In 2013, the American Medical Association formally recognized obesity as a disease, which is really great in some respects, but unfortunate in others.
Getting a formal diagnosis of obesity can significantly impact your health and fitness journey.
The diagnosis can lead you to a fixed mindset and make you feel like obesity is something you’re stuck with rather than it being something you have any control over.
That’s because the general mindset becomes “I have to deal with this” rather than feeling like it’s something you can change.
But having obesity formally recognized as a disease also has its benefits, such as there being less stigma and self-blame.
Let’s dive into how formally recognizing obesity as a disease can impact your health and fitness journey.
Your Fitness Journey and an Obesity Diagnosis
There are some serious pros and cons to this decision.
Pros of Classifying Obesity as a Disease
Let’s look at the positive things that come from having obesity formally classified as a disease.
First, it means that there will be more funding for research, which is huge.
Securing more research funding means we can learn about things like why an obesity intervention succeeds or fails in a given community.
Researchers will also be able to look at how obesity impacts other aspects of our health.
Additional research means we can help people overcome obesity as we better understand different impacting factors and as the general public learns more about the effects.
With all that research comes benefits. Literally!
There will be more and better insurance coverage for people who are obese.
This insurance coverage will potentially help people afford the interventions to overcome obesity.
Having obesity as an official medical diagnosis also reduces blame, particularly self-blame.
It takes a good amount of responsibility off of the obese person and places it in the hands of the “disease.”
When you have a disease, say something like Alzheimer’s, no one is blaming themselves for that. It’s a true medical diagnosis.
Cons of Classifying Obesity as a Disease
As I mentioned, there are also negative effects to classifying obesity as a disease.
Amongst other things, it can cause a fixed mindset leading to people taking less action on health behaviors, such as eating healthy and exercising.
You’ve heard me say this 945 billion times: words matter.
The word ‘disease’ relates to a body that is malfunctioning. Something is wrong, causing sickness to you, not by you.
The disease label gives off an “unchangeable” vibe.
A disease is simply something you have (and have to deal with)—an unlucky draw.
This perspective lowers perceived levels of control and responsibility.
Which, again, is great if you want to reduce stigma, shame, and self-blame, but it’s not so great if we want people to take action.
This perspective isn’t a great way to motivate people to exercise and eat healthy because people start thinking if obesity is a disease and it’s not changeable, why even try to be consistent with health behaviors if it won’t change anything?
Based on the very research from Hoyt et al. (2014) that first got me interested in working in the Mindset Lab at NC State—the disease label doesn’t do your mindset any favors (and thus, the same for health behaviors.)
Note: this is a very nuanced conversation, and here I’m pulling out the mindset perspective and sharing research results (this is not me sharing a personal opinion).
What Happens When You Get Diagnosed with Obesity?
If your doctor told you you are obese, you basically have two options.
You can have a fixed mindset, treat obesity as something that’s out of your control, and live with it forever.
You can embrace a growth mindset and consider what healthy behaviors you can implement to overcome obesity.
It’s not just a matter of slashing calories to lose as much weight as quickly as possible—we actually highly recommend AGAINST that.
Embracing a growth mindset for your health means more along the lines of adopting healthy behaviors such as:
- Drinking enough water every day
- Getting your steps in
- Having protein with each meal
- Eating enough fiber
- Managing stress
- Getting enough sleep
All of these play an important role in your overall health, not just from a weight loss perspective.
A Fitness Coach Can Help You with Your Goals
If you’re serious about making positive changes to your health, we recommend working with a fitness coach.
At KJO Coaching, we take an evidence-based approach to helping high-achieving women upgrade their health, physique, and mindset.
And when we say we want to help you upgrade, we mean that our goal is to teach you to be able to do this yourself.
We don’t want you to need us forever. We will give you the knowledge and resources to improve your relationship with food, create healthy habits, and embrace a growth mindset.
We’ll help you for as long as it takes, but the end goal is that you have the skills and confidence to continue making progress without the assistance of a fitness coach.
Click here to learn more about coaching with our team.
And if you’re not ready to invest in fitness coaching, we still want to support you.
Check out this FREE self-sabotage workshop.
It’s a five-day workshop where you’ll get short, daily trainings and exercises to finally learn the “why” behind your cravings, all-or-nothing thinking, and other psychological barriers that keep getting in the way of your health and fitness goals.
Get access here!
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Hoyt, C. L., Burnette, J. L., & Auster-Gussman, L. (2014). “Obesity is a disease” examining the self-regulatory impact of this public-health message. Psychological science, 25(4), 997-1002.