Fear of gaining weight, especially once you start intuitive eating, recovery from an eating disorder, or decide to stop dieting, can be a huge barrier to recovery.
In fact, this fear makes complete sense. Most of us were raised in a world where weight gain means “letting yourself go” or that you have no willpower or discipline.
Of course in reality, this really isn’t the case. Weight gain can occur after bouts of extreme dieting, suffering from an eating disorder, or a traumatic event or high stress experience.
If weight gain after any of these scenarios is considered “letting yourself go”, then I need to have a serious talk with society as a whole.
To sum it up, weight gain is not a sign of weakness or lack of discipline, but rather a sign that your body is being well nourished after a period of starvation, or a response to extreme stress.
That being said, the acceptance of weight gain can be a long and difficult process, which is why I’ve put together a few steps you can take to move towards body acceptance.
Why it’s important to get over your fear of gaining weight
Before we jump into how to let go of a fear of weight gain, let’s discuss why it’s important to let go of a fear of gaining weight.
To begin with, avoiding weight gain can be a huge barrier to recovery. And this isn’t just recovery from eating disorders, but also from chronic dieting, binge eating, disordered eating, body dysmorphia, etc.
With these conditions, weight gain is fairly common, even inevitable in some cases. And a constant resistance towards weight gain means a slower recovery, and even relapse in some cases.
As a dietitian, I work mostly with those who struggle with binge eating, and fear of weight gain is something I see commonly. In fact, most people come to me because they want to lose weight they gained from binge eating.
I always try to make it clear right off the bat that fear of weight gain or desire to lose weight is likely a large factor in their binge eating.
Here is an example of what I mean using a typical day of eating for a binge eater:
- 9am: Breakfast. Small cup of coffee and a piece of toast
- 12pm: Lunch. Small sandwich and apple
- 3pm: Snack. Skipped
- 6pm: Dinner. Salad with chicken and dressing
- 9pm: Binge. 4 cookies, 1 pint of ice cream, 1 bag of popcorn
You can see that at the start of the day, this person was likely trying to eat small low calorie meals to lose weight. Then, when the night comes, they are so hungry that they end up having a binge.
If this person wasn’t so hyperfixation of weight loss, perhaps their meals would be bigger, more balanced and would have kept them satisfied enough to avoid a binge.
Along with this, many binge eaters have an “all or nothing” mentality, meaning if they ate something that is out of their prescribed diet, they would “give up” for the day, binge and start over the next day.
Once binge eaters are able to let go of a desire to lose weight and diet, they are finally free to eat in a way that is satisfying and filling, so the temptation to binge is much lower.
5 steps to get over your fear of weight gain
Now that we’ve discussed why it’s important to let go of desires to lose weight and fear of gaining weight, let’s discuss how to do this. Here I have laid out five steps to follow to start embracing weight gain.
1. Consider why are you scared of weight gain
This is so incredibly important. Why are you scared of gaining weight in the first place? Some common reasons include: fear of being less attractive, fear of people treating you worse, or fear of health problems.
Let’s break down these common reasons to see if these are actually serious fears to be concerned about.
#1: Fear of being less attractive
This is probably the most difficult one to overcome. It is a common belief in society that thinner = more attractive. That being said, there are so many factors that go into attractiveness.
It’s ridiculous to think that once you surpass a certain weight threshold that you will automatically become unattractive.
Think of all the factors that determine attractiveness: facial features, bone structure, personality, drive, lifestyle, interests, style, confidence. And frankly, if you truly want to be a more attractive person, focusing on these other factors, especially confidence, is a better way to go (versus trying to manipulate your body size).
Think of all the people you have found attractive throughout the years. Do they all have the same body size? Body shape? Weight?
#2: Fear of being treated worse
Unfortunately fat phobia is a thing, and some people will treat people in bigger bodies differently. If this is a fear that is holding you back, there are a few important things I want you to consider.
You are never going to change the mind of small minded people, so it’s best to separate yourself from them. People will judge you for everything, whether it’s your weight, your interests, your hair, etc. Understand that people like that judge because of their own insecurities and their opinions of you don’t matter unless you make them matter.
Don’t let other people’s opinions of you stop you from doing what is best for your health and your body.
#3: Fear of health problems
This is the most common concern people have. Well, what about my health? Isn’t gaining weight bad for you?
It’s so important to see yourself as an individual. Yes, weight loss or maintenance is going to be healthy for some people. But for others, it can be bad for your health.
If you have a history of eating disorders or disordered eating, weight gain is likely going to be good for your health. It doesn’t matter what your BMI is or if your are underweight, overweight or obese.
After long periods of restriction weight gain is normal and needed. Being malnourished leaves you at high risk for a variety of diseases and conditions due to nutrient deficiencies and lowered immunity.
So if you are concerned about your health, consider what is best for you as an individual, in the situation that you are currently in.
2. Confront your internal biases and beliefs
Do you believe weight = health? Skinny = attractive? Smaller = happier?
I challenge you to challenge these inner beliefs. Why do you believe weight determines your health? Why do you think you need to be skinny to be attractive? Why do you think being in a smaller body will make you happier?
And consider this. Is losing weight the only way to improve your health? Is being skinny the only way to be attractive? Is being smaller the only way to be happier?
Really ponder these questions. You’ll find that there are a plethora of other ways to reach your goals and find happiness.
3. Think about how would your life would be different if you gained weight
I think this is a great exercise if you have a fear of gaining weight. Often, your fears are scarier than the actual reality of the situation.
Imagine that you gained ten pounds. And think about how that would change your life.
Is the ten pounds actually that noticeable? Or are you the only one that notices a difference? Are your close friends and family members going to treat you differently because you gained weight? Are people in general going to treat you any differently? Will it stop you from reaching your goals in life? Hurt your career?
Sometimes being realistic about what will actually happen if you gain weight can help you put things into perspective.
4. List things you like about yourself that aren’t appearance based
Another step is to recognize that you are so much more than the number on the scale. A great way I recommend doing this is by making a list of things you like about yourself that have nothing to do with appearance.
I like to split this into a few different categories. Try listing two or more things you enjoy about yourself within each category. You don’t have to complete each category, but try to do most of them:
- Personality traits:
- Interests or hobbies:
- Special talents or abilities:
- Physical features:
- Athletic abilities:
- Career accomplishments:
- Community or volunteer accomplishments:
And come up with a few categories yourself as well! What are you particularly proud of? What traits do you love about yourself?
5. Create a list of affirmations for when you are having a bad body image day
Finally, it’s important to note that body image is an everyday struggle. There are going to be times or days that you just have a hard time accepting weight gain or your physical appearance.
For these times, affirmations can be very helpful. I like to have a few in the back of my mind for when I am not feeling great about my body.
Here are a few to get you started, but feel free to come up with a few yourself:
- “I love and appreciate the body that I am in”
- “I love every part of my body, from my head to my toes”
- “My body is everything I’ve ever wanted it to be”
- “I am beautiful, I am strong, I am confident”
- “I love my body because it is my temple”
Repeat these affirmations several times whenever you are feeling down. Continue until you start to feel better about your body and eventually the fear of gaining weight will fade away.
Need some extra help?
I highly suggest you check out my blog posts and consider any of my services. I am a registered dietitian who specializes in binge eating and disordered eating recovery. I have an online course, as well as group and individual nutrition counseling.
Also, if you want some extra help when it comes to improving your body image, I have a great freebie for you! Here is my 30 days of journal prompts to improve body image guide: