Let’s have a conversation about Obesity.
No, I mean a real conversation. Not a let’s poke a judgemental finger at the fat people conversation.
Let’s look at the problem, first. This week alone the news reports:
- Fire crews rescue 650 obese people a year using winches and cranes (Mirror)
- 125 diabetes amputations every week and obesity is blamed for 17% rise in operations (Mail Online)
- Poor diet, which is thought to be responsible for 70,000 deaths a year and costing the NHS £6bn annually according to Prof Sheila Hollins, chair of the BMA board of science, has led to a call for the Government to impose a 20% tax on sugary drinks (The Guardian)
Big cost to tax payers, massive cost to individuals, not to mention embarrassment for politicians. Clearly, some tough talking is going to have to take place in order to bring the problem under control.
We all know the adage about how much a picture can say, so this is the kind of image the media choose to accompany articles about the obesity crisis. This gem came from the Guardian:
Now the NHS burden can be placed quite firmly on this chap’s shoulders and there’s nothing he can do about it. He can’t turn around and talk to you about why he’s overweight and even if he could move, his head has been chopped off so he physically has no mouth and therefore no voice.
Well, not on this platform anyway.
Being a morbidly obese vegetarian runner, I’m a regular visitor to on-line forums for the overly podgy and let me tell you about the conversations they’re having:
- I’ve run out of points this week and I’m panicking about what to have for dinner because I’ve come off a twelve hour shift and I’m hungry – any suggestions?
- It’s weigh in tonight, I’m having pizza afterwards and there’s a whole week to make up for it
- My diet isn’t working any more. I’m fat/stupid/lazy/a slob/confused (cue reams of suggestions in reply, some genuinely helpful, some shamefully judgemental)
- I haven’t lost enough weight for my wedding/my daughter’s wedding/my holiday
- My eating has gone so off track since my mother died. It’s been six months and you would have thought I could have pulled it together by now
- Some stranger told me today that fat people shouldn’t travel on trains/have tattoos/wear leggings
All paraphrased but all genuinely posted.
And then I came across a group for plus sized ladies with a complete ban on weight loss chat. What do they talk about?
- How does this top look with these leggings? Should I wear heels?
- Which chaffing shorts work the best?
- Which bikinis fit best?
- What I’m wearing to work today
- My new hair colour
- I’m going swimming today! Something I wouldn’t have done without the support of this group!
That’s not to say the other groups don’t have positive posts – they do. And that’s not to say that the weight loss free group doesn’t have posts about keeping healthy – I regularly seek feedback about running as a plus-sizer.
But the environment is so different, so energising, so self-affirming when the focus on how much weight you’re losing and how you’re doing it is taken away. My size is not the most important thing about me – I can write, sing, cook, draw. I make people laugh, I love my charity work and I’d challenge any overweight 40 year old woman to offroad on a bike like I do.
And this is the nub of the matter for me – everything is just so over-simplified and no wonder: do some digging and the advice is all so confusing. Back in the day, fat was to blame and now it’s sugar. We need to move fast food joints away from schools and teach kids how to cook. Even the school holidays are fattening. Measure these ideas against the material I was reading this morning about how the rise in obesity coincided with the rise in the anti-fat movement and a new study suggesting that a high fat diet can impair the function of a hormone that helps you to feel full. The NHS Eatwell plate still promotes ‘plenty of starchy foods’ in the face of the anti-carb movement.
But from what I’ve read recently, the cure to all our obesity problems apparently lies in:
- Taxing sugary drinks and snacks
- Closing/moving takeaways
- Teaching people to cook
- Making fat people go to the gym
Think about this for a moment. I’m overweight, so therefore I’m:
- Gluttonous and weak minded
- Ignorant about food and cooking
Weak minded? Ignorant? Lazy?
Perhaps I’m a one off? I’ve read enough on-line to know that I’m not but let me tell you one thing I do know: I tend not to see fat people any more – I see survivors: survivors of bereavement, illness, depression, domestic violence and post-traumatic stress disorder. Not always but more often than not. I’m training for a 5k charity run in October, I haven’t eaten meat in nearly twenty years and I knock out a home-made from scratch dinner for four on a budget every night. Oh and I’ve survived years of depression.
Everyone has a back story which no one will get to hear if all they ever see is your headless back.
So I propose we start a real conversation – one that will work. Let’s get to the bottom of why people get fat and what they can actually do to reverse this. I’m not speaking about a silver bullet here – do this diet/take this pill/do this exercise. I’m talking about a proper strategy that uses the ingenuity and strength of the human spirit to overcome adversity and acknowledges that we are all individuals with our own metabolisms, hang-ups and personal circumstances.
The aerobics classes I took in my early twenties to lose weight couldn’t finish soon enough but feeling my strong but fat-suit hidden legs doing Zumba at the weekend made me feel completely different
– because what I was doing was utterly relevant. I’m getting fit for my health, not because being fat makes me somehow unworthy of being part of society or having a voice.
I don’t have diabetes, I don’t have any weight related illnesses but because I’m overweight there is this idea going round that I’m going to be expensive later in life, so the UK taxpayer already owns me along with the right to say what they please about me.
But I refuse to be one of The Obese.
I am not a blob with no head, with my back to the camera.
I am full frontal, full throttle and full volume.
I’m not celebrating or promoting obesity, I’m saying we have to completely re-think the way we talk about it because the conversations that are happening on a public and policy making level are not working.
So, yeah, let’s talk about obesity, it’s clear that it needs to happen – but for it to work, it’s got to be two-way. Because that’s what the word conversation means.
Do you agree? Have I got it all wrong? How can we make things better? Drop me a line below, let me know. Perhaps I’ve missed something. And drop me a line if you’d like more information about the Facebook groups I visit.
For further rants on fat politics: