I’m skinny and I have been for most of my 30 years on this planet (putting aside my time as a baby); I am also very grateful for this.
I have friends and family members who are either overweight to varying degrees, or are on an almost constant yo-yo where they make a determined effort to slim down, only to regain that weight as soon as they slip up on their diet/exercise regimes.
Now, I feel I should come clean early on and admit that, in the past, I have been quite judgmental about those people in my life who struggle with their weight. I also want to confess that I still have the occasional derogatory thought about overweight people.
I say this because I want you to know that I am not perfect, and I am sometimes a hypocrite. But when something like this crosses my mind, I am now making a conscious effort to correct my thinking.
You see, until quite recently, I don’t think I quite understood the complexity of human physiology and how very different our bodies and bodily systems can be.
The science is ever-evolving and not something that I want to get into, but safe to say that overweight people should not simply be labelled as greedy or lazy.
The interaction between the body and the mind produce a multitude of reasons for an individual’s ability, or lack thereof, to maintain their weight in a more healthy range. To pretend that it is just a matter of willpower does a disservice to all those who have unsuccessfully tried again and again to lose weight (and almost all overweight people have made such attempts).
After all, as naturally thin people, how many of us can say that we’ve had to really put the effort in to maintain our low weight? Sure, we may exercise and eat a lower number of calories compared to those who carry a few more pounds, but is it hard for us to do so? For me personally, the answer is an emphatic no.
I do exercise fairly regularly, but not to any extreme levels, and I maintain a diet that is probably lower than average in terms of calories. I don’t, however, have to work hard for this.
My body is just naturally wired this way; when I get hunger pangs, I only have to eat a small amount for them to pass, and even when my daily biscuits and desserts are taken into consideration, I probably consume, on average, fewer calories than the recommended daily limit.
Am I a better person because I can do this? Hell no. I am just fortunate that my genetic makeup and my childhood environment have resulted in this mind-body situation.
I didn’t choose either of those things, and nor does anyone else, but when people are naturally skinny, there is a tendency for them to judge those who are naturally bigger. But, if I didn’t choose to be skinny, why has it taken me so long to understand that they did not choose to be overweight?
I’ll put it another way: if someone was genetically predisposed to getting cancer, we wouldn’t harshly judge them if they did develop the disease. If someone has genes that are likely to result in them gaining weight more easily, why, then, do we find it more acceptable to judge?
And then there are changes in hormone levels to consider, especially in women. Whether during puberty, throughout pregnancy, or after the menopause, the levels of various hormones can change radically and remain that way, and there are instances where such changes greatly impact the weight gain or loss of an individual.
On top of this there are emotional triggers which lead some people to smoke, others to drink, some to exercise, and many to eat. Just because one person responds to their emotions by eating, it doesn’t mean they have any more control than those who respond in other ways. Eating is just one of many coping mechanisms at the end of the day.
To add to the complexity of the situation, it is worth asking why we, as a nation, are getting fatter. How to even begin tackling such an issue is difficult because there is no single answer. Yes, modern life has made unhealthy foods more readily available, and the levels of physical activity we engage in have dropped dramatically over the years, but is this part of a social evolution that no individual can be held responsible for?
Is it now more socially acceptable to eat more, drink more and exercise less? I mean, of course people have always enjoyed eating and drinking to excess, but has the frequency at which we do so increased? And is it now seen as the norm to drive a mile to pick up something from the store rather than walking there instead?
I ask because the crux of the matter is this: how much individual responsibility should a person take for their own weight? Now, I can imagine that some readers will be screaming at me, saying that of course people are responsible – after all they choose what goes in their mouth and how much they exercise – but I hope I have shown that it is just not that simple.
People are a product of their genes and their environment. Kids with overweight or obese parents are more likely to be overweight themselves, and those who grow up in underprivileged households are also more prone to being on the heavier side. Those children didn’t choose to be born into those situations, and yet when they grow into overweight adults (as many will do), it’s all too easy to put the blame onto their shoulders.
Like I said earlier, I still find myself judging larger people and this is a thought process that I’d like to do away with. I have my own issues of mind and body, such as anxiety and stress that also stem from complex roots; I don’t get judged for them because they are far less visible. I don’t want to be the one who judges an overweight problem just because their struggle is on the outside as well as the inside.
So next time you verbally or mentally put someone down because of their weight, remind yourself that things are never as straightforward as you think they are and that you may just be incredibly lucky to be skinny.