Maya Angelou

Me: The short version

I am completing a PhD in Psychology at the University of Birmingham in the UK. Specifically, I am interested in the effects of experienced and internalised weight stigma and their impact on health behaviours and health outcomes. Before this, I did various other things, most of which related to human health and wellbeing. Oh, and I founded the International Weight Stigma Conference back in 2013.

Me: The longer version 

I am a biomedical scientist by training although I’ve worked as a scientist, writer, editor, and health care practitioner (and a few other things). Growing up in the 70s and 80s in the UK, I developed the fear of fat and body shame expected of a young woman, and began dieting in my early teens, despite not being ‘overweight’. Over the next 30 years, I dieted myself up through cycles of weight loss and binge eating into bigger and bigger dress sizes, never being able to understand why I couldn’t just stick to a diet. I studied nutrition and exercise science. I qualified as a personal trainer. I even got a masters’ degree in Weight Management. And despite doing the same thing over and over again, with increasingly poorer results, I never once considered that maybe it wasn’t me that was the problem.

And then, in 2011, I happened across a paper by Wei et al that changed my life. The concept of ‘fit and fat’, that maybe everything wasn’t all about the number on the scale, led me into an entirely new paradigm. I discovered the Health At Every Size® approach, gave up dieting and started paying attention to my internal signals, relearned how to enjoy moving my body, and never looked back. It took a little bit longer to actually like myself the way I was, and this is a work in progress. But looking around and seeing the misinformation and harm being created within the current ‘obesity’ paradigm, the self-loathing, the forestalled lives, the waste of human capital, I became increasingly involved in activism.

Seeing what self- and size-acceptance looked like made me realise that these were life-giving and health-giving concepts. The idea that if fat people accept themselves they’ll only sit around on the sofa eating cheesecake until they explode just wasn’t borne out. But at the time, there wasn’t a lot in the scientific literature to support the notion of size acceptance as a positive thing. Which led me to my PhD. Whereas I’d previously been interested in studying food addiction, to try, yet again to explain my apparently inexplicable inability to stay away from food (an inability that disappeared overnight the day I decided to give up dieting), now I chose to look at the effects of internalised weight stigma, and how to challenge and change them.

I am a proponent of the Health At Every Size® approach. I believe that whatever an individual’s size, they should be treated with the same respect and evidence-based healthcare. I believe that individual behaviours should aim to maximise health, not to reduce weight – the two not being automatically equivalent, regardless of what we are often told; but that none of this should detract from a public health focus on the social determinants of health. To this end, I engage in activism and education around size acceptance, body image, intuitive eating, physical activity, and weight stigma. One of my ultimate goals is to get ‘weight’ added as a protected category in anti-discrimination legislation in the UK (and everywhere else).

Note: Health At Every Size® and HAES® are registered trademarks of the Association for Size Diversity and Health and used with permission.