The New Dangers of Fat Shaming

Nothing to see here. (Photo by ThinkStock)If you’ve ever teased a friend or sibling about their weight, even in jest, know this: Fat shaming can cause others to gain weight.

That’s the consensus of research published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE. For the study, scientists asked 6,000 people of various weights if they had experienced weight discrimination, then checked in with them four years later. They found that overweight people who felt discriminated against were 2.5 times more likely to be obese at the follow-up, and obese people were 3.5 times more likely to still be obese. Interestingly, people who didn’t face weight bias actually lost weight.

Researchers say people who feel ostracized for their weight tend to binge-eat as a stress response and see themselves as less competent and motivated to exercise. They're also less likely to stick to an unhealthy diet.

And although study authors didn’t define "weight discrimination," there are subtle and not-so-subtle ways people make each other feel bad about their weight: staring at heavy people as they pass by, ignoring the only overweight person in the room, even verbal abuse. And anyone who's searched in vain for a pair of plus-size jeans knows how exclusionary it feels to be banished to the "other" section of the store. Our culture of celebrity fat shaming doesn’t help either, be it Kim Kardashian, Beyonce, or Jessica Simpson. Those conversations are bad for all women.

So, how can you ward off the effects of fat talk, no matter your size? The key lies in your psyche. “Weight discrimination is very real. However, another person's words or behavior are only as important as you make them, and life becomes limiting when you see discrimination everywhere you look,” Laurie Puhn, the creator of the nationwide relationship course Fight Less, Love More, told Yahoo! Shine. “If you’re hyper-aware of how long people stare at you or treat you in clothing stores, the more defensive you’ll become and interpret everything negatively.”

Of course, some people are simply jerks, so rising above their comments is your best bet. Also, surround yourself with friends who reinforce your good qualities – like your sense of humor, loyalty, or ambition. Conversely, if you’re the one staring a little too long or joking about a friend’s weight, know this: “We’re all prejudice to a certain degree,” Puhn added. “Being judgmental is a biological survival skill to help protect us from danger. Understanding that will make you aware of how you treat people and likelier to change your ways.”