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Losing weight or losing dignity?- An insight into the stigma surrounding obesity

Photo by Laura Tancredi for Pexels

In January 2021 I could barely tie my shoes, I was taking a taxi to go to work because walking was too hard and I was snoring like a tractor as I was struggling to breathe. Why? Because I was fat, morbidly obese, to be more precise. I was in 122kg of pain (19 stones for my Irish friends), inside and out.

You might think this is the usual article about the disgrace of being fat and how a normal BMI is going to save your life. Sorry to tell you I am probably going to disappoint your expectations: this article is about the possibility to change if and when, and only if and when, we decide to. And, also, let’s stop using the word “fat” as a negative connotation: that’s an adjective and can be simply descriptive, use it that way.

Let me be clear, not all fat people want to lose weight. Fat people are not things that need to be repaired, they can simply be happy with who they are and accept themselves. Make peace with that. It is time to understand we are not entitled to comment on people’s weight and decisions, and not because it is rude or because they might have a difficult story behind that: we are not entitled because it is none of our business. Once again, make peace with that.

We all know a fat person, and we all thought at least once in our life “can’t they just eat less?” or “obviously they are fat, look at what they eat!”. I know you thought one of these at least once in your life, at least I did. Me, who could barely walk until 2021. But maybe it is also time to start thinking obesity for what it is, instead of just assuming fat and lazy are basically synonyms: obesity is a disease, whether you like it or not. So why don’t we start treating it as such?

6 in 10 adults in Ireland are obese and the stigma is still strong, also in healthcare environment: it has also been showed to actually increase the risk of obesity. So what could be done to really help overweight people who are trying to change their lives?

I have been obese my whole life and, talking with other VFFs (very fat friends) the problem was most of the times the same: when asking for help, the answer was always “eat less, do more physical activity”, especially by doctors, with, inevitably, no effects at all.

Let’s start saying that often doctors tend to imply that every problem we have, from a painful toe to a vaginal itchiness, is because of our weight. After that, however, a black hole starts, made of “make sure you walk for 30 minutes a day” and “don’t eat too many sugary fruits”, while the only must would be a multidisciplinary team able to support.

Obesity is a complex disease, where there are involved so many factors that it is even difficult to mention them all: hormones, psychology, nutrients and so no. Until all of them are actually considered in the approach to obesity, the care might result incomplete and, in fact, ineffectual. The consequence might be looking for quick and dangerous solutions such as the Ozempic trend, approved only by (not so medical) influencers on social media.

Having said so, I am not claiming that the cause of obesity is the lack of services, but that appropriate services and a different approach to the disease would improve the lives of thousands, millions of people. Not demonising obesity means providing good care to people asking for help.

More services are now present all over the world for the treatment of obesity, and I am not talking about Dr Nawzaradan and the cringe need to transform obese people into circus animals. Ireland has a national programme supported by the HSE, and numerous private clinics provide support and bariatric surgery.

The number of bariatric procedures has increased exponentially in the last few years and let me assure you that the decision of undergoing surgery is not taken lightly, both by the patient and the staff. It is not done because people cannot find their clothes size in the store (not our fault for this, though. Fashion brands, I see you!) How do I know that? I had one of these procedures, well aware of the possible consequences but also aware that it was the only way to save my life.

I would have loved to have someone in my life earlier not making me feel guilty about my weight and help me to understand earlier the reasons I was not able to stop eating, but I didn’t. When I became aware of those dynamics it was too late and a monthly subscription at the gym and eating rice and chicken were not enough. So I decided to take again my life in my hands.

The reasons why people decide to have bariatric surgery are many and, as said before, just being fat is not necessarily one of them.

Photo by Estúdio Bloom for Unsplash

Let’s try, for once, to stop patronising overweight people and make them decide for their own life. They deserve it, whether they want to lose weight, love themselves or simply keep going with their own life without having their weight mentioned all the time.

You might think that, at this point, the last piece of the puzzle would be supporting and promoting with whole my heart the Body Positivity Movement, right? Sorry to disappoint you again but no. I acknowledge and value every type of body, but whether love it or not is out of my, our, hands and it has to remain such.

It is time to allow people to decide how they feel about their bodies: it is time we allow everyone to stop hating their bodies as much as allow them to feel the way they deem the best to thrive in a life that is already complicated enough.

In conclusion, my friends, let me make one last clarification: this sort of stream of consciousness has not been written to promote a thin world, but because if it can help even just one person to take a step in the direction they want to go, then I have done my job. Whether this step is bringing them to the gym or the nice Thai place around the corner.

Let me know what you think in the comment section!

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