There I was, minding my own business, walking to the metro. Suddenly, a car comes to a rather abrupt stop, right in the middle of traffic. A lady gets out, waving her hands at me, as though there was something urgent. For a moment I thought I might be in danger, maybe someone was behind me, about to mug me. Maybe I dropped something? Maybe she was just crazy?
I looked up at her, she was definitely
talking screaming at me.
“Yes?” I said backing away from her, as her car stood and blocked traffic.
“I can help you lose weight!!!! I have this (I’m excluding the name of the product) supplement that can help you! I’d love to talk to you!”
By now a small group of people gathered to see what the commotion was. Some people started to laugh, some people just kept walking.
“No thank you.” I said as politely as I could.
“I’ve lost 50 pounds though!!” She exclaimed, pointing to a shirt that said she had lost 50 pounds.
I kept walking, as fast as I could, mortified and embarrassed.
I would like to tell you this is a rare occurrence. But, you’d be surprised how many times something like this has happened. Getting my nails done, shopping for groceries, getting my hair done, at book stores, in coffee shops. I have been approached by total strangers and have been told that they can help me lose weight. I once had a hair dresser write down her special diet, and insisted that I follow it until the next time I went in again. (I never went back).
I’ve also been through it with Doctors. Sadly, many Doctors who see an overweight person, make immediate judgments, and can often treat the person poorly, because they are overweight. It is what made me so terrified of going to the Doctor for so many years, fear of judgment and ridicule. A few years ago, when I was at the worst of my T2 diabetes, I sat in a Doctors office, crying after being told that one of the infections that I had in my leg might result in partial amputation. Rather than a kind word, or offering anything helpful the Dr. turned to me and said “Why did you let yourself get so fat?”. I’m writing this, in part because I want people to know, that kind of behavior does not help, not even in the slightest.
Being overweight in this society is not easy. While the number of obese people has been on the rise year after year, the way people who are overweight are treated has not become any better. It’s still ok (for most) to laugh, make fun of and look down at overweight people. I have been hurt, more times than I can count because of my size, physically and emotionally. Being overweight since the age of 10, has not been easy. I did what I could to not be noticed, but alas, everyone seemed to notice me. I thought this would go away when I became an adult, but sadly it did not. People said (and still say) awful things about me. I really don’t feel like walking around with a shirt that says “I’ve lost 200 pounds, so back off”, so I’ve learned to ignore what I can, and on the bad days, when something really gets to me? I just let it get to me. Sometimes I go punch a punching bag, seems to help the most, to be honest.
The thing is, as I’ve mentioned before, overweight people have a lot stacked against them. This is not a simple issue of will power and determination. This is a very long genetic line, and a modern society that has no problem with food scarcity. There is highly calorically dense food everywhere we look. And worse yet, the “health” food industry has made a fortune into making people believe that a food is healthy when it is far from that.
More so, it doesn’t take much to gain weight, if you have those higher fat stores. 120 excess calories per day (of nutritionally void food, like oil) over 8 years, you are 100 pounds overweight. 120 excess calories that your brain has a hard time calculating – that’s it. It’s about a tbs of oil a day, 3 small cookies, a few potato chips. We’re not talking huge amounts of pizza and soda, we’re talking about a small difference and a set of genes that holds onto fat, because it used to be very helpful when we were in living in times of food scarcity. Incidentally, these higher fat stores in people earlier in our history meant the difference between survival and death.
Today, the way our society portrays overweight people is horrible. When you see an overweight person in the news, they are generally shown from the waist down, from the side, or from the back. They generally are holding some kind of food, and they are never dressed well. Every diet book, magazine, workout dvd that is sold, is sold to people who either don’t want to look like this image that is portrayed of overweight people or who do not want to be overweight. Our society has used shame as a weapon to get people to buy things that simply won’t work, most of the time. Entire companies are set up on the premis that if overweight people feel bad about themselves, they will buy their product. Who cares if it doesn’t work? They can blame the person for lack of motivation and will power.
And this is what I’m here to tell you today, you will not be shamed into losing weight. You might think that it is a good motivation at first, but trust me when I say that motivation is nothing to run on, especially if you are doing this for a while. And, on the flip side if you are in the health industry, you will not shame anyone into losing weight by focusing on their size, or what they look like.
There was a point in my journey that I realized weight loss was not the thing I was after. Health was. I could lose weight doing anything, and I had in the past. When I started to focus on my health, my life became 100x better. I stopped weighing myself. I went out and got nice clothes that fit me for the size I am, not the size I want to be. I also did not punish myself by saying I wouldn’t buy new/nice clothes until when I was thinner. I started living.
So many people have told me that if an overweight person (myself included) starts to feel good about themselves, in the body they have right now, they won’t get thin. It is one of the more offensive things that people have said to me. Healthy should be the goal, for every person, no matter what size they are. Low and behold, when someone has the goal of being healthy, they start to get closer to an ideal weight.
The problem is that we’re all so fixated on losing weight and getting skinny, that we lose site of health. And worse yet, marketers have figured out that we’re all scale obsessed, and they play to that, and they get us to buy billions of dollars of stuff, all because (most) are ashamed of what they look like.
What if the shift was to health? And what if people were treated with kindness instead of cruelty? If people of any size were not made to feel ashamed of the way they look?
We need a massive shift in our society. A shift that is revolutionary in it’s approach, a shift in which the way we treat others changes. And a shift in the way we approach the health crisis that we’re facing, to focus on health. What if the covers of magazines had photos of lab results rather than a horrible before photo and a great looking after photo? Because at the end of the day, give me any diet, and I will find you a great before and after photo. But that tells me only one thing about the person, it does not give me the entire picture.
When people see me they might not know that I have had remarkable changes in my health, but the point is that should not matter, we should treat people with kindness and without judgment no matter where they are on their journey.
Let’s continue to focus on health, kindness and compassion. Let’s not make this about becoming a certain size, or a certain weight. Instead, let’s celebrate healthy change that results in healthy people.
Let’s put an end to the shaming, both as a society and as individuals. It doesn’t matter where you are in this journey, the most important thing is that you start, and the most important reason that you start is to become a healthier person.
You are worth it.