fear of gaining weight

How to overcome the fear of gaining weight

August 19. 2022

Losing excessive weight always feels good. Seeing your hard work pay off can boost your self-esteem and give you some fresh optimism for tackling other challenges. Most people can’t wait to accomplish their weight loss goals, enjoy new body shapes, and move from restrictive diets to more relaxed but still healthy eating habits. However, for some people losing weight is where the problems are just starting. Having accomplished their goals, they develop an intense fear that they will gain weight again. Such fear can completely overcome their lives and push them to take extreme actions in order to prevent weight gain. That’s why in this article, our weight loss clinic in Chicago explains everything you need to know about the fear of gaining weight. Read on and discover what causes it, how to identify it, and how to overcome it.

What is obesophobia?

Obesophobia is essentially the fear of gaining weight. Now, we all have a certain dose of concern for our weight and body image, but when that concern gets out of hand and becomes an outright, intense fear, we are talking about a phobia. Regardless of the object of fear, phobias cause people to act in extreme manners, and obesophobia is no different. People with obesophobia may limit their food intake to the point of starvation and over-exercise to such an extent that their health is put at severe risk. But even starved and exhausted, they might not feel good, despite a normal or even low body weight.

What are the symptoms?

So how can you identify obesophobia? Constantly dieting and having your weight on your mind doesn’t necessarily mean that you have obesophobia, even if that lasts for an extended period. It’s going to extremes to prevent gaining weight that seriously signals you have a phobia. Keep in mind the following symptoms that people with obesophobia frequently manifest:

  • Eating minimal amounts of food.
  • Obsessing over counting calories.
  • Abusing laxatives and diuretics.
  • Bringing their food wherever they go to ensure they won’t eat anything unplanned.
  • Avoiding any occasion that involves food (parties, family gatherings, etc.)
  • Exercising excessively, to the point where it does more harm than good to their bodies (such as abnormal heart rhythms).
  • Constantly criticizing themselves and reject any positive comments from others.
  • Investing a lot of time and money into anything that might make them get thinner and feel good about themselves. That may even include surgeries, possibly against a physician’s recommendation.
  • They may even develop animosity towards obese people.
  • Frequently, they are aware of the irrationality of their fear, but there’s nothing they can do about it.

Anything that might cause people with obesophobia to think about weight gains, such as food, scales, and counting calories, becomes a source of anxiety. Such thoughts can cause severe psychological and even bodily symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, an upset stomach, high blood pressure, excessive sweating, and trembling, negatively impacting a person’s mental health in the long run. As we all typically weigh less in the morning, even stepping on the scales more than once during the day can cause anxiety.

How common is it?

This is hard to tell as there are no reliable statistics, and the issue frequently goes unreported. People who fear gaining weight rarely admit it to others or themselves and rarely seek help. They often rationalize their fear as a typical concern for their body shape and downplay its intensity. However, they are frequently aware that the fear is irrational and that it’s heavily impacting their mental health. Although there are no precise statistics, it has been observed that obesophobia is most commonly occurring amongst young people, especially teenage girls. However, it still happens with somehow less frequency amongst both sexes and within any age group.

What is the difference between obesophobia and anorexia?

Obesophobia and anorexia are related and sometimes even occur together, but they are still not the same. Anorexia nervosa is falls into the group of eating disorders and is generally much more complex than obesophobia and also much more severe.

Anorexia

People suffering from anorexia nervosa eating disorder have a severely distorted view of their bodies. No matter how thin they are, they will still perceive themselves as overweight due to their body image disturbances. Also, the root cause of anorexia (and other eating disorders) is frequently much more profound and may not even be related to weight. It may be due to unresolved emotional problems, due to psychological trauma from the past, or other unpredictable causes.

Obesophobia

On the other hand, obesophobia is strictly about the fear of gaining weight. It is not considered an eating disorder, and there are no deeper roots or underlying causes, just a straightforward fear of obesity that gets out of hand. Unresolved emotional problems and psychological traumas may weaken a person emotionally and make them more prone to obesophobia, but they don’t have any direct role in developing the fear.

What causes it?

Now that we have clarified the difference between obesophobia and eating disorders, let’s discuss the causes behind the fear of gaining weight. Similar to other phobias, the exact causes and mechanisms behind its development cannot be precisely defined, but various factors contribute to it. Some of the most significant are the following.

Cultural expectations

Obesity is viewed differently across societies and cultures. In some of them, there may be a varying degree of stigma towards obesity and pressure on people to fit into expectations in terms of body size. The pressure may be directly aimed at overweight people to lose weight or generalized towards thin people to present a specific body image. Most of the time, the pressure is not direct but subtle and comes in the form of popular trends. Sometimes though, it may come directly from family members or peers.

The obsession with thinness is prevalent in modern Western society, and judging people based on body size is widespread. That can easily lead people to develop body image disturbances and a fear of gaining weight, be it that they used to be overweight but have subsequently lost weight, or that they have never been overweight but fear that they could become so. Unfortunately, most of the time, this obsession with thinness is based solely on the picture provided through the media. So instead of aiming to maintain a healthy weight to enjoy good health and quality of life, young people end up going to extremes to maintain their weight just to fit into expectations and avoid the stigma, sometimes even resulting in yo yo diets.

Perfectionism

While perfectionism might also arise due to societal expectations and pressure from family members, it’s just a natural personality trait for some people. However, it’s a personality trait that can get out of hand. There’s nothing wrong with striving to acquire and maintain the best physique you can have if that makes you feel good. Still, sometimes the possibility of failing to do so may become a heavy emotional burden for people with a tendency toward perfectionism. That often results in developing an irrational fear of gaining weight.

Anxiety

Other types of anxiety disorders may contribute to the development of eating disorders or obesophobia. People suffering from social anxiety disorder may also develop an intense fear of obesity, given the stigma toward obese people they see around them. Social anxiety disorder causes people to feel an extreme fear of social rejection. If they feel that gaining weight might make them more likely to be rejected or perceived as less worthy by their peers, the notion that they might gain weight will understandably cause extreme fear, resulting in obesophobia. Young people are especially vulnerable in this regard and may resort to irrational measures to maintain a low body weight.

Personal experiences

People who have been overweight in the past may develop obesophobia if they have had any unpleasant experiences during that period. One of the most common situations is where a person used to be overweight during childhood or adolescence and was teased by peers because of their weight. The thought of gaining weight brings back those unpleasant memories causing fear that the situations don’t once repeat. There are also cases where people have suffered severe health issues in the past due to obesity. The concern that those health problems might reappear in case the person gains weight again are reasonable, but it may develop into irrational fear.

Experiences of close people

Sometimes, the negative experiences of people close to us can leave an immense impact on us, even if we haven’t experienced anything similar. If a family member or close friend has been through tough times due to obesity, people may develop a strong fear that something like that doesn’t happen to them.

7 tips to overcome the fear of gaining weight

Living in fear is not an option, but there is always a solution. What you have to do is change the way you think about your weight and how it impacts your life overall. Several tips can help you with that, and we will explain 7 of the most useful ones.

Understand that you are not alone

So many problems stem from loneliness. Not necessarily actual loneliness, but perceived one. We all sometimes feel that our problems are uniquely ours and that there’s nobody else who feels the same and who could understand what we’re going through. But that’s not true. You’re not alone, and that’s the first thing you should come to acknowledge. Every person has their own challenges, and while you may not know anyone in your immediate surroundings that faces the same problems as you, you should know that no one is free from their struggles. Also, be sure that many people out there face the same fear as you do, and they may also think that they are alone. But not a single one of you is alone, and acknowledging that is the first step you should take.

Examine your situation

Try to step back and zoom out, then look at yourself from that angle. Try to assess your situation objectively: what is your diet like, how much do you work out, etc. Try to step out of your feelings and observe yourself as if you were observing someone else. Are you really at risk of gaining weight, or is it just subjective? On the other hand, can your current habits put your health at risk in some other way?

Find the real source of your fear

What is it precisely that you fear? On the outside, it looks like a fear of gaining weight, but is it really about the weight itself or the beliefs you associate with weight? We don’t have to explain that weight gain itself is nothing terrible and nothing you can’t overcome, so focus on what weight gain means for yourself. That’s the actual source of your fear. Does it mean failure? A failure to live up to expectations set out by your family, peers, society, or even just your expectations? Does it mean social rejection? Do you automatically associate it with serious health issues like heart problems or diabetes?

Develop your inner dialogue

We all know that an open and honest dialogue is necessary for any relationship between people to function. Be it a marriage, a friendship, or a business team; nothing can be accomplished without an honest dialogue. So why neglect your relationship with yourself? An open inner dialogue is just as crucial for your mental health as an open dialogue between people.

Ask yourself openly – and what if I gain weight? Examine the worst-case scenario but the worst possible scenario. Frequently, the worst scenario we assume can happen is far away out of the domain of possible. The thing is, the point of fear is to protect us from something. The bigger the threat, the greater our fear. But sometimes, a great fear may arise from relatively small threats or even something outright harmless. Therefore, ask yourself, is weight gain worth your fear? Is the threat really so dangerous or not quite so?

Use some affirmative examples. Think about some successful people you know, be it someone from your immediate surroundings or some famous person. Would their success fade if they got overweight? Or it really wouldn’t, as success is much more than just how much you weigh. Furthermore, think about body positivity. Think about some successful people who are overweight. Does their weight hold them back? Or do they nevertheless succeed?

Explore your needs

Now that you have openly approached your fear and examined its roots, ask yourself what it is that brings you relief. Noxious habits such as undereating and overexercising obviously bring no relief and just further feed your fear. So what truly makes you feel good? Explore that side of your personality and once you determine it, stick to it. You may also consult a registered dietitian for some professional opinion on weight gain and loss.

Understand what you seek

Similar to the part where you identify the real source of your fear, you also have to identify what your real goal is. Most likely, it is the exact opposite of that which causes your fear. Are you seeking the approval of your family or peers? Maybe a certain body image? Think about affirmations to lose weight instead of the consequences of not losing it, but also about body positivity. Think about your motives, and then think about their actual value. Are they worth your time and energy? It is up to you to determine, but be honest with yourself.

Take your time

And last but not least, don’t rush it. No goal is accomplished overnight, and progress usually takes more time than what we generally expect. There is a story about a lumberjack who chopped wood with a dull ax because he had no time to sharpen it – as he was rushing to chop wood. So stay out of such a vicious circle. Rushing to make progress usually has the exact opposite effect. If you have determined that you should lose some weight, consult a registered dietitian as medically supervised weight loss is always better than switching between fad diets. Take your time and a deep breath knowing that progress will come.

Final thoughts

The point of fear is to keep us safe from harm, but sometimes we fear things that are mostly harmless. That is the case with obesophobia, which is the irrational fear of gaining weight. People with obesophobia may exercise excessively and reduce their food intake to the point of starvation, obsessively counting calories, which can put them at a severe health risk. Also, the constant fear negatively impacts their mental health in the long run. But releasing yourself from this fear is possible. Although it takes effort and time, it is achievable and worth it. So if you’d like to learn more about obesophobia or any other health-related topic, please don’t hesitate to book an appointment with us.

Nurse Walton

Author

Nurse Walton

Born and raised in Chicago, IL, Chanay received her Practical Nurse licensure and went to work in clinical specialties such as Home Health, Assisted Living, Long-Term Care and Dialysis Centers. Through this work, she realized the importance of diet, nutrition and weight loss among her patients. This led her to open A Better Weigh, Inc. Medical Weight Loss Center in 2009.

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