Everything you know about obesity is wrong — article review

Everything you know about obesity is wrong

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Article review by Laurel

Everything you know about obesity is wrong

article authored by Michael Hobbes

"For decades, the medical community has ignored mountains of evidence to wage a cruel and futile war on fat people, poisoning public perception and ruining millions of lives. It’s time for a new paradigm."

This article, published by the Huffington Post in September 2018, is an excellent and poignant description of the incredible stigma people considered to be overweight struggle with in our fat-shaming society. I see many implications for counselling here — we in the counselling realm need to make sure we have a current and realistic understanding of the struggles our higher clients who struggle with their weight are facing.

There are many great insights in this article, but these stand out to me:

  • The role of context

  • The role of the stress brought on by the stigma

  • The systemic ignorance and cruelty of the medical profession, and their lack of current information about nutrition

  • The role that loving one’s self (or hating one’s self) plays in one’s health

  • That people waited to do things that were important to them

The role of context

Context is so important here. We live in a context where unhealthy food is promoted heavily, is the easiest to get, and the cheapest to buy. When I am trying to stay to my own healthy eating style of mainly whole foods, I will often go into a cafe and find nothing on offer that is not carbs or sugar. “Our institutions of public health have become so obsessed with body weight that they have overlooked what is really killing us: our food supply. Diet is the leading cause of death in the United States, responsible for more than five times the fatalities of gun violence and car accidents combined. But it’s not how much we’re eating—Americans actually consume fewer calories now than we did in 2003. It’s what we’re eating.” It is like swimming up stream to maintain a basic healthy diet even here in our Canadian culture in Vancouver, one of the most food progressive cities in the world. The context is stacked against healthy eating. It is important to acknowledge the role this context plays in our clients lives, especially when many people solely blame themselves.

The role of the stress brought on by the stigma

Hobbes write that “in a cruel twist, one effect of weight bias is that it actually makes you eat more. The stress hormone cortisol—the one evolution designed to kick in when you’re being chased by a tiger or, it turns out, rejected for your looks—increases appetite, reduces the will to exercise and even improves the taste of food.” The stress of living in a fat-shaming culture makes it more likely one will consume unhealthy foods and not receive medical helps when needed.

“According to a 2015 study, fat people who feel discriminated against have shorter life expectancies than fat people who don't. “These findings suggest the possibility that the stigma associated with being overweight,” the study concluded, “is more harmful than actually being overweight.””

It is important that counsellor’s understand the role of stress in our client’s health and well-being.

The systemic ignorance and cruelty of the medical profession, and their lack of current information about nutrition

One problem this article highlights is the education medical doctor’s receive on nutrition: "according to a 2015 survey, (medical) students receive an average of just 19 hours of nutrition education over four years of instruction—five hours fewer than they got in 2006".

They are “working within a system that neither trains nor encourages them to meaningfully engage with their higher-weight patients, [so] doctors fall back on recommending fad diets and delivering bland motivational platitudes” — which have been shown do not work.

The author cites several examples and studies demonstrating systemic shaming of higher weight people, which leads to many people of this populations avoiding doctors altogether to avoid further traumatic incidents with medical professionals, resulting in being at greater risk.

Waiting to do things that were important to them

That some people wait to pursue things that are important to them due to their weight. As one woman said, “The bigger way my weight affected my life was that I waited to do things because I thought fat people couldn’t do them.” She got her master’s degree at 38, her Ph.D. at 55. “I avoided so many activities where I thought my weight would discredit me.” It is heartbreaking that one may feel that the pursuits they care about are not open to them due to their body size. Counselling can play a role in working with a client by identifying their goals and understanding what their real obstacles are, and what their perceived ones are.

The role that loving one’s self (or hating one’s self) plays in one’s health

I am struck by the self-hate conveyed by people interviewed for this article. Self-hatred seems to be something of a specialty that we humans excel in. I see it in clients frequently and have, of course, experienced it as well. I get from this article that bigger people often feel this with more intensity, largely due, it seems, to the fat shaming context I discussed above. It is difficult for any of us to pursue our goals, enjoy life, make healthy choices, and feel optimistic when we don’t have love for ourselves. Counselling can help us learn to be our own best friend and inner supporter, instead of our most intimate hater.

How can things change?

Hobbes cites some important interventions that have been shown to have a positive effect on people’s health: “The most effective health interventions aren't actually health interventions—they are policies that ease the hardship of poverty and free up time for movement and play and parenting. Developing countries with higher wages for women have lower obesity rates, and lives are transformed when healthy food is made cheaper.”

Can we reverse where the subsidies go, and give the broccoli farmers a hand up instead of the sugar farmers?

As Hobbes eloquently states, “There’s a lot we can do right now to improve fat people’s lives—to shift our focus for the first time from weight to health and from shame to support.”

I highly recommend reading this entire article, there is so much more than I highlight here.

About the author:

Laurel is a Registered Clinical Counsellor offering therapy in downtown Vancouver.

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