The other day I saw an old meme that was making its initial rounds a few years ago. I have no idea why it was in circulation again, but there it was in front of me, posted by a friend.
The meme shows an obese person in a supermarket lying on the ground near their scooter that had tipped over. I assume that the meme was posted for comedic effect as it was certainly framed that way.
The first time I saw this meme, my initial reaction was anger. And it still is.
When I see these types of messages, it just underscores how lowly we as a society think of obese people. They are looked at as lazy, weak and lacking self-control. Not worthy of our consideration and even some fundamental respect. Worth laughing at.
I suppose it hits me harder because I was once there myself. Had I not instigated change, I could very well be that unfortunate person on the ground with memes about me circulating.
Obesity’s physical manifestation is a symptom and not a cause. The cause in the vast majority of cases is psycho-emotional trauma usually sustained in formative years. It’s the attempt to blunt the pain of an experience or series of experiences that leave their marks on us when we are at our most vulnerable. It can take many years to undo.
As a clinically obese teenager, I certainly didn’t escape the harsh judgement such as that meme is meant to draw. I remember one evening sitting in a fast-food restaurant with my mom when I heard a man nearby audibly say “Look at him eating. I hate fat people like that”. Wondering who he was talking about, I turned towards the direction of the voice to find that he was staring right at me with a scowl on his face. It was as if I had done something to personally offend him. And all I was doing was having a meal with my mom.
This total stranger was offended at nothing other than me being fat.
It was a new low. I was sadly getting used to kids in school making fun of me but this was an adult. As a teenager already struggling with pretty much everything, this was one of those pivotal moments in my life where I stopped looking at people older than myself as people to look up to.
I made the realization that adults were subject to shortcomings and capable of terribly hurtful things a long time ago, but this just brought it home with a lot more impact. As my self-confidence was non-existent at that time, I stopped eating and silently looked away from the man. My mom who didn’t hear the man asked me why I’m not eating. I lied and told her that I wasn’t as hungry as I thought. I couldn’t wait to just leave that restaurant that evening and it was a long time before I ventured out anywhere again other than school.
To be victimized for something you have no control over is simply cruel. Yet it happens to larger people all the time, because it’s assumed that being that way is a choice.
I can’t speak on behalf of all big or formerly big people but I can tell you how this road unfolded for me.
I’m a food addict. Have been one since before I could even identify it by name, and I always will be one. It’s a direct result of a childhood that had wild swings from wonderful to horrible. Where adults have access to illegal drugs and alcohol, a child’s choices of self-medicating are more limited, so food was my go-to in order to deal with situations when they became too much. And that was nearly every day.
In keeping with any other addiction, there’s always a key element that keeps the addict firmly tied to the substance. In the case of cigarettes (another addiction I managed to break), nicotine not only hooks you physically, but it plays mental games where you’re convinced of the most ludicrous things – “I love it too much”, “it tastes great”, “my whole family smoked and they’re fine” etc.
If you are a current smoker, have smoked in the past or know someone who does, chances are you’ve heard a story of someone somewhere whose doctor told them that they’ve smoked so long that to stop would do them more harm than to continue. That’s a great example of an urban myth that spreads very efficiently because to believe it is validating and comforting to someone whose mind is addicted.
And comfort is exactly what an addict seeks.
Refueled by artificial vindication, the cycle goes on and on.
With food, this cycle is even more insidious. You get the mind games and the massive denial. But there is one major catch – you have to eat to live.
Your substance is inescapable.
Imagine telling a heroin addict that they have to stop taking a lot of heroin but it will be in front of them in practically unlimited quantities for the rest of their lives and they still have to take it to continue to live.
It will be advertised to them on every possible form of media and when they socialize, they will see all their loved ones partaking in it without a second thought.
They will be regularly going to heroin shops to buy it, but care will have to be taken so that they don’t buy the wrong kind and moderation will be key.
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? That is how evil food addiction is.
The analogy is to illustrate a bit more clearly why it’s immensely challenging to gain control over food addiction/obesity. Some people never do. I was lucky enough to have been able to do just that, but it took decades of trying and failing.
Physical transformation wouldn’t be possible without reaching a point of clarity by means of self-reflection and brutal honesty
At one point, I even tried accepting myself as a life-long obese food addict. I did that for a whole year. When even the largest sized clothes no longer fit, I figured eventually I would just get bigger clothes custom made. But one day when out of curiosity I stepped on my bathroom scale, that dream literally shattered.
The scale was unable to even register my weight because I had gone past its limit.
I broke the scale, and it felt like my spirit breaking with it.
Through sheer determination and starvation, I lost some weight. This was usually followed by a dive into depression when the pounds came roaring back in a seemingly unstoppable way. This cycle repeated itself more times than I can remember.
Of course, I finally managed to stop this cycle, which is a huge reason for writing these posts. This is described in more detail in my ‘My Transformation’ page in this blog.
What it took was a hard look at what it was that was driving me into my addictive behaviours and determining that I will not allow the past to shape my future like this.
At the end of the day, the biggest key to change is in our heads. Physical transformation wouldn’t be possible without reaching a point of clarity by means of self-reflection and brutal honesty.
If you are currently struggling with being overweight or obese and you think the road to change is too daunting and long, I have a small but important tip. It is especially important if you’re lacking self-confidence and self-worth.
You know the saying about the journey of a thousand miles starting with the first step? Few words are truer and more powerful.
A great first step is to find something – anything – that is positive in your life. “I have nice eyes”, “My kids really love me”, “I like my hands” all count here. Really focus in on your positive. Then find another positive thing. If it takes a couple of days, so be it – it’s not a race.
That part is tough when your self-esteem is in the dumps, but this exercise is worth it, I promise.
Write these positives down and check this list daily. No matter how bleak life may be at a single moment in time, your list of positives will grow and take on more meaning as time goes on. This list will become one of the most valuable things in your journey because it will point out all the reasons that you are worth being kind to. Fighting for.
One day when you look at the list again, it will dawn on you that there are actually many reasons to no longer allow yourself to be held down.
It’s the birthplace of gratitude. And this is the fuel that will drive you through all of your life’s journeys.
So, if you are ready to take a step towards physical transformation, the first place to start isn’t a personal trainer or a gym – it’s a gradual effort to work on oneself first and foremost.
If you have trouble with self-help, consider speaking with a health care professional. There is no shame in doing everything you can for a better life.
This is tough work that absolutely has to be done first or at least in conjunction with any fitness journey. But the rewards are tremendous. Not only will you remove the largest hurdles that have kept you from moving forward in your life, but any results you get after will be appreciated even more.
Holding your positive achievements close to your heart instead of the pain you have been carrying for so long is one of the sweetest rewards in life. Trust me on this one.
As for my own food addiction – well, that never really goes away, but the difference is that today I control it and not the other way around.
I wish you the best on your individual journeys. Please know that there is always a way and there is always help.
P.S. Do you have any stories to share about how you made the first step out of a situation that has held you back? Maybe a tip for other readers? Let me know in the ‘Comments’ section. I always love to hear others’ experiences.