A friend and I had a conversation a while ago and what she said stuck with me. She said:
‘People assume that thin people have their s*** together. Which is wrong because you can be underweight and really unhealthy and overweight and totally healthy’
It’s sad to say, but it’s true. As a quick back story, I used to be super thin, wearing a UK size 8. Sure, I did sports and was incredibly active. But at one point, I was surviving on whatever ‘meal’ the vending machine at university provided me with (usually cheese and onion crisps and a dairy milk), I wasn’t getting enough sleep and I was almost proud of the fact that most days I had to choose between eating or going to the toilet, because I didn’t have time to do both. Unless I ate on the toilet, which I did a couple of times!
I looked healthy, but I really wasn’t. I was having a lot of issues with my gut, I wasn’t sleeping much, I had a seizure and chest infection after chest infection. I could literally eat whatever I wanted and never put on weight. At that point, I was buying aged 13 jeans from the kids section of New Look because they were cheaper and fitted me better (I was 21). But because I wasn’t overweight, no one said anything to me about my lifestyle or diet. In fact, no one really asked about it, they just assumed I was doing everything right.
Fast forward 10 years and I’m now double my body weight than I was back then (seriously). My BMI puts me at obese. But I eat more healthily than I did then, I get sleep, I’m not running on adrenaline. I generally just look after myself the best I can and don’t treat my body like a machine. Despite all that, whenever I go to the doctors/have any interaction with HCPs, I get the same routine:
1) you’re overweight
2) your health would improve if you lost weight
3) have you tried to lose weight?
4) do you exercise?
5) you’re increasing your risk of X illness because you’re overweight
And so on.
Any symptom I have, and I mean *any* symptom or illness, is blamed on the fact I’m overweight. So I fight back now:
1) I know. You think you’re the first person to notice?
2) of course it would. That’s also obvious. But you haven’t looked at why I’m the weight I am, you’re just making an assumption I’m doing something wrong.
3) eating less and moving more is not the problem. It’s not a question of willpower or motivation. My weight is the way it is *because* of my illnesses, my weight hasn’t caused my illnesses.
4) if I exercise the way you want me to, I will die
5) I’m at risk of all those illnesses anyway because of my endocrine problems. Losing weight won’t prevent me getting them, although it might slow them down.
It’s always the same attitude- you’re fat, so you don’t know how to be healthy and you’re lying when you say you eat healthily and exercise. You’re lazy, you just need to try harder. You can’t have followed your diet/exercise plan properly. You don’t have your s*** together, basically.
I never got blamed for my causing my health problems when I was skinny. Which is essentially what healthcare professionals do when they’re going through their comments. They’re blaming me for being chronically ill, casting a judgement which then taints the quality of healthcare I receive. As an overweight person, it generally takes longer for me to convince someone to refer me for further tests/appointments than when I was thinner. My integrity wasn’t called into question- I never got asked if I was med compliant a much as I do now I’m overweight. The notion being that if I’m ‘lying’ about not being able to lose weight, I must be lying if I say a medication hasn’t worked (ie I haven’t been taking it properly). People just see me how I am now, make a judgement and then assume I’ve always been like that. But even if I was overweight because of ‘something’ of my own doing, there’s still something that needs looking at. What if (and I’m making these up here) I’m obese because:
– I’m overeating because I’m depressed
– I’m not exercising because I’m too scared to leave the house (for whatever reason)
– I’m really struggling financially so I eat what’s cheap, which is carb heavy.
– I feel the need to eat everything on my plate because my dad used to beat me if I left anything
– I don’t have time to eat properly because I’m trying to work 3 jobs. So I eat whatever I can eat as quickly as possible
– I’m addicted to drugs so I eat all the time with cravings and then don’t remember having eaten so much
There are so many social reasons as to why people aren’t necessarily eating a balanced diet, but it’s not very often that medics actually ask you what has made you overweight. In fact, I think I can count on one hand the amount of times someone actually asked about it properly and didn’t just say ‘you’re overweight and damaging your health. Get your s*** together’. So what happens? You either don’t go back to the doctor because you feel ashamed and your health deteriorates further, or you walk away feeling depressed, which exacerbates the problem further anyway. How is telling someone they’re overweight and fat shaming them (basically) helpful if you’re not going to do anything else about it?
This viewpoint isn’t just limited to healthcare professionals though. And I probably was one of those judgemental people in the past that thought that anyone overweight had brought it on themselves. But then, like I said, I still fitted into kids’ jeans at that point, so my view of the world was still pretty childlike to match. I like to think my stance has evolved since then. So why is it that people think it’s ok to comment on people’s weight? It’s less obvious than being told ‘you’re fat’ by doctors, so here are some examples:
– comments when you order a pudding when eating out. I always feel the need to defend my choice to do so now, whereas I never did before. Why shouldn’t overweight me enjoy a treat like skinny me did? Is one dessert going to make me put on 10kg? No. But people assume that I must eat that kind of food all the time.
– people tell me what to eat a lot to ‘cure’ me anyway, but I get way more comments about what I ‘should’ be eating now I’m overweight
– ‘are you eating for two?’
– comments as to the amount of calories in something they’re eating. And if I don’t react in a suitable way and take the hint, comments about the amount of calories in something I’m eating.
– ‘you’ll have to go for a run now you’ve eaten all of that. Burn off some weight’
– ‘you know X is bad for you, right?’. Clearly I need a thinner guru to guide me through not eating a stick of butter as a snack, because I wouldn’t have worked it out for myself.
No one ever believes you used to be skinny. Never. But if a skinny person says they used to be fat, everyone believes them. And then tries to use them as a motivational tool for all the other fat people. You get judged for being overweight if you don’t exercise, but people laugh at you if you do try to exercise. And do you know how difficult it is to buy gym clothes in large sizes? Virtually impossible. Why, if people are so keen on all the overweight people losing weight, do they only make practical sporting clothes up to a size 18 (if that?)? It just puts you off even more. And exercise is *hard* when you’re overweight. It’s like dragging an anchor around in comparison to when I was thin.
Because overweight people don’t have their s*** together enough to exercise. They don’t care what they eat. They’re incapable of reading about healthy lifestyles and implementing them. And if they say they’ve tried something and they’re still overweight, they must be lying.
I’m going to add in a bit about how thinner people *do* get comments about their weight. Because people still did comment on my weight when I was underweight. But it was far less judgemental and pretty much always done in a way that was meant to compliment rather than ‘inform’ me of what I should be doing differently. For example:
– ‘you need to eat more’
– ‘you’ll only be skin and bones soon’
– or you’re compared to an anorexic because you’re so thin. I remember someone I know being really offended that people kept saying she was in denial about having an eating disorder because she was so thin. But she actually ate lots, she was just thin.
So it does happen when you’re thinner too, at the other extreme where people can comment on you being too thin. But in general, I found I was more likely to be listened to more and judged less when I was skinny versus now when I’m overweight.
I think the take-home here is people should really just mind their own business! Pointed comments and assumptions are never helpful and don’t serve any purpose except it then makes that person feel more defensive about any future conversations. And that’s the important thing people forget here- you might be saying your ‘helpful’ comment or piece of advice for the first time to someone, but guaranteed it won’t be the first time that person has heard it.
In general, we need to stop being so judgemental. Because if we actually looked at our lives in detail, who actually does have all of their s*** together?