Why Suspending Judgment Is So Important When It Comes To Helping Someone Living With Obesity.
Assumptions are dangerous when it comes to other people's weight.
They are dangerous for a multitude of reasons. The biggest reason is that an assumption is often closely followed by a judgment. A judgment is often linked to attitudes and preconceived ideas. And, more often than not these judgments are linked to things that might not be true. The truth is you might never ever know why someone has gained weight, has excess weight or has lost weight.
If they are a person close to you, that is different. You might know what their situation is, and you care about them enough to put your own assumptions aside and take the care and time to understand their world and learn about their personal circumstances.
The narrative that anyone who has excess weight simply over eats and doesn't exercise is so simplistic and insulting to the person who is struggling with their weight.
Firstly obesity is a chronic relapsing disease not a life style choice. I am not talking here about someone who has a few kilos they feel they are not comfortable with. They might not have obesity.
The reality is that obesity is NOT a choice, and is not about will power. Rather, obesity is a chronic medical condition with a complex science behind why it. There are over 140 genetic regions on our chromosomes are now known that influence body weight.
Imagine saying to someone with asthma "it's simple all you need to do is "just breathe harder".
You wouldn't (I hope).You hopefully would understand they have a condition they need medical help with, and need ongoing medication and assessments, plus big doses of understanding and compassion. Obesity is no different. Sure, eating well and exercising are important but they are just a part of the ongoing management and treatment needed to successfully manage long term weight management.
Here are a few things to consider if you know someone that makes these judgments, or if you find yourself thinking this way about someone you know, or a stranger ie a celebrity or someone you see on the street, who has weight related problems.
I need to point out that while none of these circumstances might be relevant, you never ever know what is going on for someone, and therefore jumping to conclusions or making assumptions about their weight is not only dangerous but can be very hurtful. All the things listed below can have a profound impact on a person's weight.
It is possible they may have:
- A history of severe trauma
- A history of childhood sexual abuse
- A diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health condition (that might cause emotional eating or under eating to help with emotional regulation)
- Be on psychiatric medication that causes weight gain but is essential for the person's wellbeing.
- They may have a diagnosed or undiagnosed eating disorder
- May have had a breakdown of a significant relationship
- They may have metabolic syndrome eg: type 2 diabetes, fatty liver, ovary syndrome in women, which can make weight gain easy and weight loss hard.
- They may have significant financial challenges that make seeking help hard.
- They may be in remission from cancer or have cancer or another serious illness that is affecting their weight.
- They may have an invisible chronic illness that affects their energy levels and causes significant pain
- They may be suffering grief from the loss of a loved one
- They may be struggling with fertility issues
- They may have suffered from a miscarriage or multiple miscarriages or a still births and are carrying enormous grief and sadness
- They may have pain from an injury
- They may have diagnosed or undiagnosed ADHD
- They may be lonely and food is their companion.
There are so many other things I could add to this list but the important thing to know is everyone has a story and everyone needs to be assessed from a physical, medical, and psychological and emotional perspective to be able to determine the most appropriate type of help and way forward to mange their weight.
So, next time someone in your orbit declares that all anyone needs to do to lose weight is to "eat less and move more", please know that while it might be all they themselves needed to do, its not like that for everyone and it does not make the person trying to lose or gain weight a failure if they need a lot more support and help. As we can see from the list before, obesity and its causes are are incredibly complicated and varied, and anyone struggling with excess weight needs compassion, care, respect, and ultimately appropriate assistance not unhelpful assumptions and judgments.