Being insulted by shop assistants, ignored by bar staff, left out by friends, mocked by passers-by, ridiculed by the opposite sex and photographed by teenagers are part of the frequent humiliations overweight people face, according to research.
Up to 40 per cent of the 2,573 slimmers questioned in the Slimming World study said they faced some form of judgment, criticism or humiliation at least once a week.
It included young people winding down car windows to shout abuse, fellow passengers refusing to share a seat on public transport, men in nightclubs feigning romantic interest and teenagers taking pictures or videos on their phones.
Even being a paying customer did not stop comments on food choices from supermarket staff, laughter from shop assistants when asked for clothes in a bigger size, and feeling humiliated as bar staff served slimmer customers first.
Weight discrimination does not motivate people to lose weight, the study found. Instead it left 47 per cent of people feeling ashamed, 41 per cent depressed and 30 per cent feeling like they were useless.
It also made 65 per cent turn to food for comfort while only 2 per cent said it gave them a kick-start to make long-term health changes.
About 63 per cent gained weight in the time they had been treated badly about their size, according to the study.
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Around 61 per cent of those questioned said they were more likely to be greeted by strangers with a smile since losing weight. The weight loss made eye contact more likely, according to 54 per cent, while 43 per cent had noticed people would say hello to them.
Slimming World’s research specialist Professor James Stubbs said: “As a society we need to think more about how we treat people who struggle with weight and we need to be more aware of how discrimination can impact on people’s feelings and lifestyle behaviours.
“Criticism of overweight people is widespread and not only is this rude and unpleasant, it’s also really unhelpful when it comes to motivating people to lose weight.
“In fact the evidence suggests that it undermines people’s attempts at controlling their weight and, for many, even causes increased weight gain.
“When we’re constantly criticised and judged by others for our weight, it chips away at our self-confidence, leaving us feeling guilty and ashamed.
“The danger with that is that all of our cultural signals, our upbringing, the media and our social, physical and cultural environments, are persuading us to use food to make us feel better.
“That only worsens our weight problem, creating a cycle of shame and weight gain that can be difficult to break.”
‘I just wanted the ground to swallow me up’
Sam Akerman lost 6.5 stone after a man chatted her up while she was on a night out with friends.
She said: “I was part of a hockey team sports tour. We were on a night out and I was approached by this guy who it turns out was on a mission to pull as many fatties as he could and he then took pictures as evidence.”
Weighing in at her heaviest at 21st 9lb meant that she stood out, but this was “really horrible, I just wanted to be treated the same as everyone else”, she recalls.
“Other people noticed the humiliation. I just laughed it off and my friends were laughing it off because that is how I was dealing with it but I just wanted the ground to swallow me up. It was a joke but it made me a joke. I was just on a night out with the girls.”
Ms Akerman, a civil servant from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, is two years into her health, fitness and weight loss programme. She has noticed a greater self-confidence since losing weight and does not tell people about her dramatic change in size unless they “react positively to me in the first place”.
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