While fibbing about five to ten extra pounds is common, you may be lying to yourself on a deeper level if you commonly tell lies about your weight. Though health professionals are trying to steer clear of terms like overweight and obese, weight gain denial is still being addressed by dietitians and doctors.
Why are people in denial about their weight? Keep reading to find out, plus find out five ways you might be in denial about weight gain.
What Is Weight Gain Denial?
The media seems to always be sending mixed health messages. Generally, thin is thought to be “healthy,” but any body size is to be accepted. While conversations have become less weight-centric, some experts argue that we should be addressing a certain weight problem even more.
The New York Times reported in 2012 about a problem that has since been referred to as “weight gain denial.” Turns out, studies show that many people who are overweight perceive themselves to be of average weight for their gender and age. The phenomenon extends to obese people as well, who believe themselves to be simply overweight.
In the decade since that article has been published, research continues to suggest that brain chemistry may even be altered as a coping mechanism while body mass grows. The brain’s perception center plays a role in weight loss or gain in ways that scientists are still trying to understand.
In the meantime, experts tend to agree about obesity as a public health problem. Being able to identify a healthy weight for yourself is important. It can help you to acknowledge when it is time to make changes and implement healthy habits.
Why Are People In Denial About Weight?
Health is more than body weight, however weight can be a key indicator of overall health. So, why are people in denial about weight?
One explanation is that many children and adults now live in an environment where they are surrounded by parents or peers who are overweight. In turn, this causes them to perceive being overweight or obese as normal. Even medical practitioners may neglect to identify overweight or obesity in their patients, allowing it to go undetected since larger bodies are becoming more common.
Another explanation for why many people are in denial about weight is because weight changes are generally self-reported. This means that losing weight or gaining weight is something that a patient reports to the doctor. Typically, weight gain isn’t addressed until the patient is headed towards a worse case scenario.
Weight is also much more than what you eat. Your genes, sleep, and level of activity can also impact your weight. Many factors can influence how many essential nutrients you’re getting, and acknowledging that can seem overwhelming.
Addressing weight gain can feel like a personal failure. For that reason, many people avoid talking about weight at all. Words like “overweight” and “obesity” can make people feel poorly about themselves, so many people choose to stay in denial rather than face the facts.
5 Ways To Know If You’re In Denial Over Weight
Obesity is not only a global crisis, but can be an individual crisis if left unidentified. However, it is not all doom and gloom.
Here are five easy ways to spot if you are in a pattern of self-deception.
1. Ignoring Portion Sizes
Underreporting intake of food can lead to underreporting weight gain. In other words, it can be easy to overestimate or underestimate the amount of food or nutrients you need. Luckily, you can work with a dietitian to find out how many calories you expend and how many calories you need.
2. Thinking Weight Equals Identity
Did you know that women generally have a higher body fat percentage than men? This means that body mass index (BMI) may classify many women as obese women even though they are tending towards a normal weight. BMI can also classify women or men as “normal” who have higher percentages of body fat.
In other words, no one measure for weight is perfect. It can be dangerous and even encourage disordered eating to believe that your weight determines your worth. There is a way to acknowledge weight without letting it be your entire identity.
Working with a dietitian certified in eating disorders (a certified eating disorder dietitian or CEDRD) can help you identify hurdles and overcome harmful thinking patterns.
3. Focusing On The “Right” Weight Instead Of A Healthy Body
It can be easy to lose hope when the number you want to see on the scale isn’t the one that appears. Your “ideal” weight may seem so far away from what you weigh in reality, making it easier to ignore the subject of weight all together.
Instead of focusing on weight only, focus on how you feel. Are you often tired, short of breath, or dealing with daily brain fog? Addressing your weight gain (without focusing only on the numbers) can help you feel healthier and have more energy for the activities you want to do.
4. Ditching Dietary Patterns
Even though you may not be counting calories, you could be giving into disordered eating patterns as a defense mechanism. Additionally, you may be thinking that as long as you are losing weight the method doesn’t matter. However, rapid weight loss or gain due to dangerous methods can mean your body isn’t getting needed nutrients.
While ditching dietary patterns may give you a sense of control, it is important to pay attention to what you’re using to fuel your body. Self-deception allows for unhealthy patterns to continue, while taking accountability for what you eat can help you keep and maintain healthy diet goals.
5. Using Only One Measure Or Metric
BMI has its limits, just like any other measure used to classify individuals. However, it can be useful for tracking trends overtime. One measure of BMI or weight on a scale doesn’t indicate whether you have an overall healthy lifestyle.
If you are concerned about how you classify according to weight, it can be helpful to meet with a registered dietitian who is also a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management (CSOWM). This type of specialist can help you identify lifestyle, dietary habits, and other factors that influence weight.
The Last Word On Weight Gain Denial
While denial may be a common coping mechanism, it may be causing you to avoid activities or habits that could affect your overall health for the better. Instead of ignoring your weight, learn about healthy ways to acknowledge indicators of health.
Meeting with a dietitian and working with your doctor can help you track your weight in a healthy way over time.
BMI: Implications For Your Health. Cooper Aerobics. Dietitians on Demand. https://dietitiansondemand.com/bmi-and-its-implications-for-your-health/.
Nutrition Expert Dispels 5 Myths About Weight Gain and Loss. Cooper Aerobics. https://cooperaerobics.com/Health-Tips/Prevention-Plus/Four-Surprising-Myths-About-Weight-Gain-and-Weight.aspx/
Laufer-Cahana A. Are you in denial about your weight and eating? Dr. Ayala. Published June 2022. https://www.drayala.com/blog/2022/6/are-you-in-denial-about-your-weight-and-eating.
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