According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), more than 70% of American adults are either overweight or obese. Moreover, research continues to show that being overweight or obese is connected to numerous negative health outcomes and diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, liver disease, and some types of cancer. Yet even as the prevalence of obesity continues to rise in this country and around the world, the aspect that most often motivates people to make a change is the stigma of being fat. This concern is familiar to many people, but in some cases it can grow into an obsession called obesophobia.
The term obesophobia (or sometimes pocrescophobia) generally refers to an anxiety disorder that is characterized by an intense fear of gaining weight or being overweight. Everyone has some aversion to gaining weight, of course, but a person with obesophobia is obsessed to the point of taking extreme measures like starving themselves or constantly exercising. Indeed, obesophobia is often associated with eating disorders like anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. Even when these extreme measures lead to malnourishment and underweight, they will still be afraid of weight gain.
Obesophobia is usually both irrational and inexplicable, especially because those who suffer with this condition are not actually obese or even overweight. In fact, one early sign of obesophobia is a hatred for people who appear to be obese; ridiculing others is often merely a way of covering over a deep inadequacy. In order to manage and cope with all of these feelings, obesophobes may use a variety of strategies:
Anxiety disorders like obesophobia involve irrational fears that probably seem silly to observers, but they are genuine emotions that can seriously impact a person’s quality of life. And because people who suffer from a phobia tend to avoid talking about it, it’s hard to say how many people are affected. However, the NIH estimates that about 12% of adults will experience a specific phobia at some point during their lives. Obesophobia itself is most common in teenage girls, but it can happen to anyone at any stage of life.
Like all phobic disorders, the cause of obesophobia is difficult to identify, and it usually looks slightly different for different people. There are, however, a number of factors that seem to be causative or contribute to the development of the phobia:
As noted earlier, there are a significant number of Americans who are overweight or obese, and this fact translates into a lot of people trying to lose weight; by some estimates, more than half of adults are trying to lose weight at any given time. But just because someone wants to lose weight doesn’t mean it has become a debilitating phobia. Beyond an obsession with weight loss, there are some other telling signs and symptoms of obesophobia:
Obesophobia is a term that describes the underlying fear of gaining weight, but that fear can then manifest in different ways. One of these ways is anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder that can be thought of as an escalation of obesophobia. Anorexia often involves having a distorted view of one’s body that drives a desire to highly restrict food intake. People with anorexia can get dangerously thin and still believe they need to lose more. In extreme cases, the lack of sufficient nutrition can lead to problems with multiple body systems and eventually organ failure or even death.
Another common type of eating disorder is bulimia nervosa, a condition that is characterized by repetitive cycles of binge eating and then purging. People with bulimia tend to ravenously consume large quantities of food (usually in private) in short eating sessions; these are followed by a comparably aggressive purge session that can involve fasting, intense exercise, or forced vomiting. There is also a related condition called purging disorder, but it includes all the purging behaviors without any of the binging.
Part of the stigma of being overweight is that the person is lazy or has no self-control; as a result, this kind of condition can sometimes be dismissed as not really a problem. Yet obesophobia and related eating disorders are serious conditions that can take a lot of time and patience to address. Most treatment options for obesophobia involve some form of psychological therapy:
For so many reasons, the relationship we have with our body weight can be a major challenge in life. Both the fear of obesity and obesity itself can feel like being trapped. That’s why at True You Weight Loss, we are passionate about providing weight loss solutions that can give you a new direction with new hope for long-term weight loss. Instead of fad diets or punishing exercise programs, we offer weight loss procedures like ESG that give you the help you need to make a change in your life. To learn more about True You and what we do, please contact us today to request a consultation.