How to Change the Conversation About Obesity and Lead with Love
Conversations about weight can be hard and our society has not been kind to people suffering from obesity. However, in order to work towards healthy goals, talking about our issues is the first place to start. It’s critical that we break the cycle and shift perceptions now…but how?
It starts with essentially “flipping the script” on how we talk about obesity in our society and more importantly, how we talk about ourselves. Conversations should never lead with negativity, but rather, begin from a place of kindness and empathy (inward and outwardly).
Authenticity begins by opening yourself up to understanding the root of the problem. Changing the conversation is about recognizing the lies and working toward the truth. The following are some common misconceptions about obesity, hard facts, and exactly how to change negative speech into positive encouragement.
In order to update our conversations about obesity, it must come from a place of facts. Here are some recent statistics about obesity in this country:
- The prevalence of obesity in the US was 41.9% from March 2017-2020. This is an increase from 30.5% in 1999, with severe obesity rising from 4.7% to 9.2%.
- The annual medical cost of obesity in the US was almost $173 billion in 2019, with costs for adults with obesity $1,861 higher than those of a healthy weight.
- Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and certain types of cancer. This is one of the leading causes of preventable and premature death.
Understanding the facts about obesity can help combat some of the lies circulating about the condition.
Obesity is self-inflicted, so people get what they deserve.
Let’s face it, people who live with obesity are often judged harshly, both in real life and online. Up until recently, fat shaming was an unchallenged societal norm.
Not only do social pressures have a big impact on obesity, but also your mind and spirit. Until we can remedy these bad behaviors, most obese people will not get the humanity, dignity, and respect they so richly deserve.
People living with obesity face judgment. It starts with self-love. We need to embrace and support each other. No one deserves to be shamed or humiliated when they’re fighting an uphill battle with obesity.
In Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), you can practice letting go of judgments. One common exercise is called “Judgment into Non-Judgment.” In this instance, you rewrite all of your negative judgments in a form that is nonjudgemental. Express what happened, how you felt, and what you thought without using words that express negative connotations.
Another exercise to judge yourself less is to pinpoint your negative self-judgments through journaling. Play with your thoughts and explore the value of replacing negative talk with positive affirmations.
Take notice if you’re using “should” statements. For example, “I should not have eaten that extra helping.” “I should have accomplished more today.” “I should be stronger at resisting temptation.” “I should be thinner.” Anytime you use these words, try reconstructing the sentence in your head to “I am” statements.
All obese people need to do is just eat less and exercise.
Solving obesity involves more than just diet and exercise. There are different influences that can play a part in someone’s obesity, including biology, socioeconomics, and societal factors. Obesity is considered a health condition that can be caused by a variety of things, like:
- Chronic stress
- Changes to daily habits
- Mental health
- Hormonal imbalances
- Medication side effects
- And much more
Everyone’s journey is different and there are scientific facts to prove that “laziness” is not the main contributing factor to obesity.
Healthy eating and exercise are only part of treating obesity. In fact, experts say that for the country’s 79 million adults and 13 million children who are obese, the “eat less, move more” treatment (as currently practiced) is a prescription for failure.
Physicians should also discuss with patients different medications, surgery, and device-based treatments sooner, rather than later.
There have been many studies on behavioral approaches to obesity treatment. If you find yourself walking a thin line between sticking to your food plan perfectly and completely falling off of the wagon, you’re not alone.
This is a cognitive distortion called “all or nothing” thinking. Psychologists use this term to refer to persistent exaggerated thoughts that are not aligned with what’s going on in the real world.
It’s also about overcoming psychological blocks to lose weight. Stress is a huge contributor to this and your food choices are likely to change when you feel anxious. Not only do people tend to eat more, but the foods consumed when stressed are normally ones you avoid for weight loss. In other words, people love fats and sugars when anxious.
Stress also produces more cortisol in your body, which can lead to weight gain. Studies have shown that overeating can become a chronic coping mechanism for managing stress, a more common strategy for those already overweight.
The best thing you can do to counteract stress is to slow down. Practice deep breathing and get into an activity like meditation or yoga to help train your body on how to relax.
Losing weight is an uphill battle and obese people always gain it back. They let themselves and others down.
Managing weight loss is some of the hardest things people can do and negative conversations about health make it worse. Someone trying to tackle obesity needs a strong support system that brings positivity and encouragement to the process.
Lasting change takes time, positivity, and dedication. Don’t get caught up in negative setbacks. Champion yourself and others on the journey.
Experts are trained to deal with past trauma, depression, and other issues that may stand in the way of losing weight. There is no shame in seeking professional help. A behavioral health specialist can treat the underlying emotional triggers of overeating and weight gain.
A strong support system can have a positive contribution to weight loss management and maintenance. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 55% of participants used some type of program to achieve weight loss goals.
Physical activity also plays a vital role in maintaining weight loss. Even small exercises like walking or using the stairs can have a lasting impact. Activities that use 1,500-2,000 calories per week are recommended to keep weight off.
Another habit that often leads to regaining weight is only eating healthy on weekdays, and then cheating on the weekend. This often leads people to binge on junk food and can offset weight maintenance efforts.
And if it becomes a regular habit? You can actually gain back more weight than you lost in the first place. Research has shown that those who follow a consistent eating pattern 7 days a week are more likely to sustain weight loss long-term.
When it comes to tips for maintaining weight loss, here are the top three:
- Stay hydrated. Water promotes fullness.
- Get enough sleep. Sleep deprivation causes weight gain.
- Track food intake. Log it in a daily journal.
Obese people can’t really talk about their weight without feeling humiliated.
People are more open to sharing their struggles and are more apt to find common ground and support. Discussions can lead to movements, and even community building. Social media can be a powerful tool here for connecting with like-minded individuals.
The discussion about weight loss should always start in a respectful and nonjudgemental way. People are more open when they feel respected. Take time to connect and reflect, and lasting change will come naturally.
Sharing stories and hearing from others helps to reshape our perspectives and find unity. Obesity is no different than any other type of medical condition, except for how society treats it.
We never say someone is a diabetes person. You would say, that is a person living with diabetes. Why are conversations around excess weight any different?
There are many reasons why we need to talk about obesity and be more open as a society. If you feel you are struggling with obesity, bring it up in your next doctor’s visit. Do not wait for them to do it.
While it may be uncomfortable at first, it’s important to share your challenges with a professional. For example, if you’re a single parent struggling to make healthy meals, the doctor may be able to refer you to a dietician. They can then help you craft a meal plan to best suit your lifestyle.
Additionally, having supportive people in your life who champion your success can make a world of difference. Build a support team by finding people that you trust and sharing openly about your weight-loss journey. This can be anyone from a family member, to a loved one, therapist, or support group. You may even find they are struggling with weight loss challenges of their own.
Do not believe the lies that society spins about your self-worth. People need to give themselves space to reconsider destructive self-judgments and focus on what truly supports them.
Confidence plays a big role in boosting physical and mental health. Although a toxic culture shames and creates negativity around obesity, you can still build a safe and respectful place where a conversation is invited.