Weight is a hugely personal thing, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t still widely discussed.
This is particularly true of celebrities – because they’re in the public eye, there’s often an assumption they’re ‘fair game’ to talk about.
Davina McCall has recently opened up about this in an interview with Women’s Health magazine, talking about her weight loss after her divorce.
“It happens to so many people I know. It was nothing I did. I was just running on adrenaline,” she says. “Quite a few people (understood) and were like, ‘I think she’s having a hard time, maybe we should lay off.’
“But there were lots of people who didn’t. There are some really mean people out there and there are also some very uninformed people who don’t think about the story behind the sadness.”
McCall was judged by some for her weight loss, which Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online says “probably happened as a result of her real-life biochemistry, and the world would do well to try and understand this, and not point fingers. After all, this is only likely to make things worse and can only add to her stress and increase the risk of a serious poor health outcome.”
After it was announced that Black Panther star Chadwick Boseman had died from colon cancer, a tweet from Jordan Sumbu went viral, reading: “Chadwick Boseman was relentlessly castigated over his drastic weight loss to the point where he had to delete pictures and turn off comments on IG [Instagram]. Let this be a lesson to be please be mindful about your words & judgements. You don’t know what type of battle people are fighting.”
There are plenty of hidden reasons why someone might be experiencing a fluctuation in weight – here are just three of them…
“Chronic stress has numerous negative effects on health,” explains Lee, as it can cause “alterations in the levels of many different hormones.” Other potential physiological side effects include “raised blood pressure and irregular menstrual cycles,” she says, noting “some of these changes directly affect body weight.”
Lee continues: “Stress has many specific effects on the gut itself. It’s been shown to affect appetite. Autonomic function [your body’s unconscious functions] is stimulated by stress, which can affect gastric emptying, gastric transit time and absorption of food through the gut wall.
“Stress stimulates the immune system, and as the gut wall is full of clumps of immune tissue, this can cause an increase in gut wall inflammation. Stress can also affect water absorption from the bowel. Many people for example with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), find their symptoms flare up with acute stress. This can then affect their eating patterns and general wellbeing, and can result in either weight loss or weight gain.”
“Unexplained weight loss is a recognised symptom of many different types of cancer,” says Lee. “For the person going through it, this is an extremely anxious time, and they need support and understanding from everyone around them.”
The medical term is cachexia, and Lee explains: “Patients with cachexia report wanting to eat and knowing they should eat, but being physically unable to do this. Some say they feel full quickly at mealtimes, or that physically swallowing food makes them feel sick. Sometimes they may have added problems such as a sore mouth, or mouth ulcers, making chewing food very unpleasant.”
Unfortunately, cachexia is often a “biochemical and physiological outcome of the cancer process,” says Lee. “It is not something the sufferer has any control over, and is exceedingly difficult to treat.”
The NHS recommends seeing your GP if you have unintentionally lost 5% of your body weight in 6-12 months. Lee says: “People either don’t realise their symptoms are serious or don’t want to waste the doctor’s time. Raising awareness of the importance of early symptoms that may indicate cancer, for example, unexplained weight loss, is important.”
3. Eating disorders
“Far from helping people lose weight, stigmatising weight gain only increases unhealthy eating patterns and increases weight gain further,” says Lee. “As stigma increases, obese adults report more binge eating, more disrupted eating behaviours, and can develop more eating disorders.”
She says we need to “regard obesity in a much more empathetic and positive light,” particularly as there are so many genetic abnormalities that can contribute to weight gain and obesity.