From Me To Oprah: Talking About The "O" Word: Obesity
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I went to a fascinating and informative panel discussion called “Weighty Manners: Effectively Communicating About Weight and Health” presented by the National Eating Disorders Association and STOP Obesity Alliance. Model turned activist Emme, WABC-TV anchor Diana Williams, WCBS-TV Medical Reporter Dr. Max Gomez, and Deputy Health Editor from Glamour magazine Wendy Naugle were among the wonderful panelists in attendance. The discussion was quite interesting and generated a lot of comments, questions and, at times, cathartic exchanges from attendees. Some had been overweight their whole lives and still struggled; some were once overweight but managed to lose weight and keep it off and help others along the way; one woman recently lost a daughter to anorexia; and another woman works in a school program that promotes healthful eating and at the same time has twin teenage daughters, both of whom currently struggle with eating disorders. I’m sure if we had more than a few hours, we would have all shared our own stories about going to “fat camp” or being called “thunder thighs” (both of those would have been mine!), or about being told how skinny and great they look by others while secretly suffering from an eating disorder.
Although on paper many may view eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge-eating disorder (which are considered mental illnesses) and obesity and overweight as being very different, what they have in common is the overwhelming stigma attached to them. When someone is very thin, or very overweight, the media, society, and individuals alike point or wag fingers, often blaming the individual for looking the way they do. Of course we all have to take some responsibility for how much and what we eat, and how much physical activity we get, but so many other factors outside our direct control impact our appearance and influence our habits including genes, a 24/7 food environment, and increased reliance on technology. But the extreme focus on external appearance and the desire to look a certain way (for example, like the bikini-clad post-partum celebrity mom that graces the cover of a popular magazine) makes many of us want to be just like them and to feel badly, inadequate, and inferior if we don’t; for most of us, it would be impossible to do so without taking extreme measures on the diet or fitness front and without having liposuction or another kind of plastic surgery (I don’t know about you, but none of those ideas work for me).
The panel did a wonderful job discussing how difficult (but how necessary) it is for us to overcome the extreme judgement and finger pointing that goes on in our nation when it comes to weight. But together, we can one by one become more positive about the way we communicate about body weight, shape, and size whether in out own home with our own family, in our communities, and through the media.
I think Emme summed it up best by saying that people are like a bouquet of different flowers; we all come in different shapes and sizes, but we are all beautiful. I couldn’t agree with her more. In my mind, as not only a registered dietitian, but a wife and mother who overcame being overweight (I have lost and kept off more than 30 pounds for years and years), the message I try to give others is to first start with yourself; find a way and work hard to love yourself from the inside out.
We are all different–we have different heights, different body shapes, different bone structures, and have different color eyes and hair. Our differences make each of us unique and special. Our differences unite us and make the world a more interesting place to be. Our differences enhance our friendships and bonds with others. Our differences help us look outside ourselves and learn from others in terms of attitudes and perspectives. Yes- we should embrace what we have as individuals, and find ways each and every day to take care of ourselves by moving out bodies, and filling our tanks with mostly healthful, energizing food. But just as we learn to celebrate ourselves, we need to celebrate others as well..become well wishers instead of judges. Each of us has only one body and one life, and instead of always focusing on what we don’t like about ourselves and others, we need to pay more attention to what we like both inside and outside! We need to talk positively about ourselves and others, especially when we’re with our children. And we have to try to be nonjudgmental as much as possible. When you’re positive, you breed positivity. You make yourself and others feel good. But when you’re critical, judgmental, and point your finger at others or even yourself, that negativity spills all over the place and breeds more of the same. None of us is perfect, and all of us from time to time make a disparaging remark or criticize others in some way–even when we’re just talking to the tv, or reading a magazine. But if we all try to turn that around and start to look for the good instead of the bad in others and in ourselves, it is likely we’ll be happier, more productive, and possibly even more healthy as a result. Every person on earth wants to feel good about him or herself. So let’s try to spread this by finding ways to talk and act more positively, and teach our kids to do the same, especially when it comes to food, fitness, and health.
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