I have never been what you would call a 'normal' sized adult. My weight started to go up when I was nine and kept going up as I went through puberty. I have never been what the world calls a 'thin' adult. For my whole adult life, I've been what society has seen as overweight or obese. I've had people call me names, give me dirty looks when I get on a flight and sat next to them and even had a female doctor (who at the time weighed more than I did) tell me if I lost some weight I would not need to visit the doctor.
For most of my teen years, I tried to rise above it. I tried to find friends who liked me for me and not think much about how my weight affected my life or the people around me. In my twenties, I started University and started to have health issues (unrelated to my weight because of my genetics). I became curious about my health overall as I learned what can be changed and what can't genetically. I started asking all the people I knew who worked in healthcare, mental health and even natural health sciences about everything that would help improve my health.
By the time I was in my early thirties, I had weighed just under three hundred pounds. I spoke to a specialist who was explaining how hormone levels in your body will influence how much weight your body holds onto, and I had what Oprah calls an A-HA moment. I realized that I had no way of controlling my hormones, so I better start managing my health.
I started focusing on what I ate. I started treating food like medicine and researched what foods would help improve my immune system. What foods lead to cravings and what to eat when you crave things like chocolate. I ended up settling on an eating plan of about 75-85% vegetarian foods and exercising daily for a minimum of 30 minutes and a maximum of 90 minutes.
I still had health issues (unrelated to my weight), and in my mid-thirties, I saw yet another specialist who advised me about research starting to show that one's physical size is a very complicated thing. Some people will never get under a specific weight because their bodies have determined a "set point," and their body will work very hard to maintain that weight no matter what they do. This doctor then told me, "For people like you, who eat right, exercise and still can't lose weight, we recommend medical interventions because you will never get under the weight you are now without it." I was dumbfounded. I had been told my whole life, exercise you will lose weight. Control what you eat and how much, you will lose weight. Calories in vs calories out is what determines what you weight. Now I was being told all that work, all the years of trying hard to be healthy and control my weight was pointless because I never would be thin without having medical help. That meant either drugs and close monitoring or surgery.
I went home and cried. I cried for days. How could all of the changes I made in my life not be helping me?
How could they not be impacting my health?
Why did my body fight me?
How could it hate me so much?
It took a few years and a lot of research for me to come to terms with that. I ultimately learned that the changes I made were improving my health; they just weren't leading to weight loss.
It was likely they never would. However, the changes I had made were lowering my blood pressure, blood sugar levels, and cholesterol. None of these things were elevated or out of the normal ranges, even at two hundred and ninety-eight pounds. The numbers for those health factors decreased with the changes I made in how I treated my health, even if my weight wasn't reducing.
This helped me to realize just how much focus we put on a number. As a society, we focus far too much energy on an arbitrary number on a scale. We judge people based on how they look and make assumptions about who they are as people based on that. We see overweight people, and our society labels them as lazy, unhealthy and "unworthy."
This needs to stop.
Is it true that some people overeat? Sure. However, that is a very complicated statement because some people can't control when they are hungry. They try to do the right things, but their body and brain are working against them. They don't get the rewards you might by cutting back on calories. Their body has picked a set point, and no matter how hard they work, it won't let go.
The research on weight is changing. For decades we have thought "Cals in vs Cals out" explains everything. The studies show it is not this simple. It's about genetics; it's about movement. It's about hormones and habits and everything in between.
So let's stop the judgement.
Let's treat people as the complicated humans they are and love them for doing the best they can in every given moment.
Let's normalize being healthy over a number on a scale.
Let's focus on who people are and not how they look.