Logel et al., 2014), interviewed young women with concerns about their weight, and asked them how their families and loved ones responded to those concerns.
Those women who were told they looked fine just as they were lost an average of one pound over the course of the three month study. In contrast, the women who received fewer messages of acceptance put on an average of 4.5 pounds!
In the second study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pediatrics (Hunger & Tomiyama, 2014), followed young girls who received frequent messages that they were fat from family members, teachers or friends. Results revealed that these girls were statistically more likely to be obese in their later years.
Researchers found that when people feel good about themselves, they are much more likely to maintain a healthy lifestyle of being active and eating more sensibly. Conversely, when people feel badly about themselves, receive repeated messages that they are not acceptable as they are, or are labeled as fat, they are more likely to feel stress, which is known to cause weight gain.
One of the authors of the second study, Jeffrey Hunger, explained:
“Being labeled as too fat may lead people to worry about personally experiencing the stigma and discrimination faced by overweight individuals, and recent research suggests that experiencing or anticipating weight stigma increases stress and can lead to overeating.”
The two studies demonstrate that negative motivation strategies and attempting to use shame to get someone to lose weight or make lifestyle changes is unlikely to work, and may even bring about the opposite result.
Being carefully selective with the words we choose to say to our loved ones with regards to weight loss (or any other goal for that matter) can help them reframe the issue from a negative ‘problem’ to a positive future outcome. Being supportive and encouraging rather than critical or shaming, with others and with ourselves, is far more likely to yield the desired outcome.
As Professor Logel, lead author of the first study said:
“We all know someone who points out our weight gain or offers to help us lose weight. These results suggest that these comments are misguided.
Lots of research finds that social support improves our health. An important part of social support is feeling that our loved ones accept us just the way we are.”
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