Wednesday, October 24, 2012

"We are not very nice"

In this article for the Huffington Post, writer Kelly Dorfman says "we are not very nice to the overweight."

Isn't that a fact! In writing How We Did It, I talked with many people who had achieved weight loss who had been subject to cruel remarks and thoughtless actions from other people. Kelly Dorfman calls us on our attitudes.

"The conversation I would like to have about obesity is about acceptance and being kind to each other," she says. "Gaining weight is a part of our modern life. All sorts of things happen that turn thin people into chubby people. That fat person you view with disdain today could be you tomorrow."

Hear! Hear! I'm all for acceptance and kindness. We all need to battle our nasty inner voices that spew condemnation all over the place -- directed to others as well as to ourselves.

I know from talking with hundreds of people about weight loss that for many, dropping excess weight is as much about what's going on in their head as what's going in their mouth. Overeating can be a vicious cycle in which you feel so bad about yourself -- often because of comments or actions by others -- that you run to what comforts you the most: food. Then, of course, you feel bad again after the feelings of relief wear off. 

But I fear that Ms. Dorfman's statement that "gaining weight is a part of our modern life" lets us all off too easily. Yes, there are medical conditions and medicines that make weight loss difficult and even impossible. I get that. Aging and a slowing metabolism are a contributing factor -- that I know for sure! But most of us do not put on extra weight for these reasons. For the vast majority of us, excess weight is a combination of too much food and too little movement.

I know that no one wants to hear that same old, same old, blah, blah, blah. But in my mind, there's no simpler way to put it. We know this in our hearts, yet we can't put it to work for us unless we embrace the facts and act on them.

And here's where I question Ms. Dorfman. Cruel as people may be, I found that many people in How We Did It were shocked into action by thoughtless comments. Certainly no one wants to be the target of cruelty, but would these people have begun their weight loss journey without the jolt of reality that these comments provided? Most often, the comments weren't personal attacks, but statements of reality: "She weighs more than I do," one doctor said outside an exam room. "Mr. M. is fat," some students said about a substitute teacher.

I wish there were another way, but I'm not sure what the alternative is. Well, I do know of one. Several people I talked with were moved to action when a spouse or friend lovingly told them that they were becoming concerned for their health. Putting the focus on health and not weight and body image may be the way to go. A few others saw or heard the words "morbid obesity" applied to them and became fearful enough of disability or early death to take action.

Still, I'm not certain these softer messages -- or even the cruelest comments -- are strong enough to move most people to action. Even when thoughtless comments stung, people often needed something more in order to help themselves. Many credit seeing unflattering photos or a glimpse in a mirror with providing the final piece of the puzzle. For some, it was the inability to do the simplest daily task or having to ask for the seat belt extender on a plane.

Whatever the motivator, what's certain is that a person needs to own their present situation and resolve to do what it takes to improve it. What do you think? Have you been the target of unkind remarks? If you could change something about the way people react to you, what would it be? If you've lost weight, what finally moved you to action?