Why Weight Neutral Care is Imperative
As a society, we have become fixated on the number on the scale as a marker of health, and it's not hard to understand why. We are constantly bombarded with messages that equate thinness with beauty, success, and worthiness, etc. Unfortunately, this can lead to harmful dieting behaviors, and disordered eating, ultimately causing more harm than good.
This is why weight-neutral nutrition care is so important. It's a compassionate and holistic approach to nutrition that prioritizes health and well-being over weight loss.
Let's explore why weight-neutral nutrition care is important from a scientific standpoint with references to relevant studies.
Improved Metabolic Health: Weight-neutral approaches to nutrition care focus on promoting healthy behaviors rather than focusing solely on weight loss. Studies have shown that engaging in healthful behaviors like regular physical activity, consuming a balanced diet, and managing stress can lead to improved metabolic health, regardless of weight (1).
Reduction in Weight Bias: Weight stigma is a major public health issue that is associated with negative health outcomes, including depression, anxiety, and lower self-esteem (2). Studies have found that weight-neutral approaches to nutrition care may reduce weight bias among healthcare professionals (3). In one study, healthcare providers who received training in weight-neutral counseling showed a reduction in weight bias and negative attitudes toward larger-bodied individuals (4).
Improved Mental Health: Dieting and weight loss can be all-consuming, leading to feelings of guilt, shame, and anxiety around food. In contrast, weight-neutral nutrition care supports a positive relationship with food, encouraging people to honor their hunger and fullness cues and to enjoy a variety of foods. Research has shown that intuitive eating, which is a key component of weight-neutral nutrition care, is associated with improved mental health outcomes (5).
Sustainable Weight Management: Long-term weight loss is notoriously difficult to achieve and maintain. Weight-neutral approaches to nutrition care that focus on healthy behaviors can lead to sustainable weight management outcomes (6). One study found that people who engaged in weight-neutral counseling had similar weight loss outcomes to those who engaged in traditional weight loss counseling but were more likely to maintain their weight loss over time (7).
Improved Health Outcomes: Weight-neutral nutrition care has been shown to lead to improved health outcomes, including improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and glycemic control (1).
In conclusion, weight-neutral nutrition care is an important approach to nutrition that can improve overall health and well-being. By focusing on healthful behaviors rather than weight loss, weight-neutral approaches to nutrition care can lead to improved metabolic health, reduce weight bias, improve mental health, lead to sustainable weight management outcomes, and improve health outcomes. These findings suggest that a weight-neutral approach to nutrition care is not only compassionate but also supported by science.
Tylka, T. L., Annunziato, R. A., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir, S., Shuman, E., Davis, C., & Calogero, R. M. (2014). The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss. Journal of obesity, 2014.
Puhl, R. M., & Heuer, C. A. (2010). Obesity stigma: important considerations for public health. American journal of public health, 100(6), 1019-1028.
O'Brien, K. S., Puhl, R. M., Latner, J. D., Mir, A. S., & Hunter, J. A. (2010). Reducing anti-fat prejudice in preservice health students: A randomized trial. Obesity, 18(11), 2138-2144.
Puhl, R. M., & Brownell, K. D. (2001). Bias, discrimination, and obesity. Obesity Research, 9(12), 788-805.
Tylka, T. L. (2016). Intuitive eating: Origins, evidence, and future directions. In Handbook of positive body image and embodiment (pp. 127-140). Oxford University Press.
Bacon, L., Aphramor, L., & Stern, J. S. (2011). The evidence for a paradigm shift in the management of obesity. Current obesity reports, 1(2), 84-92.
Van Dyke N, Drinkwater EJ. Relationships between intuitive eating and health indicators: a literature review. Public Health Nutr. 2014;17(8):1757-1766. doi:10.1017/S1368980013002139