Occasionally, in all the media clutter we see and hear each day, a clear, concise message appears to you. That happened to me today. I listened to the most recent post on This American Life entitled “Tell Me I’m Fat”. It was riveting, thought provoking, and entertaining. Everything a great podcast episode should be. You should really listen to it here.
Also today, an article popped up on my Facebook feed about how dietitians need to have empathy and how that can be better “taught” in dietetics training programs. I totally agree with this being a problem. While I had very good education and training as a dietitian, the most “empathy” that ever came into my lessons was teaching you how to keep a straight face while taking down a diet history. As in, when a client/patient tells you that he/she ate an entire cake or 14 tortillas in a day, you smile and say, “ok”. That was a good skill, believe you me. And I’m not criticizing my professors because empathy isn’t something you can really “teach”. It has to be developed with time and experience.
Together, those have prompted me to write a few very open, honest thoughts here.
1) I have never in my life been obese. I have never had to struggle with so many of the daily trials that face obese people. The stories in the podcast highlight many of these: finding clothes, being comfortable eating out, criticism from complete strangers, worrying about breaking a chair, etc. So I can try to be empathetic and imagine how that feels, but I haven’t had that experience.
2) However, I have struggled with my weight. Multiple times in my rather short adult life, so I do have some measure of empathy about weight and body image and those struggles.
When I graduated from college, I didn’t like how I felt or looked or what the scale said. I spent an entire summer exercising and trying to cut back on junk food. The result was maybe 5 pounds of weight loss, which was incredibly disheartening. Luckily for me, I then started grad school. The stress and busy schedule helped me almost unconsciously shed the last 10 pounds I needed/wanted. And then cancer and endocrine instability helped me drop 10 more. I was back to what I weighed in middle school. I’ll admit, I liked how looked and wanted to keep it that way, even if was a bit on the light side of healthy.
Then school ended. Life changed. Thankfully, for a couple years, I was able to mostly maintain my weight.
Then babies happened. My first pregnancy, I gained a bit too much weight, but it seemed to just melt off after I had my baby. One month post-partum, thanks to breastfeeding and some postpartum depression inhibiting my eating, I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight and feeling really good. Fast forward about 4 months, and things weren’t so easy. But with some frequent exercise, I was able to stay in a good place for me.
Fast forward now to pregnancy number two. I gained more weight. I couldn’t stop gaining weight. When I would see how much the scale went up at a doctor’s visit, I’d feel sad and go home and eat a cookie. Smart, right? I was only about 5 pounds over the maximum recommended weight gain, but I had started pregnancy about 5 pounds up from my usual desired weight, too. This time, the weight did not melt off after I had the baby. 6 weeks out, my 2 year old was pointing to my tummy and asking about baby sister. My baby is almost 11 months old now, and I’m still not where I’d like to be.
Recently, I’ve challenged myself to nine weeks of exercise and limiting treats to try and feel better about myself for a family cruise. So far, I’ve kept to my plan (gloriously pictured below). But I’ll admit, I don’t think I’ve lost a single pound. And I still crave chocolate EVERY SINGLE DAY.
That is more about my life and weight history than maybe you wanted to know. But I hope it shows that I can have some empathy about weight, diet, eating struggles, etc.
3) While I understand it is a very complicated, multi-faceted issue, I am a big proponent (on face value) of the movement of accepting one’s weight, even if you are fat (as discussed in the podcast). I have posted multiple times on this site about research showing that healthy choices at any weight are beneficial, how the number on a scale is just a number, and so much more. AND IT IS STILL TRUE! Might you be better off if you hadn’t gained 30 (or 50 or 100) extra pounds in the first place? Yes. But can you go back and change that? No. What you can change is the future – not gaining more weight, maybe losing some weight, maybe just making healthier lifestyle choices.
In my own life, I have COMPLETELY found this to be true. When I was down to my middle school weight, I didn’t always feel great. Now that I’m up 15 pounds, but exercising six days a week and controlling my eating more, I do feel better. I stared down a plate of brownies all afternoon/evening one day last week and didn’t eat a single one. The mental boost it gave me to feel like I was in control of myself was immensely more beneficial than any endorphin rush from some sugar and chocolate.
No one sets out to become overweight or obese. I don’t think anyone would intentionally choose that life path for themselves, fully knowing the pain, discrimination, health issues and other struggles associated with it. But they can choose to change their future course. And we can choose to not contribute to the discrimination and to help people make better choices in their future.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about the podcast, obesity, obesity discrimination, and empathy in the comments!