Kenzie Brenna led an active life before the pandemic, filling her weeks with dance, yoga and spin classes. But when gyms closed and the stress of the pandemic became inescapable, Things have changed.
“I slowed down a lot. I’ve eaten more food than I’ve probably ever eaten, ”said the 31-year-old from her Calgary home. “I absolutely gained 100% weight. “
Ms Brenna, a full-time social media influencer who promotes self-love and body positivity, used her online posts to discuss everything from her stretch marks to how people of all sizes deserve respect. But in May, as she tried to lose a few pounds to help her cope with foot pain and varicose veins, she asked her nearly 400,000 Instagram followers a question who exploited how much the conversation on body size has become polarizing: big influencers / actors / musicians allowed to lose weight? “
Hundreds of responses poured in. “In my opinion, intentional weight loss is always fatphobic,” one commenter said. “I don’t really agree with that [because] intentional weight loss will always negatively affect the fat community, ”wrote another. “If you want to eat better, exercise and all because you love your body and want to feel better in it, that’s amazing! And if you ever lose weight, it’s nobody’s business other than your own. But if your intention is to lose weight, that’s fatphobic, ”said another.
Canadians were putting on weight steadily long before COVID-19. Sixty-three percent were classified as overweight or obese in 2018, up from 61.9% in 2015, according to the most recent data available from Statistics Canada.
While doctors have urged people to lose weight for decades, citing an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, and depression, among other conditions, the idea of dieting to adhere to social norms increasingly sees the kind of pullback Ms. Brenna has unleashed in her post. When American singer Lizzo posted videos on social media of her doing a smoothie cleanse last year, for example, some fans took it as a betrayal, accusing the singer of promoting “culture. plan ”.
Now, with so many Canadians gaining unwanted weight during the pandemic, medical experts and advocates say there is an opportunity to develop a more nuanced understanding of weight.
But the question remains: How do you recognize the health benefits of losing weight without participating in the cycle of body shame and stigma?
A new medical understanding of obesity could be the first step. The updated clinical practice guidelines for obesity in adults, published in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association last August, make it clear that people living in larger bodies are not necessarily in poor health.
The guidelines advise doctors to stop relying solely on body mass index – the measure traditionally used to determine obesity – when diagnosing patients. Obesity, according to the new guidelines, is to be understood as a chronic disease “characterized by abnormal or excessive body fat (adiposity), which is harmful to health”. In other words, if a person has fat that does not affect their health, they are not obese.
“If we can help people decouple body size and health, it will help everyone,” said Lisa Schaffer, chair of the public engagement committee of Obesity Canada, an advocacy group that strives reduce social stigma and discrimination related to weight.
With this in mind, the guidelines also attempt to distract doctors from the idea that weight is a failure of the will. Instead, doctors are being asked to approach obesity as a complex disease with multiple causes.
The pandemic has increased the potential constituency for a social understanding of weight that does not get bogged down in stigma and prejudice.
A survey of nearly 10,000 Canadians, conducted by researchers at Dalhousie University and published in April, found that 42.3% of Canadians had gained weight during the pandemic. Of these, most gained between 6 and 10 pounds.
Stress played a big role in people’s eating habits, with a total of 51.4% of survey respondents saying they tended to eat when they felt worried about the pandemic. According to Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the study, the survey results are further evidence that mental health and lifestyle are key factors in weight.
“The focus is and should be more on lifestyle than any number on a scale,” Dr. Charlebois said in an interview. “The number on a scale is only an indicator. It is only a measure.
Yet it is the measure that has often dominated the conversation about weight during the pandemic, most noticeably in the discussion of the so-called “quarantine 15”.
When researchers identified obesity as a condition that could increase the risk of serious illness from COVID-19, a series of press articles followed encouraging people to lose weight. While these articles may have been well-intentioned, they were potentially damaging to many people living in larger bodies, said Sarah Nutter, an assistant professor at the University of Victoria whose research focuses on weight stigma and l body image.
“It was really harmful and absolutely has the potential to increase the stigma of weight in our society,” she said.
And news is not the only vehicle for potentially damaging ideas about body size. Complaining about not fitting into our pre-pandemic pants or worrying about returning to the world with a few larger belt sizes can add to the prejudice against people with larger bodies, said Jennifer Mills, a psychologist at the York University in Toronto.
“The more we talk about it and the more we glorify weight loss, the more stigmatizing it is for people who live in larger bodies,” she said.
This stigma can have a wide range of negative effects. “It absolutely has physical and mental health implications,” said Sara Kirk, professor of health promotion at Dalhousie University.
A study published in the journal BMC Medicine in 2018 found that people who feel they have been discriminated against because of their weight are about 2.5 times more likely to suffer from mood or anxiety disorders than those who don’t think so. not have been discriminated against on the basis of weight. In another study, published in May in the International Journal of Obesity, researchers found that weight stigma was associated with messier eating, sleep disturbances, and alcohol use.
And while some people think the shame of the weight could help those who live in bigger bodies. to slim down, research suggests the opposite is true.
A 2014 study published in the journal Obesity found that weight discrimination was linked to a 6.67 times higher risk of becoming obese.
So how do you best approach weight conversations with those who want to emerge from the pandemic healthier? The answer, experts say, is to focus on our lifestyles – eat better and move more – rather than a number on a scale.
“Weight is not behavior. This is the essential thing that we are trying to make people understand, ”said Dr Kirk.
Ms Brenna, the influencer, said recent conversations about weight gain during the pandemic have the potential to change the way we think.
“There’s a feeling of solidarity there, which makes things less stigmatizing, which is great,” she said.
“The goal is not weight loss. The goal is health.
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