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The Four Types of Obesity

Helping an obese client lose weight isn’t always easy. Self-perceptions vary, and people can’t always see their own potential for success. Coaches interested in enhancing their capacity to appeal to an obese person may glean helpful insights from a study published in Health Sociology Review (2015; doi:10.1080/14 461242.2015.1045919).

Researchers hoped to understand better how current or formerly obese individuals feel about themselves and whether their self-perceptions can change over the course of a year. Fifteen study participants answered questions about weight history, priorities, lifestyle, and health and weight perspectives. Interviews were repeated several times throughout the study.

Upon analyzing the results, Andrea E. Bombak, PhD, of the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Manitoba, identified four “ideal” types:

  • Hopeful. The hopeful type is currently involved in losing weight
    through diet and exercise. People of this type hope their efforts will result in sustained weight loss and consider themselves the most “publicly accepted” obese people. Study participants in this group were “thin” or had previously been thin.
  • Despairing. People in this group are highly unlikely to have experienced sustained weight loss, and they want to escape from feeling judged about their weight. They have little faith in their self-discipline and often blame themselves for failing to adhere to long-term weight loss efforts. “Despairing” study subjects either were thin or had previously been thin.
  • Resigned. Resigned individuals have abandoned all weight loss efforts, as they no longer believe they will ever succeed. However, they may be likely to pursue other health goals not specifically related to weight loss. These people have experienced mistreatment most of their lives and continue to fear it, but are “more confident and indignant [than the despairing group] over such mistreatment.” Study participants in this category were likely to have been obese their entire lives.
  • Acceptor. Acceptors reject common perceptions that obesity is unhealthy and support efforts to eliminate size-based discrimination. They have a variety of weight histories and are split as to whether they choose foods based on eating a healthy diet or satisfying hunger. Acceptors in the study were most likely to have been obese their entire lives.

“In summary, participants’ views on their bodies were inalienably tied to their embodied subjectivities and experiences,” stated Bombak, PhD, the study’s author. “They had lived most of their lives in bodies treated as abject, stigmatized, and contemptible
by a healthist, sizeist community.”

Bombak added that the information presented in the study can help us understand how a person’s lived experiences may inform their perceptions on obesity acceptance or their potential for change.

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