Acceptance of body weight, shape or appearance are some of the goals identified in weight-loss programs, in addition to overall health. One Central Michigan University researcher and her student are out to prove the journey to body acceptance, no matter size or shape, is just as important as the destination.
Andrea Bombak, a weight bias expert and
community health faculty member in Central Michigan University's
School of Health Sciences, is working to shift attitudes about body size.
"Being able to work on this project has been so exciting. Not only am I gaining experience in research early, it is the most helpful I have ever felt in my life." — Jackson Bensley, a junior from Schoolcraft
Bombak also hopes her research will assist people in making informed decisions about weight-loss surgery and help others better understand what a person may be experiencing during and following weight loss or living in a larger body.
"I hope these studies will show that we could all benefit from a bit more tolerance," Bombak said. "I appreciate the local residents who have participated and made it possible to tackle the topic of body acceptance from a new perspective."
The Journey to Body Acceptance study specifically examines how body perceptions and attitudes change over time, whether a person is pursuing weight loss or not. Bombak's research on the bariatric surgery process will provide a glimpse into the perspective of the research participant and their interactions or reactions from those around them as they experience body changes. The research also explores how patients dealt with any surgery-related complications.
"There are so many stigmas in our society about bariatric surgery and the decision to undergo the procedure," Bombak said. "I think, sometimes, there is an unfair perception that bariatric surgery is an easy way out."
Changing levels of body acceptance and reactions from others as a person loses weight are topics Bombak says typically aren't talked about. The faculty member, who formerly studied archeology, says there is a common thread between her early research on ancient African teeth, modern perceptions of weight loss and diabetes in indigenous populations of Canada.
"I hope these studies will show that we could all benefit from a bit more tolerance." — Andrea Bombak, a weight bias expert and community health faculty member
"Similar to the research I've conducted with other populations around the world, I think we'll find that nobody experiences their body in the same way, whether society labels someone as large or small," Bombak said.
Bombak interviewed 18 women for the Journey to Body Acceptance study. Participants were women who have ever had a body mass index of 30 or higher, which is considered obese. The women will complete a total of three interviews. The first interviews took place in October 2016.
Bombak and undergraduate research assistant Jackson Bensley, a junior from Schoolcraft studying community health education, interviewed 13 men and women from the surrounding community who underwent bariatric surgery. The participants were at varying stages of their weight loss.
The research pair plans to conduct more interviews with former bariatric patients as additional residents volunteer this month.
"Being able to work on this project has been so exciting," Bensley said. "Not only am I gaining experience in research early, it is the most helpful I have ever felt in my life."
Bombak and Bensley will spend this spring and summer analyzing the work. Bombak hopes to publish the full results later this year.