Feeling Uncomfortable About Obesity?

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:

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:

No head, no voice, no humanity.  What do pictures like this really say?
A pie eater? A 24-hour a day carer? Someone who has already lost 4 stone? On his way back from the gym? How could we know?

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
  • Lazy

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.

An obese person in trainers - a more helpful image?
An obese person in trainers – a more helpful image?

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:

The damaging lack of self-control that could sink the NHS

It’s not that there’s a skinny person trying to get out

Plus size runner and proud – my top ten tips

Sausage or sizzle – which is better for weight loss?

How to get the body you want this summer



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15 Replies to “Feeling Uncomfortable About Obesity?”

  1. Lovely, eloquent piece. I’ve just read The Shape We’re In, by Sarah Bosely where she argues against both the cruelty and pointlessness of demonising overweight people. That we need to understand the complex reasons why people become overweight, and how we would be better looking at the depression, and abuse that often lies behind the statistics. She cited one girl who was packed off to a Fat Camp with much trumpeting of how ‘helpful’ it was. But when this poor girl came home, her mother was still buying chips all the time and nobody supported her. If they had looked at her mother’s depression, and the fact that her daughter was her sole carer from the age of about 8, they would have been more successful. But that would have taken time and effort.

    1. Thanks, Lynda. I will look out for that book – it seems I’m not the only voice out there wanting to force the issue. I’m also a big fan of Fat Is A Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach – which is not just a cultural commentary but also a thought provoking self-help text.

  2. You are so right and this is a brilliant article. I am morbidly obese, a smoker, have type 2 diabetes. Oh and I have severe depression. I have lost my body weight in fat several times over and yet remain obese. I once lost seven and a half stone in six months on a starvation diet and had several months being described as skinny and perhaps even too thin. The problem was it didn’t make me happy nor did it solve all my problems. I was so distressed by the process that I hit a depression spiral and had to be referred back for psychiatric support. I then put all the weight back on in another six month period.

    The thing that is beginning to work for me is regular exercise. I’m not losing much weight but I feel better about myself and am proud of what I have achieved. It is so complicated but I would love to join in a group of women who didn’t talk about weight but were supportive and maybe helped me learn to like myself again. Thanks for writing this so clearly.

    1. Thank you Lydia. I turned 40 last year and decided I’d never diet again. I also took up running (in addition to the cycling I’ve been doing for a while now) and I’d much rather feel the burn than hunger – and I’m losing weight slowly like you. Dieting has never helped me physically or mentally and I’m beginning to learn I’m not the only one. Thanks for sharing. The Facebook group I belong to is called Living Life As A Plus Size – Positive Chat And Discussion (Not Weight Loss), by the way. It’s run by a very busy lady called Debz, who is very strict on keeping things positive. I wish you all the best on your journey.

  3. Thank you for that. I comfort eat. I don’t mean I have a bad day sometimes so I eat a Mars Bar. I mean food seems to be the only way I can show love for myself and make a day bearable. I suffer from depression. Going to therapy three times a week and fighting to get myself up and through the things I need to do to care for a child and a home, leave me limited resources to exercise. I judge and loathe myself, so I really don’t need anyone else to do it. It sounds so easy when people say ‘lose a bit of weight’, but for me it isn’t. When I can do a day without crying, then maybe I’ll work on the food thing. In the meantime, is there really nothing more interesting for women to talk about than how many pounds they’ve lost, which diets are best, what ‘sins’ they eat (I hate that term) and what size pants they wear?

    1. Lynn, I so know where you’re coming from. Depression can be crippling and weight shaming doesn’t help someone who already has a poor view of themselves. I think you’re doing a great job, having been there myself it’s a long haul but it sounds like you’re getting the help you need. I also hate the term sins (especially when they refer to what I’d call normal food), it attaches more guilt to eating than is necessary or helpful. I wish you all the best.

  4. As someone who only recently found out that my weight gain had a health related trigger, thanks to the NHS never diagnosing it, I’ve spent years fighting something I wasn’t in control of.
    Bodies come in different shapes and sizes, my bone structure means I will never be thin (rugby player’s broad shoulders and child bearing wide hips) but that doesn’t mean I’m not healthy.
    I eat well, I exercise, I’m doing a charity 10k in September, I am managing my body better because I’m on the medication I needed.
    Being overweight is not necessarily a positive thing, as it does have health implications but that’s between you and your doctors. Nobody knows your story, so we need to judge less and be kinder.

    1. I’m glad you found out what was behind your weight gain because many people never do – worse still, some people give up on being healthy altogether because it seems like a pointless exercise when the diets just don’t work (I know I did for a while). Being overweight is a negative thing, I agree but the current trend of weight-shaming isn’t helping one bit and I hope to help to turn things around for people like me. And great to hear you’re doing a 10K, that’s an awesome thing to be doing, good luck with it.

  5. It is a tricksy issue. I’m morbidly obese, I’m quite active but I don’t do anything that’s labelled “exercise”. I like to swim, but since my parents couldn’t afford to keep their swimming pool running any more (they aren’t rich, just had a son-in-law with a pool business!) I haven’t swum. Public pools won’t allow me to wear a T-shirt, and I hate the way people look at me when I’m just wearing trunks. My 9 year old daughter loves to swim, but she can only go in with my supervision and I just can’t go, so we both miss out. A swimming pool recently had a special evening for women who want to stay covered up (both for religious and aesthetic reasons, I guess) – it would be great if somewhere had sessions where those that want to can wear T-shirts in the pool too!

    1. It’s tough, I know. I’m of the opinion that the whole concept of exercise can be intimidating if you feel less than lithe. Starting to ride my bike again was the thing that got me going last year, then I started the NHS Couch to 5K in January, which is great, and worth having a look at. I felt self-conscious at first but my confidence grew and now I’m not that bothered who’s watching me wobble down the riverpath near my house – I’m lapping everyone sitting on their sofas. Think about all the stuff about you that makes you great about being you and concentrate on that – I think too much emphasis is put on weight and weight loss – do that and you’ll find the self-confidence to strut your stuff poolside. Let me know how you get on.

  6. Hello I was also a big girl when I was in my teens, I left school a curvy size 16, which in today’s sizes is classed obese. I’m a lady I have size 9 feet and hands the size of most men and bigger than some. I suffered depression and stress leading upto and after leaving my abusive husband. I got up to a size 26-28 maybe even a 30 I’m not sure my closes were lose fitting. Then I was diagnosed with Osteoarthritis (they now think I may have Rheumatoid Arthritis as well awaiting tests) anyway I decided that my 24 stone 7 lbs frame probably wasn’t helping me much. So in 2012 about the end of October I started my first of many diets, I managed to lose 6 stones then I had a problem my pain has gotten too much to go swimming now, I also discovered I have 2 bulging discs, the consultant had already mentioned the operation for this has been suspended at present but of course he mentioned BMI and shipped me off to have my height measured I’m 5 foot 6 inches and the machine that only weighs weight and was covered in sellotape and brown tape said my BMI was 45 (I must add the lack of exercise and increased pain I have put 1 stone back on so I now only have a 5 stones loss still not bad). Anyway the consultant immediately said I would need to reduce my BMI to 35 I said it would be unlikely as the increased pain has reduced all of my movement. He just carried on. So like you say even if you have done really well they choose to try and push you to lose a whole 10 BMI when I can hardly walk now! But I will keep working on my diet until I have it right and I start losing weight again not at a fast rate just slow and steady kind of like me.

    1. Hi Myra. I think it’s a tale many of us could tell over and over again. No one seems to listen. Great job on losing 6 stones – mental illness can be as much of a barrier as physical to weight loss. You’ve survived so much already, I wish you all the best. Amanda x

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