One of my friends posted a link to an NPR article, “Hating on Fat People Just Makes Them Fatter”. The article discusses the findings of a Florida survey that suggest “that discriminating against fat people only makes them fatter.” And I’m here to tell you that’s true.
I’ve been overweight all my life, well since I was eight anyways. People always loved to tell me that I needed to lose weight, and most of the time they weren’t nice about it. Even the ones who should have been informed were often ill-advised. I remember going to a doctor when I was twelve and he wanted to put me on a 600 calorie a day diet. Really? A twelve-old girl on a 600 calorie a day diet? He was an idiot. Even I knew that back then. My mother didn’t, but that’s another story.
But that’s not the main construct of the article. The study reports that people feel entitled to judge, to comment upon a person’s weight because they feel the person will then feel motivated to lose weight. Actually I think people like to comment about other’s weight issues because it makes them feel better about themselves.
Everyone has an issue, but when one is overweight, obese, morbidly obese the issue becomes one that everyone can see, and since everyone eats they feel they know how to fix the one who has the problem with food, so the comments begin.
When I was a teenager adults would love to tell me that I needed to lose weight because it would get harder when I got older. Actually, that’s not the important part of this story, of my story.
Let me tell you about how the supposed “experts” discriminated against me with their choice of dialogue. How their semantics served to shame me rather than lift me up, and how in putting me down they actually did help to make me fatter, the opposite reaction of what they hoped for.
When I was in high school my gym teacher wanted me to walk/run several days a week during gym class to help me become more proficient at losing weight, but it had just the opposite effect. It isolated me even more from my peers who spent gym class doing fun activities like tennis. So I learned to hide during my “walk/runs” so I wouldn’t have to feel like such an outsider.
When I first started going to yoga classes at a yoga studio the owner, an MFCC, told me I should always go to new classes early so I could talk to the instructor and make sure they knew my situation. Seriously? That made me feel worse, but I kept going because I loved yoga, and I learned over the years to avoid the instructors who only knew how to teach to a certain body type.
Actually, I had the really good fortune to encounter two really good instructors early on in my practice, Ana Forrest and Rod Stryker. From the moment they encountered me, they didn’t treat me any differently than anyone else. Actually, maybe they did. When they saw what this body could do, the pushed me even harder. Oh, and in case you think my current yoga obsession is something new—it’s not. I’d go their SIX hour workshops when I was nowhere near the shape I’m in now. And they wouldn’t let me get away with anything, so, while those rooms weren’t 105 degrees, I still worked……
But I digress. This is about how people have talked to me as a fat adult. As an aside, can I just tell you I really don’t like the word fat?
When I joined 24 fitness for the first time, the membership counselor said to me “you really need to do something”. Umm really you D******k. I think that’s why I’m here. I didn’t say anything to him at the time because my self-esteem wasn’t that great, but if someone said that to me now they wouldn’t get off so easily. The ONLY reason I didn’t walk out then and there is because I had a drive to succeed.
Then there was my therapist. She did far more damage than she ever did good. Her specialty was eating disorders, so imagine my surprise when she moved to an office where the people she rented space from didn’t want heavy people sitting on the furniture. That was the last time I saw her. She did other non-beneficial things throughout our 6 years together but that was the “topper” so to speak. She wrote me several years ago to say she had some measure of regret about how our tenure ended, and I wrote her back and said, “if you had any measure of real regret you’d have offered me a sincere apology instead of sending me a sorrowful note that was really just a half-hearted disguise to get my business back. Do not contact me again.” Of course she replied and said that she was confused and would always be there if I needed someone to talk to—ha!
Around this time I decided to hire a personal trainer for a few sessions, so I could get the hang of the machines at the gym. I wanted to maximize the time I spent there and not just goof around. Before I decided which trainer to hire I watched all of them at the gym and chose the one that really paid close attention to their clients. He seemed to know his stuff but during one of our sessions, when I didn’t run as fast as he wanted me to, he called me a “douche bag” in an attempt to motivate me.
I think you’re getting the point by now. Negative reinforcement doesn’t help people lose weight. It didn’t help me lose weight. It just made me want to eat more because I felt even worse about myself, especially when so called “professionals” beat me up mentally with their words.
You want to know what worked for me? Hearing words of support and caring and belief from someone else at a time when I didn’t have it in me to believe in my own self-worth. I can tell you the exact day that happened and the exact words. On September 8th of 2010 someone said to me “I don’t’ want to see you suffer anymore.” That came from someone who just wanted me to be happy, someone who didn’t expect or want anything from me other than for me to live my best.
That’s what made a difference. And that’s what continues to make a difference in my life today. Words spoken with love. Words spoken by people who love me just the way I am. Words spoken by people who want me to be happy. Those words I hear. And I am so lucky to be surrounded now by people who will speak these loving truths to me (I have worked to make this happen). I’m even luckier that I am more likely than not becoming willing to speak these words to myself.
The moral: love others. Just love them. If they’re overweight, they know it. Trust me. They do. IF they want your help, they’ll ask. Until then, just offer love. And kindness. That will make more of a difference than you’ll ever know.