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Looks Can Be Deceptive

 Looks  can be deceptive when it comes to  our health. photo by Ben Wicks unsplash Looks can be deceptive when it comes to our health

I receive reminders on a daily basis as to why it is important to listen carefully to our clients, and to suspend all assumptions and judgements about their world or life.

Many years ago, when my child was seriously ill with cancer no-one was able to work out why he was so unwell.

His blood tests showed something was clearly wrong, but it took nearly ten months to get a diagnosis. He didn't seem sick.

One of the presentations was flushed ruddy cheeks. Now I understand it was because of a dangerously high red blood cell count and a condition called polycythemia. At that stage the medical team still hadn't been able to link it to cancer, though knew something was wrong. However, because there is a misguided assumption that a child with rosy cheeks is a well fed, healthy child other people in our life did not take my concerns seriously. (Fortunately, the medical profession did.) I was told by many people it was impossible that it could be a sign of poor health, and that it was every parent's desire to have a child with robust rosy cheeks. They even went so far as to tell me I was overreacting, and even that I was neurotic, and I just needed to let it go.

Well, that didn't happen thanks to the unrelenting support and understanding of the medical team at the children's hospital.

I am sharing this because I encounter this problem of being disbelieved constantly when people reach out for support with their weight. Nearly everyone I speak to has shared some, or multiple stories of not being believed about their diet, their lifestyle, their attempts to lose weight. They end up feeling like they must be doing something wrong. It is extremely rare to meet someone who hasn't felt humiliated or distraught from harsh judgment from others.

I speak with people daily who are holding so many tough experiences, at the same time as struggling with their weight. For many people lifestyle changes are not enough. To be told they are not trying hard enough can be heart breaking. And, when they do get guidance quite often the complexities of the daily life gets ignored. Their real life might include, among many other things, terrible insomnia, sleep apnea, a sick child, financial stress, single parenting, caring for ill loved ones, living with chronic pain, an eating disorder, PTSD, trauma, their history of childhood sexual assault or incest.

These are just a few of the situations people share with me daily. The reason I mention these types of circumstances is because they impact choices, reactions and lives on a far deeper level than just our weight.

So, when they have been asked why they don't just join a gym or cook healthier meals, it can be really demeaning. Maybe they can't afford to. Maybe trying to cook healthy meals when budget is strained or there is no support at home to care for the babies/ children while trying to cook healthy meals, let alone the shopping and meal prep, is just too much. And then the cleaning up afterwards. Or, when someone is in deep grief from the loss of a loved one, eating or not eating might be one of their main coping mechanisms.

Maybe they live with obesity and no amount or healthy eating and exercise will change their body shape. Even when their health might improve drastically, they still are vulnerable to being judged, based on their appearance. Maybe they look strong, fit, muscular and healthy but on the inside they might have depression, anxiety, or body dysmorphia. We just never know what is happening for someone until we hear it from them.

So I guess I am saying that rosy cheeks, or pale, or thin, larger, tired, sad, or a happy appearance— we cannot know anything about someone's world just by looking at them. Making judgements based on face value is rarely helpful. But, we can be kind, caring compassionate and supportive when they do show up asking for help. It is not about us, it is about them. 

Ginette Lenham © April 2024

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