Obesity. It’s been described as a tsunami, an epidemic, a curse, and a scourge. Shoot, it might just have a role in the next Godzilla movie the way it’s demonized. And who do we blame for the obesity onslaught [hah, found another adverb!]? Mostly we blame the individual for putting the Twinkie in their mouth, but there is mounting evidence it’s our food culture from GMO products to high fructose corn syrup in our Wheaties. Regardless, we are the ones still choosing to eat this food. So again we come back to self-blame.
The result is most of us spend our entire lives trying to combat obesity with drugs, fad diets, workouts, doctors and infomercials. But most of all we hear the word “diet” chanted in our brain like a cheer for our favorite sports figure at a crucial moment in the game. You can hear it now, can’t you?
“Di-et!” “Di-et!” Di-et!”
To quote Dr. Phil, himself a culprit in weight loss propaganda, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
It’s not. Everyone from Michelle Obama to Dr. Oz is preaching the message that we have to lose weight to get healthy, but they don’t take stock of the most basic problem. The fear of fat is probably the biggest cause of our increasing weight and lower health. You want to prevent increased obesity statistics, especially in our young ones? Then stop fixating on weight loss.
Why? What’s happening here? We fear being called out for having extra fat stores and looking like the so-called “headless fatties” pictured in all the media reports about obesity. And we diet. We fail. We blame ourselves – what Dr. Michelle May calls the “eat-regret-repent-repeat” cycle in her book Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat. We return to our previous eating pattern, adding the weight back plus some as our bodies are now starving and trying to hold on to extra calories in preparation for the next starvation. We are now bigger, more self-hating, more tempted to diet again, fail again, and add more weight – what those in the eating disorder community call “weight cycling.” Or the alternative, we develop such compulsiveness about being thin that we turn to severe restriction, purging behaviors, or worse. Or perhaps the restriction is leading to binge eating cycles from the starvation. The eating disorder is now in full bloom.
So where did we go wrong? Telling people that their size needs to change. If you want to be healthy, if you want to make slow methodical changes to your diet and exercise routines, that’s a reasonable goal. It may or may not affect your overall body shape, size or weight. But you’ll be healthier! A lower weight may be our cultural fixation, but it’s not an answer. And obesity is not the problem.
First rule in medicine – do no harm. If a medical treatment has a 95% failure rate, we don’t use it. But somehow obesity is sanctioned as appropriate cause for craziness and blind faith that thinness equals health.
So instead of making everyone lose weight, we can preach healthful changes. If there are medical issues at play, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, etc., treat those medically. Work on improving nutrition without starvation. Move the body more in ways that don’t cause harm.
If we can promote this message, and if doctors, scam artists (lookin’ at you Dr. Oz), and the media can stop promoting false hope in the form of weight loss miracles, we can probably put an end to the so-called obesity “problem.” That’s a better form of prevention than scaring everyone into hating being fat.
By Andrew Walen, LCSW-C - Founder, Executive Director, Psychotherapist at The Body Image Therapy Center. If you would like to get in touch with Andrew please call 443-602-6515 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.