January 28, 2023

Obesity acceptance is hurting the next generation

Reinforcing positive life changes and encouraging fat people to be healthy is the best way to help the obesity epidemic.

My friends all told me I was healthy and beautiful. And for a long time, I let them — even though I knew, deep down, it wasn’t true. 

They told me not to listen to the people who said I needed to be skinny. They told me being thin was a social construct. They told me it wasn’t my fault that I was fat. 

When I went to the doctor in January of that year, I weighed in at 301 pounds – and I learned for the first time that if I didn’t change my habits, I was going to eat myself to death.

My friends were all well-meaning. But they were also wrong. And it’s time for others in the fat-acceptance movement to recognize that these messages aren’t helping people take personal responsibility.

Rebecca Fisher also fell prey to this ideology. 

Fisher is a 22-year-old prospective Utah State University student who feels duped by the growing societal tendency to dismiss fatness as something that is part of the beautiful diversity of life as opposed to a medical condition that needs to be addressed.    

“I’ve always been fat and unhappy,” she said. “Having people telling me that being fat was OK just made me more depressed.” 

When Fisher decided she had enough and lost weight she was rejected by her friends. She had people attack her on social media, where she was documenting her weight loss journey. 

“I had to delete my Instagram because I was being shamed for losing weight,” she said.

When I began my weight loss journey instead of people around me praising me for being fat – instead started skinny shaming. I was told I needed to eat. I was told I looked sick. This culture of commenting on others body’s needs to stop. The only message that should be propagated is health, and being fat is not healthy.

Obesity impacts productivity at work. Fat people are more likely to miss work for health reasons. When I was fat, I would wake up in the morning not wanting to get out of bed. I would find reasons to call into work – just to stay home and eat. My hatred for myself consumed me. 

There is a willingness to comply with the narratives that minimize or deny the dangers of obesity. Telling a fat person they don’t need to change is avoiding the truth and that will eventually hurt them. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity is a comorbidity for the top killers of Americans. Having people around you supporting your unhealthy lifestyle is akin to assisted suicide.

Being obese will eventually kill you. Whether it is a health condition related to your unhealthy lifestyle or your inability to do the things you want because of your size. 

Here’s what I wish my friends had done instead – be kind but honest – and if you have someone in your life who is struggling with obesity do the same. Shaming someone for being fat isn’t helpful. 

What needs to happen is doctors having truthful conversations with their patients. Dr. David Unwin, a general practitioner, is known for his efforts to improve patient doctor communication. In 2015, he was named as an expert clinical advisor by the UK Royal College of General Practitioners.

            “For many years I struggled with bringing up the subject of obesity with my patients,” Unwin said. “It seemed rude to tell patients that they were fat.”

Dr. Unwin believes the best way to help obese patients is to listen to what the patient is saying and ask permission to discuss the problem.

“Listen to the patient’s problem first,” he said. 

Unwin believes it is the responsibility of the doctor to mention obesity might be a contributing factor to a patient’s health concerns. Then see if the patient wants to discuss obesity mitigation. 

What is the solution if fat shaming doesn’t work? What is the solution if encouraging obesity is deadly?

            Honesty with kindness.

Reinforcing positive life changes and encouraging fat people to be healthy is the best way to help the obesity epidemic. Being at a healthy weight is hard but with encouragement anyone can do it.

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