When Weight Matters Blog
My Room Is Crowded With People Who Are Not Physically In The Room
There is something that comes up over and over again in my conversations with people living with obesity that is so upsetting and painful for them. I am heartened by the advocacy and the medical research that is finally being heard, and recognised in removing blaming the individual for their weight. My concerns are that we still have a long way to go for this to be listened to and recognised by the person on the street, the media and public.
Those in the field of obesity medicine and research understand and know this, but there are so many people who are not even prepared to listen to the research, the science and recognition of obesity being a chronic relapsing disease.
As a counsellor working in this area there may be a misunderstanding that I am there to find a "root cause". This is absolutely not the case. I am here to help find out how I can best support my client to find the care they need in order to feel supported, and to have a safe place to talk about their world and their struggles without being criticised, disbelieved, judged or blamed for their weight.
I am there to advocate and help find appropriate care and treatment for them.
It is in this safe space what has become clear to me is how misunderstood and hurt people are feeling. In nearly every conversation, even though there are just two of us in the room, the loudest voices are from those who are ever present, but not actually physically present in the room.
It's the kids from the childhood playground whose taunts about my clients weight to this day still play over and over in their minds. It's the aunt or uncle from a family gathering and their subtle or not so subtle comments about my client's weight. It's the mean girls or boys at the nightclub at a night out, it's the grandparents who make comments about their grandchild's weight, it's the parents who are often struggling with their own issues who project them on to their child and adult child. So many people recall tearfully how they were put on diets as very young children and were always starving and subsequently turned to secret eating. So many children who grew up thinking they were unlovable at the weight they were. So many watched their mother starving herself and suffering and even people now in their 70's and 80's still feel the pain of never being small enough to please their parent.
It's the partner in a relationship who is always saying, "Do you really think you should eat that?" Or, "really…. You are having more? " Or those partners competing with their significant other just because they themselves have successfully lost a few kilos and think if they can do it then so should their partner.
There are the family dinners where everyone else is served one size and my client without being asked is served less. Or, being given a salad while everyone else is served a proper meal.
There is the public discourse on who has lost weight, gained weight on social media the stream of comments that say things like "Its easy just cut out sugar and eat natural food". The sentiments that they hear on a repeat rinse cycle such as they are just not trying hard enough, that they are lazy, that all they need is some motivation. All, which they know, is not true but feel too worn down to defend them. And then there is the question of why should they even be in such a position to defend themselves. This in itself is insulting.
There are the memories of not being believed by their medical professional about their weight, and assumptions that have been made that the patient is a liar or just over eats.
All these people are in the room with us.
The thing is, none of these comments have happened once and once only. They are comments and conversations that have happened repeatedly throughout people lives.
It is an accumulation of hurt and sadness over the years that take a huge toll.
When someone asks for help for managing his or her weight we must suspend all judgment.We don't know if a relative or stranger sexually assaulted them when they were little. Or, if they have experienced sexual assault as an adult. We don't know if they suffered shocking abuse at the hands of a family member or institution. We don't know if they are in the middle of suffering a huge life loss or are grieving. We don't know if they are on anti psychotics that are causing weight gain and discomfort. We don't know if they have a metabolic syndrome. We don't know if they have diagnosed or undiagnosed ADHD that affects their eating patterns. We don't know if they are full time carers for someone they love and have little time for them to seek appropriate medical treatment. We don't know if they are under financial stress and cant afford to seek help.
Even if none of the above are the reasons, we have no idea about someones medical history or circumstances and what is causing their obesity. All we know is it is not their fault.
We just don't know what someone is going through or has gone through.
So to all the people who are present in my room when we are talking about someone's weight, all those parents, aunties, uncles, siblings, lovers, partners, people in the line at the grocery store, friends, acquaintances, strangers in the night club, those in the media talking about a celebrities weight, while your voices are loud, I need you to know how damaging they are.
We need to educate those around us who honestly believe that their comments, while usually made with good intention and out of care and love, are actually backfiring and causing much distress and are certainly rarely helping.
Ginette Lenham © July 2022
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