Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Be Nice to Fat People

People who are overweight live a little different than those who are not overweight might think. If you've never been overweight, you may not understand what it's like and may be missing a little empathy.

A thin friend of mine once told me that she thought overweight people choose to not get off the couch and go take a walk. She saw being overweight as laziness and thought of it as a choice. That was a very painful moment for me and I have never forgotten it. What it seemed like she was telling me was that she thought I was lazy and I'm guessing stupid too since it would be stupid to make a conscious choice to be overweight!
What she was lacking was understanding and empathy. She couldn't possibly imagine what it feels like to be overweight and not have a clue what to do about it. Of course we all know that calories in - calories burned = weight gain or loss but somehow it's not that easy.

I've made plenty of plans and tried many ways to lose weight that didn't work out for me before. Diets are a racket nowadays and it should be clear to everyone that they don't work. Usually people who diet end up feeling deprived and gain back even more than they started with initially!

I've seen this with someone I'm very close to. She has been overweight since she had her last baby, then only months later had her gallbladder removed. He has been nagging her for years to lose weight. When she eats, he makes suggestions about the amounts and her choices.
HE is the reason she is overweight. He has never been there himself and doesn't have a clue what he is doing to her. He doesn't realize how it feels for someone to constantly disapprove of you and guilt you for your food choices and weight. I know how I beat myself up for eating badly, I can only imagine how tough it would be to have an external source of guilt as well.
She can't lose weight until she decides to do it for herself. As long as she is trying to lose weight for someone else or motivated by guilt, it's not going to last. She has health issues and genetic factors that contribute to her being overweight, but honestly it's more about what's broken in her head that keeps her from sticking with something. As long as her motivation is trying to make him happy, she'll never succeed.
He doesn't know what it feels like physically, mentally or emotionally to be in her shoes. Never judge someone until you have walked in their shoes!

The Mental Factor

Being overweight is physically limiting but more than that, it does something to your mind. There are many, many things that are different for an overweight person. I don't know how to describe to you how this affects someones mind, so I'm hoping you can understand what I mean.
Each 'little' thing makes an overweight person feel really bad, lame, stupid, horrible, etc.. The only word that I can think of that is similar to what I mean is 'frustration'. When you feel frustrated, it feels a little bit helpless and hopeless. Being overweight isn't just feelings of helpless and hopeless but also of guilt and stupidity.

You might know what it feels like to be overweight if...

You can't cross your legs. To this day, when I sit and cross my legs, I still do not take it for granted. I was so excited when I realized I could cross my legs while sitting! I still notice every time I cross my legs, how good it feels to be able to do that and it brings a feeling of happiness.

You can't sit in theater seats without your thighs scraping the sides. The day I sat in a theater seat without my thighs scraping as I sat down, was a really awesome day for me. This was an amazing NSV (non-scale victory) for me! My thighs scraping the theater seats was one of those things that made me feel so lame.

You are uncomforable. I didn't even realize I was uncomfortable until I noticed that the more I lost weight, the more comfortable I felt. I remember laying in bed on my tummy and it felt so good!  I realized at that point that everything feels different when you have extra weight. Even if you don't realize you're uncomfortable, you still are. That contributes to the overall bad feeling in a way that people aren't even aware of.

Your thighs rub together so much when you walk that it causes painful rashes. That is frustrating, painful and very limiting.

You are not 'comfortable in your own skin'. I gained a lot of confidence when I lost weight. When I was overweight, social gatherings were a great source of anxiety for me. It was miserable to be so unhappy with myself that I couldn't talk to people. I always thought that if I could only accept myself as overweight and be ok with who I was, I would be a lot happier. I'm sure there are a lot of overweight people who are able to do that and it works for them, but I never could accept that for myself even though I wished I could.

You have to shop in plus size clothing (where apparently only fashionless old people design clothes). Unless you have plenty of money to buy clothes from 'proper' places, it is really difficult mentally to go shopping.
First of all you have to go to special places - you can't just shop anywhere. Imagine going to the mall and only being able to shop at 2-3 stores. Even the clothes that have your size on the tag, at most places, are not designed for full figures and will not look good no matter how big they make them. Lane Bryant is the one store I know of that is plus size and has clothes that look nice. The clothes in most plus size stores and even most plus size sections tend to look like they are designed for older people. Not everyone can afford to shop at Lane Bryant though.
So already I was shopping in 'special' stores, alone (forget going shopping with friends who are thin, you don't even go to the same places), then I hated trying clothes on. I hated what I saw in the mirror. Shopping was not a pleasant experience for me and I avoided it unless I just had to have something, which resulted in wearing clothes that I really hated a lot.

Have you ever worn clothes that you hate? When I wear clothes I hate, I feel ugly. I feel uncomfortable the entire time. At this point, it doesn't matter what other people think, I feel ugly and cannot be myself because I'm so conscious of how I look the entire time I'm wearing that. Even when I'm at home, wearing something I don't like can make me feel crappy all day. What's worse than being overweight? Being overweight and wearing clothes you hate all the time.

You have tried so many times to lose weight. It's not as simple as the calorie equation might seem. Unless you know HOW to lose weight, no matter how hard you try, it really is impossible to get the weight off and keep it off. Every failed attempt is really hard on a person mentally. It really hurts to not only fail over and over, but the result of your failure is something that makes you feel even worse! So Thomas Edison failed at making a lightbulb a few times, at least his failure didn't result in still being overweight.

You feel different/special. Being the odd one out, different, special... is not fun. When you look around you at all the 'normal' people who you'd give anything to be like, who don't understand you, it feels really bad.
This might sound hilarious to you, but even overweight people don't seem the same as you. As an overweight person, you know how bad it feels for a thin person to say they feel fat or need to lose weight. You wonder what they must think of you if they think they are fat! So you can never say that you feel fat (even if you are) to someone who is more overweight than you are. Unless you are the same amount of overweight, you are not the same. Funny how that works... :)

You can't do things that everyone else can. Like doing that stretch with your hands behind your back, there are many things, great and small, that an overweight person can't do, that most people can. Those little things don't seem little when you can't do them. In my mind, those things seemed big - it really hurt to not be able to do things that everyone else could.

You don't know how to help yourself. No one chooses to be overweight. You really don't know how to help yourself. That made me feel really hopeless and stupid.

So how does this affect someone who has never been overweight? Please take it upon yourself to look at overweight people with love. Have a little empathy for them and understand that even when it doesn't seem like it, that person may be really hurting. Kindness and acceptance goes a long way.
Of course, you can't really help them unless they want to help themselves, but accepting them the way they are and realizing they have mental battles that you can only imagine may give them the hope they need to find a way to lose weight or accept themselves the way they are so that none of the above really matters anymore.

Also, check out Psychological Consequences of Being Overweight

Do you have something to add to this list? Feel free to leave a comment.


Nettie Beard said...

You pretty much nailed it...
However, I remember years ago when I had lost weight and was shopping back in the Misses section... it was frustrating how immodest those sizes can be. I remember looking at the plus size section and seeing modest clothing (because plus size people tend to want to cover themselves) and wishing I could wear those clothes. Not because I wanted to be overweight, just because I wanted to be modest too. Maybe I'm just too hard to please! :-P

aMY g said...

I get what you're saying. I too want to be modest but I'd rather weigh less and struggle to find modest clothes than the other way. :)