When Weight Matters Blog
I Would Love This To Be The Year Where The Narrative Shifts In The General Public,So The Shaming & Blaming Of Individuals Living With Excess Weight Stops.
When we ask people to walk a mile in someone else's shoes when thinking what it might be like to be going through something sad or challenging, I wonder why it is so different for the general population to consider the same when it comes to having compassion and a willingness to understand what it might be like for someone living with obesity.
I am aware that my work is perhaps considered to be in an echo chamber where my colleagues and the many researchers, medical practitioners and like-minded therapists understand that living with excess weight and obesity is absolutely not something which is the individuals fault in any way.
However, the barrage of weight loss advertisements bombarding our screens and social media as the New Year descends would suggest that the sentiment of it being simply a matter of changing ones diet and joining a gym is alive and well and the only solution to living with obesity.
I feel so sad and angry at the same time that people who are seeking help for managing their weight are shamed, blamed and humiliated. Not just once or twice but repeatedly, year after year.Often the very first thing someone will tell me is "I've tired every single diet under the sun" "You name it, I've tired it"
I believe them and will try to reassure them it was the diet that failed them not the other way round.But the toll it has taken on their emotional health is enormous.
If we blamed people for other health conditions the way we blame people who live with excess weight it would seem absurd. Imagine if we said to someone who has asthma, you really are not trying hard enough to breathe properly. Have you thought of breathing differently?
While the excess weight is worrying many clients , it's the other life struggles that are causing distress and discomfort. A lot of the people I see are scared. They often live with a serious co existing illness that might have been be caused by their weight or, a chronic and serious illness that has caused excess weight. Some may live with intense pain day in day out that affects their mobility, some live with autoimmune illnesses that impact their lives in all sorts of tough ways. There are those people who have debilitating depression and anxiety or complex trauma. The medications they need to be on to help them feel safe and well might cause a lot of weight gain.
A simple diet or gym membership, while for some might bring great health benefits it might not shift the weight and therefore often keeps their loved ones assuming they are not "doing it right" or "trying hard enough"
A word that surfaces frequently in my rooms is "hiding".And I get it! Not because I think people should hide because of their weight but I get that the sheer exhaustion of having to bear the constant barrage of unwelcome advice, judgment, criticism, and the silent but judgmental looks from loved ones and strangers alike is so draining and taxing.
It is one of those areas that everyone seems to be an expert in. All those uncles and aunts and people on the street and the partner who says they know exactly how to mange weight. Usually they themselves do not live with obesity, but they have read about a keto diet or know someone who lost a lot of weight through a particular program and is convinced that's all their loved one should do.
Weight often becomes a moral judgment (especially by strangers) about a persons character, and being judged by anyone for your character is tough especially when you are trying to get support and help for a chronic relapsing illness condition / disease.
This moral judgment extends then to such awful prejudices and discriminations about someone's personality that is totally unwarranted, wrong, unfair and dangerous as it impacts terribly on people's emotional wellbeing.
So what can we do? We can start by taking our clients stories seriously. Truly listen to them. Listen to all they have to say, not shut them down. If they say they feel shame and sadness, believe them. Try to walk in their shoes. We certainly can offer support, a safe nonjudgmental space to talk and a place they do not feel they have to hide while we work out together what might be a way forward that can bring some change or relief for them, whether it be through medication, surgery, ongoing therapeutic support or what ever else we can do to help them to feel better.
Ginette Lenham © January 2023
Image by Dan Myers (upsplash)
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