• Karen Tran-Harding

Why we all should think twice before passing judgment on other people's weight gain

Updated: Dec 5, 2020

In 2012, fitness blogger Maria Kang caused a frenzy when she shared a photo of herself, her three young kids, her killer abs and the caption: "What's Your Excuse?". More recently, personal trainer and television personality Jillian Michaels came under fire when she voiced her opinion on artist Lizzo’s body stating that as a health expert, she hoped that “we prioritize our health because we LOVE ourselves and our bodies”.

Both of these statements received immense backlash and were met with criticism that both Kang and Michaels were promoting fat shaming. But the body positive movement and the fat acceptance movement have long drawn fire from the medical community for "promoting a lifestyle that can have dire health consequences". Prior reports have stated that the "normalization of plus-size" was dangerous in that it made overweight and obese people less likely to seek medical attention when necessary and undermined government initiatives intended to overcome the obesity epidemic.

As a physician, it is extremely important for doctors to diagnose obesity and be fully upfront with their patients if they are at an unhealthy weight. Health care providers much also assist all their patients in any way to help their well-being even if it means having a very difficult conversation.

But training and working as a physician in Kentucky for 10 years, the state with the eighth highest adult obesity rate in the nation, I have witnessed many patients and even other healthcare providers struggle when it comes to their weight. I know that when anyone wants to keep pounds off, it can be extremely difficult. So before ever judging anyone for their body size, we should try to acknowledge the barriers that we all can face when trying to lose unwanted weight.

People can gain weight for one huge reason alone: we are expected to do everything. We are expected to not only work or attend school full-time but also keep a pristine home or apartment and also be present at every social or professional event. And after a long draining day, it’s almost impossible to motivate yourself to squeeze in that run or trip to the gym. And in today’s fast paced work environment, these are things that almost every career person can attest to no matter the job field.

This can be especially difficult for women. Once a woman has children, she also becomes a full-time mom. So when expected to wake up early, go to bed late and stretch all her time out between family, friends, career, and school, it can get quite challenging to squeeze in a work out on most days. All bodies change once a woman becomes pregnant and has children. And once a new baby is in the house, there’s a lot less sleep, possible unhealthy take out or delivery, and likely a lot less time for exercise. So a new mom really may not lose weight easily. And when cooking for children, making sure picky children eat can be difficult so family meals may no longer be healthiest meals, they may look more like higher calories foods such as macaroni and cheese and hot dogs.

And metabolism can slow over time as we get older due to a number of things that may be related to our changing lifestyles such as decreased activity, less muscle mass, and the fact that our bodies are no longer growing like when we were younger. It’s tough to decrease how much you eat and switch to healthier cuisine when your significant other or other family members seem to be able to consume a lot more calories than you.

And the traditionally touted recommended daily nutritional calorie number of 2000 is the one people tend to remember the most. But it’s not common knowledge that the calorie count is much more dismal if you are a very petite lady or sedentary. I, myself, am only 4 feet, 11 inches and a half tall so I completely understand how difficult it is to only limit myself to a much smaller caloric intake than my husband who is 6 feet, 4 inches.

Also, medical issues can arise over time such as an injury or surgery that can derail even the most unrelenting of exercise regimen. Of course, there are also so many medications and illnesses that can cause and contribute to weight gain.

The addictive stuff

The food industry just doesn’t help either. Sugar has been found to act like an opioid and is just as addicting as nicotine and cocaine, stimulating pathways in the brain that lead to pleasure. I can attest to my own personal addiction to sugar that has been going on since I was a teenager. But food manufacturers likely know all this and add sugar into 75% of all packaged foods on the market shelves. And portion sizes in restaurants have doubled or tripled in size over the last 20 years, making it difficult to even learn what appropriate portion sizes should even be.

Over my time as a physician, I have met countless different patients coming from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Many have voiced the difficulties of trying to feed their families on a budget and in a hurry. The costs of high calorie, high fat foods such as a cheeseburger is on every $1 value menu while a fast food salad can be upwards of $10 making it inhibiting for low income families to afford healthier meals. Of course, healthy meals made at home may not be cost prohibitive, but I found that not all families I have met were aware of this.

I don’t believe certain medical and fitness experts are intentionally trying to fat shame anyone. It’s just that they will never know what it’s like living another person’s life. We can’t assume that just because an individual can prioritize their fitness and exercise, that anyone else’s lives allow that as well.

It’s important for physicians to be honest with their patients about all aspects of their health. But counseling patients should never be done in a negative or condescending manner. And knowing all these barriers people can have when trying to shed weight, we all should stop being so hard on ourselves, think twice before passing judgment on other people's bodies, and do our best to prevent any fat shaming. And even I, a physician, knows that the modern person has so much expected out of them that instead of judging a person for being a different size, we should try to keep in mind how unique all our lives are and support one another instead.

The original version of this post can be seen at SheMD

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