I’ve struggled with weight issues my entire life. I was the fat kid from kindergarten until I started college, where I started exercising and eating better. I went from 300 pounds in 2006 to 160 in 2008, only the weight started coming back in 2009, now probably around 250 on a 6 foot tall male frame. This regain has caused some anxiety and prompted the desire to lose the weight again, but also the question of whether I need to lose the weight again.
Let me address the issue of health before anyone brings it up. My last physical was over 7 years ago, so I cannot provide cholesterol information, but my blood pressure is 118 over 73 and heart rate is 45. I cannot prove I am in perfect health, but none of the tests I’ve had suggest I’m not, or even in the danger zone.
I’m confident in my health not only because of the aforementioned scores, but also my weekly exercise regimen. Five days a week, I engage in 50 minutes of strenuous cardio, an elliptical machine set to the maximum resistance level, along with about 45 minutes of weight lifting and an hour walk. This is a workout routine I have been following since January 2006, which has dramatically improved my health.
Further, even if I was in the danger zone, my fat wouldn’t be the cause of ill-health, but rather an additional symptom of the overall problem, poor health and diet. High sugar intake, salt (although evidence is mixed), saturated fat, transfat, or a lack of exercise are crucial causes of poor health and tend to also result in fat. This is not to say that an extra 200 or 300 pounds wouldn’t have a negative impact on a person even if they exercised and ate a healthy diet, but outside of extreme obesity, fat is more of a symptom, than a cause of bad health.
Yet that’s not how people see the overweight. This may seem obvious, or difficult to believe, depending on whether a person’s been overweight, but there’s a lot of prejudice towards fat people. Any article that discusses a fat person and health at some point – usually in the comments, but occasionally in the body of the article – mentions that the person is fat, therefore they deserve their problems.
No mention of their health charts, diets, exercise regimen, blood pressure or cholesterol levels because they’re irrelevant, the person is fat, no more evidence is necessary. This disregards whether someone eats well, but just tends to be fat, or has begun a regimen that simply hasn’t borne fruit. Not even losing the weight may be enough to stem the stigma according to a study of the University of Hawaii Manoa which found that respondents were more likely to view someone who lost a lot of weight negatively than someone who has a stable weight.
This stigma or perhaps even the perception of stigma has followed me throughout my life. During my childhood, I was an angry, paranoid and bitter person always assuming people were judging me due to my weight. This may seem like a perfect reason to keep the weight off, except that losing the weight did nothing to change my worldview, if anything it became worse. When someone’s fat, there’s an explanation for the paranoia, when you’re thin, it’s harder to pinpoint why everyone’s staring, especially if it’s only in your mind.
This is one of the problems with losing weight; it doesn’t change the psychological problems. Sure there’s the initial stage of adulation regarding the very real accomplishment of losing weight, but if the person doesn’t work to change their perceptions and underlying problems, then it doesn’t matter. I still found people glaring at me, gawking and sneering at me, which were likely just my own paranoia.
This is not isolated to me however; the lingering stigma was documented in a study by Perdue University which found that girls who lost weight still viewed themselves as obese. The stereotypes are so ingrained in their minds that losing the weight doesn’t change how they perceive themselves or, as mentioned, how they’re percieved. This suggests that fat is more of a mindset, rather than cells under the skin.
If the mindset stays the same and there isn’t a health or vanity reason to care about gaining weight back, then what’s the point? That isn’t as defeatist as it sounds, or defeatist at all. I’ve had the prize of losing weight and found it lacking. As nothing really changed in my mind, as long as my health is maintained, then there’s no reason to be upset about not being thin.
Unless this is merely rationalizing. That’s the crux of this. Do I really not care about my weight, or is this a way of defending against the realization that I’m gaining it back? If I do want to be thin, is it because I think this time things will change, I’ll make them change, or simply because it’s a shared goal for most of American culture?
I don’t have any answers to these questions, although I wish I did, because weight is a confusing topic. Everyone has to bend to society in one form or another, especially the biters, but so too must we demand the right to live our lives autonomously. Ultimately, I’ve decided that this is one of those times where I’m going to stop focusing on the physical goal of weight loss, but continue exercising and trying to eat healthy and hopefully that will accomplish what simply losing weight didn’t.