Avoiding weight stigma & addressing anti-fat bias

Thanks to the 26 people who joined me in lively discussions about avoiding weight stigma and addressing anti-fat bias at the networking tables at the CFHL Forum last week. We talked about what works - explicitly stating that weight does not equal health, meeting our program participants where they’re at, bringing empathy, and more. And we talked about what’s challenging - lack of good curricula, media and societal messages, and more. We only scratched the surface of this important topic, and we agreed that we wanted to continue the conversation. So join us here! Tell us what you’re doing to address bias and avoid weight stigma in your work. Share your challenges. Let’s keep talking!

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A few years ago we changed our team name from “Obesity Prevention Team” to “Healthy Eating Active Living (HEAL) Team” in order to be more inclusive and sensitive, and recognizing that the term “obesity” is very loaded and can be triggering for people. I’ve been learning a lot about the hisorical and racist origins of anti-fat bias. Right now I’m reading the book Fearing the Black Body: The racist origins of fat phobia, by Sabrina Strings. I also recommend the Maintenance Phase podcast for a takedown of diet and wellness culture. One of the hosts is Aubrey Gordon and she wrote another good book called “You Just Need to Lose Weight and 19 Other Myths About Fat People.” One of the things she talks about is how you need to design interventions for and with fat people in order to really be inclusive and make people feel safe, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot.

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Love the name change - language matters! I also like the Maintenance Phase podcast, and the Sabrina Strings book is next on my list!

Hi all, I am a weight-inclusive, fat-positive dietitian, and relatively new to CFHL. One big challenge I’m facing is the lack of weight-inclusive and food neutral curricula available among the state-approved curricula list. One thing I’ve found that works well is introducing weight stigma and anti-fat bias from a DEI lens.

I would love to see CFHL as a whole shift from the current weight-centric model (healthy = low weight; promoting weight loss and food rules is the answer) to a weight-inclusive model (healthy = looks different for everyone; promoting holistic wellbeing; body diversity is normal and celebrated).

A resource to share:

Looking forward to connecting with others who are interested in supporting this change!

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Thanks for sharing this resource, it is super helpful! I would also like to see CFHL shift to a weight-inclusive model and it would be great to have curricula to support this, and remove curricula from the list that are harmful.

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Hi, everyone. I was so glad to see this discussion topic, as I wanted to attend this session at the forum, then got sidetracked and didn’t want to join halfway through the session. I too listen to the Maintenance Phase podcast and have shared it with my team. I think it provides a much-needed critical lens to public health practices, and I’m happy to see CFHL work shift toward more inclusive language and curriculum. Is it as fast as I’d like? Definitely not. I think the Leah’s Pantry curriculum does a great job being inclusive and exclusively saying healthy bodies aren’t limited to thin bodies. The name change of NEOPB to NAPB is also a refreshing change.

I think one of the biggest challenges is still relying on data sets that focus on obesity to justify work, which might just be me following old norms when I should be looking/advocating for something new. I wrote my first IWP last spring and felt like–though there was more room offered to discuss community assets–I still had to rely on obesity statistics to justify our work. Again, this might just be me trying to navigate something new with what already exists. I am hoping to talk more about this during the next IWP cycle.

As far as curriculum, I agree several of our approved curricula and materials still shame obesity, frame it as an individual choice, etc. We can only use the Leah’s Pantry curriculum so much, especially because it is costly compared to other options. It would be great to have more approved curricula and resources that would unify the message!

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I like the name change. We have a similar name for a subcommittee with our health committee, and we also need to think of an improvement in our name. Thanks for the idea!

I agree that it is hard to break out of the habit of relying on obesity data to justify the work, but it is possible. For the first time ever, Sonoma County’s IWP does not include the words “obesity” or “overweight” and it was approved with no issues. I’m happy to share if you want to take a look. My email is laurel.chambers@sonoma-county.org

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