Obesophobia is rampant. The psychology behind it has far-reaching consequences. Apart from the apparent body image issue, conformity to social standards and self-criticism, it impacts physical health. People or the contemporary world are more concerned about being overweight due to the aftereffects caused by the issue.
As per a study by the World Health Organisation (WHO), in 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults were overweight. Of these, around 650 million are obese. Numerous problems are associated with being overweight. They include diabetes, heart ailments, sleep apnea, stroke and gallbladder diseases. But weight gain is not just limited to these health consequences. There are certain overlooked phobic tendencies related to weight gain. Obesophobia happens to be one of them.
It is an intense fear that is more prevalent in women but can be present in men also. When weight consciousness turns into fear, it becomes obesophobia. However, anyone can overcome obesophobia if it gets approached in the right way.
What is Obesophobia?
Obesophobia is a mental condition in which a person can have an irrational and inexplicable fear of gaining weight. It is also called pocrescophobia. Rather than the physical condition of being obese, it is the mental fear of gaining weight and becoming obese. Several problems can arise if you have obesophobia.
In the beginning, you might begin hating people who are overweight or obese. It can also lead to other severe issues like anorexia (a condition in which a person restricts eating) and bulimia (an eating disorder state in which a person throws up right after eating).
Obesophobia tends to regulate eating patterns. For instance, an obesophobic person finds it challenging to eat out in a restaurant or social event. As a result, they face difficulties fostering a normal and healthy relationship with food.
Causes of Obesophobia
It is difficult to pinpoint an exact cause for obesophobia like all other fears. It can be due to various factors, including personal experiences, past traumas, etc.
However, here is a list of a few possible causative factors:
Weight stigma discriminates against people who are overweight and obese. It is significant and widespread in today’s society, where being thin is desirable and appreciated. As a result, people who are obese and overweight feel stigmatised. The stigma and discrimination become even more pronounced, particularly from family and friends. Perhaps insecurity from social and peer pressure also increases the fear of becoming obese.
Aiming for the Perfect Weight
The internet is full of weight sheets that tell about the ideal weight for men and women as per their age and height. Some develop anxiety when they find that their weight does not fall within the given weight range. In addition, the movies and shows that we watch, the celebrities we follow, and magazine front covers show people with perfect weight and shape. This further increases risk of developing obesophobia.
Obesophobia can be a result of anxiety disorders as well. Other anxiety disorders can combine to make obesophobia even worse. For example, if you have a social anxiety disorder, you may face obesophobia of a greater intensity. It is because the social anxiety disorder may already make you feel rejected by society. Hence, it will also scare you from gaining weight because of the feeling of social rejection.
The extent to which you face obesophobia depends heavily on your past experiences. If you have been teased and bullied in your past for your weight, you will likely develop obesophobia. Most times, the fear originates from people passing comments on your body size.
Symptoms of Obesophobia
The obsession to Lose Weight
Moderate weight loss is generally a good thing. However, developing a crazy obsession with doing it gets unhealthy and is not recommended. If you have obesophobia, you constantly check how many calories you burn and how much you eat.
In other cases, you tend to exercise or diet beyond limits, doing more harm than good because of your obsession to lose weight.
Obesophobia can lead to severe anxiety and stress related to your weight. In extreme cases, the resulting stress and anxiety can even push your blood pressure levels to cause hypertension.
Obesophobic people usually have lower self esteem. They even have difficulty adjusting to social situations because of their self-perception of their high weight. As a result, they become socially awkward and find it difficult to maintain existing relationships and develop new ones.
Disorders That Obesophobia
Excessive obsession with your weight can cause various eating disorders. These are dangerous eating behaviours that one needs to cure. There are distinct forms of obesophobia induced eating disorders. These include the following:
People with Anorexia Nervosa think that they are overweight. They may even believe so despite having low weight. They resort to extreme forms of exercise and highly restricted food consumption to fight this. Unfortunately, it leads to extreme thinness and distorted body shape. In addition, they go into a severe calorie deficit state because of minimal calorie intake and excessive burning of calories. It gives their body no energy to even run the day to day processes like walking, pumping of blood and even breathing. Such energy deficit reduces weight below healthy levels, causing muscle loss. And in extreme cases also risks multiple organ failures.
Bulimia Nervosa involves repetitive and cyclic episodes of binge eating and purging. While binge eating, people with obesophobia try to eat a lot of food in a short duration of time. However, after binge eating, they realise that they have put an enormous amount of unnecessary calories in their body. To get rid of those excess calories, they resort to unhealthy practices like excessive fasting, excessive exercising and forced vomiting. Other symptoms of bulimia nervosa include extreme criticism about one’s body, frequent and inexplicable mood changes, and overeating for short periods.
This disorder is similar to Bulimia Nervosa, except it does not involve the binge eating stage. Instead, people having this disorder go for eliminating their calories through unhealthy and forced vomiting. Some combine it with strict intermittent fasting, excessive exercising, and other restrictive regimes to make it more effective.
Relation Between Obesophobia and Weight Gain
Obesophobia itself does not lead to weight gain or loss because it is just a mental condition. What causes a weight change is the eating disorders that come with obesophobia. Most eating disorders put you in a calorie deficit. Therefore, if you have an eating disorder, you will start eating significantly less or exercising more. So, it is very likely that you will begin to lose and gain weight rapidly due to eating disorders. However, this kind of weight fluctuation is highly unhealthy and not recommended.
Treatment of Obesophobia
Obesophobia is not a physical disease. It is primarily a psychological medical condition that can be treated by a mental health professional. Therefore, it is advisable, and we recommend you to seek medical aid if you have obesophobia and eating disorders. Since it is psychological, it gets treated by regular medical intervention over a long period. There are mainly two methods of treating obesophobia. They are psychotherapy and medication.
It involves talking to a mental health professional for a long time over multiple sessions. It generally involves no or less medication and more talking about your emotions. First, the professional will talk to you about your feelings in detail. The professional will first recognise your thinking patterns and then change unhealthy and harmful beliefs into positive and healthy ones. Another step involves building positive habits to get rid of obesophobia. It will help you gain more positivity and get rid of anxiety related to your body shape. It will also improve your self-image.
Suppose your obesophobia has taken the form of an anxiety disorder. In that case, the medical professional may prescribe some medications for you. The medicines may be antidepressants, antipsychotics, mood stabilisers, or a combination of all of these. These medications are not to treat your obesophobia per se, but to treat the anxiety issues.
Working on your body and losing those extra pounds is a beautiful practice. However, developing an obsession to lose weight is undesirable. And if you develop that obsession when you already weigh fine, it is unhealthy also. It causes you to lose weight below standard levels. And the means to achieve so are also harmful most of the time.
You need to understand that a healthy diet and moderate exercise are sufficient for healthy weight management. Feelings of being overweight once in a while are normal. However, if you are having such issues more frequently, it is advised to consult a mental health professional. They can cure you through psychotherapy or medication.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Q. What is the difference between anorexia and obesophobia?
A. Obesophobia is a kind of fear. It is the fear of getting obese or putting on weight. On the other hand, anorexia is a psychological disorder that may arise due to obesophobia. People with Anorexia Nervosa resort to extreme forms of exercise and a highly restricted diet to lose weight. They even refuse to eat. However, both are emotionally imbalanced states.
Q. How do I overcome my fear of gaining weight?
A. It is possible to overcome this fear. All you need to do is to reprogram your thoughts a bit. First, you must remind yourself that you are in better shape throughout the day. For example, it would help if you repeatedly tell yourself that overexercising and dieting beyond limits would diminish marginal benefits. Also, simple practices like talking to friends and family every time you feel an irrational fear might help you. Simple techniques like positive affirmations may help you. Then, seek professional therapy to feel better results.
Q. Is Obesophobia an eating disorder?
A. No. Like other fears (agoraphobia, claustrophobia), it is just a fear of gaining weight. However, obesophobia can lead to various eating disorders. One of them is Anorexia Nervosa when people think they are overweight. They may even believe so despite having very low weight. They resort to extreme forms of exercise and highly restricted food consumption to fight this. It proves to be more harm than good eventually.
Q. How do I stop obsessively weighing myself?
A. an excellent way to achieve the target is to remove the weighing machine from sight. Keep it somewhere inaccessible. Make a habit of weighing just once a fortnight or once a month. In addition, you must remind yourself throughout the day that you are in better shape. Finally, you need to remind yourself that your weight is under control if you take the proper diet and follow the best possible exercise regimen.
Q. How do I know I am fat?
A. It is easy to know if you are fat or not. First, check your weight and compare it with a standard height and weight chart. If you see that you are going above the ideal weight, you must realise that you are going on the trajectory of becoming fat. Another indicator is your waist circumference. If you see that your waist circumference has increased, it is another sign.
Q. How do I prioritise losing weight?
A. The golden rule to prioritising weight loss is by realising that having a healthy weight is of utmost importance. Think about the added benefits of a healthy weight. For example, You will have more energy in reserve to make other changes in your health. Your circulatory system will improve if you have a healthy weight. You will also manage fluid levels better. In addition to the above, a healthy weight saves you from diseases that come from being overweight. These include reduced risk of diabetes, cancers, arthritis, gallstones, asthma, infertility, snoring and sleep apnea. Prioritise weight loss by eating regular meals rich in protein and low in calories.
Q. Do you weigh less after a poop?
A. As a matter of fact, yes. But the weight loss is temporary. It is because the body is continuously processing food. So the weight lost after pooping gets replenished within a few hours. To lose significant weight, you need to be on a calorie deficit. There are only two ways to do that. Either take fewer calories in or burn more calories.
Q. Why am I overweight but do not look like it?
A. A lot depends on your body structure. For example, you may have denser bones that contribute to the higher weight. Another possible scenario is that you have good muscle mass. But, again, that may contribute to the high reading on the weighing scale.
Q. Am I bloated or gained weight?
A. It is easy to be confused about getting bloated or getting fat. First, feel your stomach with your hand to check if you are bloated or fat. If you think that the stomach is hard, you are bloated. It is because the stomach is soft and spongy even after gaining weight. On the other hand, if you think your stomach is getting bulgy, you are also getting fat and not bloated.
Q. What effect do eating disorders have on the body?
A. They always have an undesirable effect on the body. People with eating disorders use unhealthy methods to go on a calorie deficit. These methods include excessive fasting, excessive exercising and forced vomiting.