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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Polite Way to Discuss Weight

So, I'm sure I made a few waves with my previous post and that was not what was intended. My intent was to address something that annoys me deeply.

You see, I've been overweight since I was 11 years old. Science still doesn't understand why, but I went from weighing 52 pounds at my 10-year check-up to 110 pounds at my 11-year check-up with no significant change to my diet or activity level. Best guess is that it's a matter of hormones, google Syndrome X or Metabolic Syndrome to learn more.

And when I was 11 years old and 110 pounds, the world was a cruel place. The way I was treated by many people was, well, not nice. If you were there, lived in that world, you know the kind of thing I'm talking about. Because, see, I went from being the kid who sang, "Fatty, fatty two-by-four, can't get through the bathroom door," to being the kid the song was sung to. And so the jokes about fat kids and Twinkies became not funny, because I didn't really even like Twinkies.

And so this is where "fat acceptance" comes in. There is so much going on in the world, technology is snowballing far faster than evolution has the chance to keep up with and we have some weird stuff happening to our bodies as they try to keep up with an onslaught of NEW.

Perhaps, once upon a time, all fat people were fat because they ate more calories than they burned. I mean, I'm sure this concept comes from somewhere. And I look around at the rest of the populace with envy as I see people enjoying a soda and it not impacting their weight or metabolism. I had a partner tell me, "I've always eaten whatever I wanted. When I got to be about 27, I noticed I was packing on the pounds, so I cut out donuts in the morning, that's about it." Clearly, he is on a different evolutionary chain than I am. He looks like a model and he doesn't even work out.

So because there are people like him vs people like me, it's important that everyone be nicer and more understanding. I spent many years struggling with my weight, frustrated at my attempts to lose weight while I just got heavier and heavier. And I did get tired of the comments everywhere I went (on a stretcher once, the EMT was struggling to lift me and pointed out how many miles of capillaries I had for every extra 10 pounds of weight).

But. Part of what made it difficult for me to lose weight is the point of my previous post and what I'd like to extrapolate on here:

When you are trying to lose weight, the whole world is your enemy.

Now, I understand that there are many people out there who have 10, 50, even 100 extra pounds and are perfectly comfortable in their own skin. More power to them. If their numbers look great and they feel good in their bodies, then there's really no reason for them to change anything, is there? But, I suspect that many have decided it's easier to be overweight than to deal with trying to lose weight in this society.

Because it doesn't matter your reason or your method when you want to lose weight, people are clamoring to tell you how wrong you are. 

I approach weight loss via the scientific method. Have a theory, test it. If it works, test it again until it stops working. If it doesn't work, discard that theory and try another. Eventually, I will (and have) found just the right combination of methods that work for me. And as mentioned in my previous post, I was in a car accident, so some of my methods got derailed--I can't exercise much at the moment, so here goes the scientific method again.

And really, that's a good plan for anyone wanting to make any change within themselves ever.

But when I go to have a conversation with someone regarding weight loss, rather than approach it like a fellow scientist, everyone's an expert. "Oh that method is bad for {x reason}, or {y result}." or "I heard {ABC famous person} got hospitalized when they did that." That's great, but their results are not mine. I have a different body, different environment, different lifestyle and my method of diet may have that one key element which makes the difference between success and failure. And you have no idea unless you ask me.

So here's how to approach someone who calls themselves fat or says they're trying to lose weight:

First, ask why. If there's a self-esteem issue that needs to be addressed, it'll come out right here, first and foremost. And if that person is a loved one or a human being and you happen to care, then please, by all means, address their esteem issues. Let them know that their value does not rest on the package they come in.

Second, ask how. This will open up a logical, rational discussion. No matter where someone is in their journey, asking them how will give them additional things to think about. Had someone asked me how I became fat and we had discussed theories together, perhaps I would have gotten more information sooner that would have saved some of the physical issues I now have. If people ask how I'm working to lose weight, they then have the option, without making me wrong, to discuss theories on what works and what doesn't.

Thirdly, be supportive. Know that their journey is not yours and what works for you does not necessarily work for them. What you've heard in the media or for pete's sake even in scientific literature is not necessarily the right answer for that person. Hear what they are saying, listen for where they may be struggling and offer them information if you have some or your sympathies and encouragement if you have none (and the latter, anyway).

But please don't tell them they're wrong.

I once went on a McDonald's diet just to see if it would work. I've also been on a Taco Bell diet. Both times I lost more than 10 pounds. But I didn't feel good with those foods that lacked in nutritional value and they were difficult to stick with, so I quit.

Finally, let me address the issue of what I call drug pushing. We are all guilty of it, even myself, who sees it for what it is and have willingly and knowingly participated in it.

Many years ago, I was working a job and at the time I was coming close to being 200 pounds overweight. I felt extreme measures were necessary and so I investigated liquid diets. I created my own and then sat down and discussed it with my doctor. He said, "the risks associated with a liquid diet are far outweighed by the risks associated with you continuing to be super-morbidly obese. The biggest thing we need to watch for is your liver as you process out all the fat, so drink lots of water and see me once a month so we can keep an eye on your liver, here are signs to look out for..."

So I had my physician's blessing. But this didn't stop my co-workers. At an office birthday party, I stood around and sang with everyone else. And as the cake got doled out, I remained in the group so I could continue to socialize. And I got offered cake, by my boss. At first my response was a polite reminder, "No, thank you, liquid diet, remember?"

"Oh, Andrea, I'm not so sure that's healthy."

"Doing it with my doctor's blessing, remember?"


Two minutes later: "Hey, Andrea, are you sure you don't want a piece of cake?"

"Yes, I'm sure thank you."

Another minute later: "Andrea, are you sure you don't want a piece, it's pretty good?"

"Yes, I'm pretty sure my health is tastier than a piece of cake."

Five minutes after that: "Andrea, are you sure? It's just one piece of cake, it won't hurt you or your diet, it's no big deal."

"You sound like a drug dealer! 'C'mon, first time's free...everyone's doing it!!'"

She was ticked. But it is so true. I'm not sure why, but we have this damnable need to push food on people in our society. And 99% of the time, we are pushing foodstuffs that are pretty universally agreed to be not part of a healthy diet. And yet, we do it anyway.


Be polite. Be supportive. Ask questions. Don't "push drugs." 

Oh and don't ever bring up someone's weight to them. These suggestions are only for when they bring it up. Anything else is offensive, plain and simple.

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