Working with obese patients has been eye-opening to the stigma they face in their daily lives. In a culture where thin is highly valued, career promotions, dating, and travel are limited due to your size. It’s no wonder that anxiety, depression, and addictions are higher in individuals struggling with their weight. I asked several people who struggle with their weight about the emotional impact on their lives. These were a few of their comments:
Your children are embarrassed but lie to you. Others make excuses for your size.
People judge all areas of your life based on your size.
You hide your true feelings; you hide behind masks of happiness and that all is well.
You try to be perfect to compensate against the judgment of others.
You have low self-esteem and are extra critical of yourself.
You have no energy or motivation.
You can’t do things with your family so you lie to them about why your leg hurts instead of saying the truth – that you can’t fit into the ride at the amusement park.
People stare and feel free to comment with insults.
On airplanes you have to ask for a belt extender, and everyone gets to watch and make comments.
You don’t believe people really love or care for you even when they say it.
When you’re obese, you begin suffering physically and emotionally. Because of the extra weight, you have no energy which limits your life and leaves you with more time alone. Feeling bored, lonely, and trapped inside a body that you don’t know how to fix, you turn to your immediate comfort which is food. But food is no longer fuel for your body – it’s a vice for your feelings. The more you eat, the more guilt and shame you feel, and it becomes a vicious cycle. The heavier you get, the less you feel like going for a walk, getting together with friends, or being seen in public because of negative judgments. Obese patients I work with have gained and lost hundreds of pounds more than once. This often makes them feel defeated regarding diets and exercise.
If you’re struggling with obesity and your weight is affecting your health these suggestions can help.
Be honest to yourself and your loved ones about how bad it is for you to live this way – physically and emotionally. Denial and lying keeps the obese person stuck.
Join a 12 step food addiction group and be willing to do the work. You need the support of others to hold you accountable.
Get moving both with exercise and social activity. This helps make your life interesting and exciting and takes the focus off of you and food.
Throw away the word "diet." It implies a short term situation. Healthy living and eating is a new way of life for the rest of your life. The majority of overweight people know what to eat and how much. Try seeking a dietician for a structured weight management plan to provide support and accountability.
Find a counselor that you can work with to lower stress and develop healthier coping mechanisms. Food is fuel; it should not be used as a coping mechanism for managing emotions.
The scale measures your weight not your self-worth. If you’re struggling with obesity, food is not the problem. The problem is the way you feel about the food. Changing your attachment to food and learning to use it to fuel your body, rather than soothe your emotions, lowers your weight and changes your life.
Thank you to Karen Askins, my friend and colleague whose battle with food addiction adds continual inspiration to my life.