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Posted on May 24, 2012 by admin
It is easy to get caught up in all the hype about ‘the obesity epidemic’. In fact it seems the majority of experts are more interested in lumping everyone who struggles with weight into a big amorphous category of ‘the epidemic’ as opposed to considering that each person who struggles with weight is uniquely challenged and needs individual help in overcoming these ‘societal issues’ every day. So I am going to buck that trend and refocus our attention on people, as individuals, who need our help.
In our current age of on-demand media it seems every little scientific study is reported as an indisputable fact, that every suggestion of a metabolic influence on weight is taken to mean we are destined to fail, and all discussions about our food environment suggest the situation is so daunting we simply cannot win without sweeping policy change. Taken as a whole this trend in our societal script basically says loud and clear that we, the individual, are somehow hapless victims of an insurmountable set of obstacles to achieving healthy weight or improving our health habits. I disagree!
Let’s not forget, while it is important not to blame folks for their weight struggles, and that all these influences are real barriers, every person is still capable of personal change to improve health even in less than ideal circumstances; daily health decisions DO still matter and WILL improve weight and health; and individuals are still capable of success and many are on a daily basis.
I fear that in our effort to combat the old stereotypes of ‘weak willed’ or ‘lazy’ people who ‘don’t just do what it takes’ we have instead adopted a language of victimization that disempowers people and places them in a position of seeing themselves as victims of an insurmountable disability. I find this language of victimization intriguingly counterproductive. In my work with victims of other difficult and challenging circumstances over the years (disease, disability, trauma, addiction) among the most consistently delivered messages are those of personal empowerment, realistic appraisal of the facts, and the importance of NOT adopting an orientation towards the future that internalizes the victim role. In other words we help combat the feelings of helplessness in the face of real obstacles with a constant message that you are not a victim, that you can and will overcome, and that you the individual has the strength and determination and ability to achieve anything despite the condition you have and the barriers you face.
When we cut through all the noise about weight loss, the bottom line is always the same: To lose weight, we must burn more calories than we take in. What makes this so difficult is the fact that individual metabolic differences; lifestyle, behavioral and psychological factors; and numerous environmental influences keep getting in the way and often work against us. Compounding the issue is the proliferation of misinformation and self-proclaimed experts spouting ‘treatment’ recommendations. I recently heard of a fitness instructor telling a person that they can eat all the sausage and bacon they want provided they do not put it on a biscuit – she then supported her statement with the ‘scientific fact’ that if you eat the biscuit its bad because that holds the fat and you absorb the calories – but if you skip the biscuit the fat just flows right through you and the calories don’t get absorbed. These morons are everywhere and many have their own blogs, TV shows, or infomercials and the ability to reach thousands of people. So I agree we need to give the public accurate scientific information and a recognition of the realistic barriers we face – however I caution the experts, the pundits, the lay counselors and all who have a voice in this subject that if we are to help people we need to squash the mythology, accurately present only well-established facts (one study does not make a fact) and most importantly, remind people that each one of us has the absolute capacity and strength to change and take control of our health.
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