Body dissatisfaction often leads people to pursue a variety of weight loss options. Unfortunately, studies show that diets don’t really work since weight loss is short-lived, and most people eventually regain weight—sometimes more than they initially lost.
Shifting the focus away from body weight and towards healthy behaviors is a more positive direction in healthcare. Weight neutrality means defining “health” with a wider lens. Rather than only considering body weight, weight neutrality moves beyond weight or thinness as the main health goal.
Many practitioners are stepping away from prescribing diets. Instead, they are working with clients who want to create lifelong healthy habits such as enjoying food, exercising joyfully, and having positive self-esteem.
What Is Weight Neutrality?
“Weight neutrality is a harm reduction approach to improving health that seeks to avoid the damage that weight stigma, dieting, and fat phobia cause,” explains Britt Richardson, registered dietitian nutritionist, and owner of A Full Bite Nutrition in Montpelier, Vermont.
Unlike traditional weight normative care which makes weight loss the main indicator of health, weight neutrality focuses on behavioral changes that will help clients improve health at every size. Those changes may include eating for well-being and pleasure; enjoyable physical activity; and self-acceptance without focusing on weight.
Britt Richardson, RDN
Weight neutrality is a harm reduction approach to improving health that seeks to avoid the damage that weight stigma, dieting, and fatphobia cause.
— Britt Richardson, RDN
A weight-neutral space in healthcare is one that includes no conversations about diet, weight loss, or body negativity, and no recommendations of weight loss as a cure for physical health issues.
“Weight neutrality means acknowledging that one’s health status is not correlated to body size or the number on the scale,” says Sara Kashlan, MS, RDN, CEDS, a Los Angeles-based registered dietitian nutritionist and intuitive eating coach. “Rather than promoting weight loss and thinness, weight neutrality focuses on challenging one’s thoughts and behaviors around food, exercise, and body image.”
Benefits of Weight Neutrality
Environments that focus on weight loss rather than weight neutrality can create stigmatizing and discriminatory practices toward larger people. A weight-neutral approach may reduce the harm that’s associated with a weight-focused approach to health care.
Diet culture includes counting calories, frequent weigh-ins, and restricting food for the pursuit of thinness. Health providers with a weight normative lens prescribe and encourage these diet culture behaviors to help people lose weight, but in a thin person, these same behaviors would be diagnosed as disordered eating. The weight neutrality paradigm highlights this flawed approach and takes weight out of the equation.
Weight neutrality is beneficial because it can help people avoid the feeling of failure when weight loss is not achieved (since weight loss was not the goal). Health interventions focused on weight can have negative implications for people, including avoiding doctors, poor body image, subsequent weight gain, and increased disordered eating. Weight neutrality helps reduce these issues by shifting the focus away from weight.
Why Weight Neutrality Is Important
A weight-neutral approach can help people learn to take steps towards health that don’t necessarily involve the number on the scale. It’s also social justice approach that aims to reduce weight stigma.
Many practitioners are moving towards more weight-inclusive care far from weight bias. For example, the Health at Every Size (HAES) framework refocuses health from weight management to non-weight-focused health promotion to support improved health behaviors for people of any size.
“HAES principles advocate for universal access to respectful healthcare free of weight bias and weight stigma,” says Richardson, who explains that beyond simply incorporating weight neutrality in its approach, HAES advocates for weight inclusivity, which rejects idealizing or pathologizing specific weights and focuses on efforts to bring awareness to size diversity and end weight discrimination.
How to Adopt a Weight-Neutral Approach
Whether directed at yourself or in how you see and think about others, it’s beneficial to adopt a weight-neutral approach, far from weight stigma. Here are some things you can do:
Reject the Notion That Body Size Alone Is an Indicator of Health
“Accept that health is complex and dynamic with numerous determinants, such as genetics, income, education level, trauma history, and environment,” says Richardson. “To judge your own or another person’s health by looking at body size is both inaccurate and biased.”
“If you catch yourself being critical of your body, ask yourself, ‘would I say this to a friend?'” advises Kashlan. “This simple question can help you gradually implement some self-compassion.”
Kashlan also notes that it’s important to be patient with yourself as you work on your inner-self dialogue. “The diet mentality was not instilled in you overnight, therefore it is not going to be a quick switch to weight neutrality.”
Taking small, sustainable steps to learn more positive self-talk can be helpful in your path toward self-compassion.
Choose New Ways to Measure Health
Instead of looking solely at weight as an indicator of health, choose other parameters to measure, such as blood pressure, cardiovascular endurance, or cholesterol levels. “Incorporate behaviors in your life that support making the health change possible without focusing on the scale,” encourages Richardson.
Diversify Your Social Media Feed
If any of the social media accounts you follow make you feel bad about how you view your body, it’s time to do a social media detox, says Kashlan. Your Instagram account should include bodies of all shapes and sizes.
“Unfollow accounts that promote weight bias or the thin ideal and follow accounts that promote weight inclusivity and body diversity,” Richardson instructs.
Focus on Self-Awareness
In order to develop a weight-neutral mindset, start bringing awareness to your own thoughts, feelings, and beliefs around your body. Kashlan suggests asking yourself reflective questions:
- Are any of your thoughts, feelings, or beliefs around your body judgmental?
- Do you ever associate weight loss with success or weight gain with failure?
- Does the way you view your body influence what you eat that day? How about exercise?
“If you answered yes to any of these, start challenging these thoughts by repeating an affirmation, such as ‘I trust my body to support me’ or ‘my body does not dictate my worth,'” advises Kashlan.
Stop Weighing Yourself
“Consider getting rid of your bathroom scale altogether, especially if weighing yourself promotes negative feelings about your body,” encourages Richardson, who adds that weight stigma is associated with poorer mental health, body dissatisfaction, weight cycling, and disordered eating. “This internalized weight bias can be harmful to your physical and mental health.”
A Word From Verywell
If you are tired of the lose-gain diet cycle, or of judging your self-worth based on the number on a scale, it’s time to learn more about weight-neutral approaches to health care. Start by working with a weight-neutral clinician if the tips above seem overwhelming and you are not sure how to implement them on your own. You can work with a size-inclusive dietitian or therapist for more personalized guidance.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is weight neutral healthcare?
Weight neutrality means defining “health” with a wider lens than body weight, and it moves beyond weight or thinness as the main health goal. Weight-neutral healthcare includes no conversations about diet, weight loss, or body negativity, and no recommendations of weight loss as a cure for physical health issues.
What does it mean to be weight inclusive?
A weight-inclusive approach views health as multifaceted and directs efforts toward improving health access and reducing weight stigma. It’s the opposite of the weight normative approach, which places an emphasis on weight when defining health.
What is the difference between body neutrality and body positivity?
Body neutrality means being accepting of your body and focusing on its abilities and non-physical characteristics more than its physical appearance. Body positivity means you accept and love your body, regardless of its shape or size.
The difference? Body neutrality is about appreciating what your body can do as opposed to concentrating on how it looks. Body neutrality is a neutral approach that falls somewhere between body positivity and body negativity.