- Her Husband Called Her Fat: Now What?
- It was around this time that Betsy’s brother suggested she try eating better, as a way to help herself feel better.
- That’s when everything she’d ever known came crashing down.
- Being intentional about her diet, and working out regularly, Betsy committed to a healthy lifestyle.
- Three and a half years later, Betsy has lost 111 pounds to date, and even started her own fitness ARMY.
- Her transformation from depressed and overweight mother to healthy and active mama is truly inspiring.
- Related posts:
Her Husband Called Her Fat: Now What?
Dear Mr. Manners: My husband told me last night that he thinks I’ve gotten fat. I’ll admit that I’ve gained some weight but do you think a spouse should ever say that? – Anonymous
A: I only received strong yays and nays when I posed your question on my Facebook page. Fully half the comments gave two snaps to your husband for, as this one puts it, his “courage:”
“Great question. It brings up a lot about love, trust, intimacy and, communication. To be honest, it took a bit of all the above plus, courage to do what her husband did.”
The other half of my Facebook responders gave your husband two thumbs down:
“Absolutely not! A partner should never say that you have gotten fat, nor should anyone say this to anyone you love.”
Frankly, I fall somewhere in between the extremes. After all, who better than a spouse to care about you enough to venture into such treacherous territory? I believe the health of spouses and other committed partners should be a regular topic of conversation. But this should never be a tit-for-tat argument.
Context and delivery clearly matter. Jessica Fishman Levinson, an RD who specializes in healthy weight management, told me: “There are better ways for the husband to have approached the topic to be more sensitive. He should approach it like other relationship issues, with ‘I’ statements, rather than ‘you’ ones. For example, ‘I want to improve my health and start eating better and exercising more. I think it’s something we should do together. What do you think?'”
I also asked another expert, Abby Ellin, the author of Teenage Waistland, who writes frequently about body image and health. She explained: “A major part of the problem of telling a woman she looks fat is the negative associations we have with it. Fat is about so much more than weight. It’s about gluttony, insatiability, laziness, and a lack of self-control. Fat is perceived as a moral failing.” Agreed. There’s a shaming aspect to the word “fat” itself, so I see little reason to bring it into any conversation about weight.
As we’re all being bombarded with promises of a new year and a new you, what are the rules?
- Take a good look in the mirror yourself before you make any judgments about others: Chances are, you’re not as slim and trim as once-upon-a-time. Let he who casts the first stone be without too many “stones” himself. (I am referring here to the kind of “stone” that is the British unit of weight.)
- Any comments you make should focus on health and not appearance: If you want to stay healthy and attractive to one another, communication and trust are key.
- Respect your partner’s feelings. Do not judge: Be sensitive. Think before you speak. Turn things around: How would you like your husband or wife to tell you such news?
- Make any weight loss effort a team effort: Say to your sweetheart, “Together, we can work on a better eating-drinking-exercise-weight loss plan!” Join a gym together. Turn date night into a workout date. Nutritionist Levinson adds: “Studies have shown that social support helps people stick to their healthy lifestyle goals and maintain their weight once they reach their weight-loss goals.”
Good luck and I hope you’ll let me know how it goes.
Let me know in the comment section below how you’ve handled weight issues in your relationship.
Every Thursday, Steven Petrow, the author of five etiquette books, and the forthcoming “Mind Your Digital Manners,” addresses questions about medical manners.
January: the season to shed and renew. Specifically, renewing our annual promise to shed our holiday paunches and renew our commitment to health.
And when weight, energy levels, health, and self-esteem change over seasons and years, couples in long-term relationships must navigate those changes. How do they voice their dissatisfactions? How do they accept change in a physical relationship? I interviewed eleven couples about changes in their personal and their partners’ fitness and self-image; whether they shared fitness regimens or pizza nights on the couch; and how they talk about their bodies.
1. “Weight Gain Is Grounds for Divorce.”
Camilla “didn’t hesitate to inform” Ross that he was “flabbier” when she returned from her deployment in Iraq. “I wasn’t nice about it,” she says. “It wasn’t one of my prouder moments.” Yet Ross, now her husband of three years, has repented for “slacking off.” “Weight gain is common during a spouse’s deployment, but I take full responsibility,” he says. “We’ve talked about it, and the only acceptable reason for weight gain is pregnancy … Significant weight gain is grounds for divorce.”
“We’re vain people,” he continues. “I don’t want to have physical relations with a fat gal.”
The “very Type-A, take-charge” couple met at West Point. They paint their marriage as a meeting of mutual motivations. For their third date, they ran a Valentine’s Day half-marathon that each had registered for independently. “We cheer each other on,” Camilla, 26, says. “He keeps me accountable.” Ross, 32, says he feels “empowered by what we share.”
Like many women, she supposes, Camilla self-effaces more than her husband. “She’ll say she’s having ‘a fat day,’” Ross says. “I’ll reassure her that she’s gorgeous.” If he notices she’s gaining, though, he’ll make a joke about extra dessert. Likewise, Camilla will “make a side comment” if she notices weight gain in Ross. “If you can’t be responsible enough to take care of yourself, how are you going to take care of a family?” she asks.
2. She Lost Weight, Met a Guy — and Helped Him Become a Woman
Matilda’s ex-husband didn’t invite her to his work functions, claiming his coworkers wouldn’t take him seriously if they saw her. But he’d also pile clothes on their workout equipment, saying, “If you lose weight, you’ll leave me.” She ate for comfort, loathed herself for gaining weight, and then ate more, until she was almost 400 pounds.
Meanwhile, in a different city, Jake played sports, rode a unicycle, and “dreamed of living as a girl.” He told girlfriends, “If you see women’s underwear around here, it’s not some other girl’s, it’s mine.”
Matilda left her husband and began working out twice a day, six days a week. “I learned a lot about my willpower,” she says. She also began addressing “the whole tangled reason” behind her eating habits. “It’s easier to deal with your own stuff when you’re alone.”
Jake and Matilda connected on a dating site for “open minds” and hit it off immediately. With Matilda’s support, Jake began transitioning to Sarah. “Matilda helped me feel better about my image,” Sarah, 30, says. “I’m concerned about my face and chest stubble. Matilda says, ‘No one can tell.’ It makes feel good that people see me as a girl. In public I don’t get the look of disapproval I used to get … My life has been blessed.”
As Sarah emerged, though, Matilda started gaining weight again. Matilda, 40, watched as friends gave Sarah size zero cast-offs. Her cut legs looked sexy in tights. “I grieved the future I’d once imagined, of having a good-looking guy who was just batty about me and vice versa,” Matilda says. Sarah “was going through this incredibly vulnerable thing,” so, ashamed of her own feelings, she didn’t share them. “I try to comfort Matilda, but she tries to deal with things on her own,” Sarah says.
3. The Pregnant Body As Liberation
Ellen, 30, “felt blah” during her first trimester, but once she stopped throwing up and started showing, confidence was hers: “No one had ever smiled at my belly before. It felt nice.” Pregnancy liberated her from self-consciousness over belly fat, and during the second trimester, she and husband Gene, 30, started having sex again, “a lot.”
“I didn’t think we’d be able to do certain positions but we could,” Gene says. “I felt the baby kicking right there between us … And you’re entering the hole the baby is to going exit. Weird is not descriptive enough a word.”
After giving birth, Ellen “was more focused on the baby than stretch marks … my body belonged to this little creature who was on me all the time.” It was a few months before they had regular sex again. “Our son sucks on her breasts, which makes me not want to touch them. They used to be mine, sexual objects. Now they’re utilitarian,” Gene says. “Now I look at other women’s breasts and think, ‘Oh, those serve a purpose.’” In response, Ellen laughs, “How enlightened of you!”
4. The Gym Rat Who Proposed on the Mat
George proposed to “gym rat” Jenny at their gym, moments after their regular boot camp class, because fitness “unites” them. Most mornings they rise together at 5:15 a.m. to start the day with a workout.
Jenny, 32, says, “I’m constantly staring at myself in the mirror deciding which body parts to hate, but if something were really bothering me, I wouldn’t say it.” Fiancé George, 52, says Jenny often asks whether her body has changed. “I’m not just going to say, ‘No,’” he says of his assessments. “I’m not going to have that kind of relationship. I want to be honest.” He asks her about his body, too.
“He’s always very kind,” Jenny says. “I can tell he’s choosing his words, like, ‘Your ass is not fat, it’s just a different shape.’” George replies, “Well, if you run uphill all the time, your ass is going to become a very specific shape.” After years of “being obsessed with these issues,” Jenny is sensitive about her body, but considers the shared exercise regime “putting the focus in the right place.” Jenny says, “I have better body image since meeting George. If I’m criticizing myself I can step back and see myself through his eyes.”
5. “Yup, I’m Fat.”
“I don’t mind if I’m fat, I just don’t want everyone to know,” Kevin, in his thirties, laughs. “It’s not a shameful thing” for men, he says. “It’s just a thing. Like, ‘Yup, I’m fat.’”
“I probably tease him just a little bit more,” his wife, Ana, says. “It’s pretty deeply engrained that he’d never comment on a women’s appearance. I’m sensitive. He’d probably fib to spare my feelings, even if I’m saying ‘Be honest with me.’” She continues, “I’m not petite, but he’s never given me any indication that that’s what he wants.”
When they exercise regularly, sex occurs more frequently, too. Ana says she’ll have more energy and will be “more confident, more playful, showier.” Otherwise she “just wants to flip the lights off and keep a shirt on and sex decreases.”
They usually diet and go to the gym together. Grocery shopping, Kevin says, can be “an impossible roadblock” because they “fundamentally disagree”; for example, about whether he should drink Diet Coke. “If I’m not exercising he’d never call me out,” Ana says. Kevin explains, “In general we say, ‘I’m fat and I’m not going to do this by myself, so what’s happening?’”
6. A Husband Finds Confidence After Grief
Doctors continually implied that the pain Kate felt during sex was “in her head,” so her husband Andrew, then a college student, concluded “she just didn’t want to have sex with me … I thought I was unattractive and I had to lose weight.” Already slender, he dropped about twenty pounds but “consistently felt overweight.” He says, “I was never forthcoming with her about it. I didn’t tell anyone about the anorexia.” When they’d been together four years, Kate was diagnosed with an inflammatory bladder condition and colon cancer in quick succession. She died soon thereafter.
Now in his early thirties and remarried, Andrew says, “None of those same issues come up in my current relationship with Hannah. She gives me a lot of confidence. It’s amazing, actually.” He talked openly with Hannah about his previous marriage and struggle with self-image “from the beginning.” He asks, “What am I holding on to? When my first wife passed away, why would I not be completely honest about everything?”
Hannah points out that the Baroque painter “Rubens’s women were considered beautiful because they were fleshy.” Fat meant money; “today, skinniness gives status.” She says Andrew tells her he loves her body every day, but after she lost the twenty pounds she’d gained “vegging out, taking advantage of his unconditional love,” he told her he’s more attracted to her “slimmer.”
“When she has kids it’ll be hard for her to lose the weight, but that’s not something I really care about,” Andrew says. “Our relationship certainly transcends the physical.”
7. Doughnuts and OCD
“She brings Dunkin’ Donuts in the house!” Rufus exclaims. “Cook me vegetables!”
“A forty-plus-year-old should have willpower!” Jenny playfully replies in mock anger. “I’m not cooking!”
“After twenty-plus years of marriage,” she continues, “I can’t say, ‘Look, dear, you need to work out.’ We have to keep it lighthearted. We both know what we need to do.” She weighs herself daily, which Rufus considers “OCD.”
“I tell him I see rolls, and he tells me to stop looking,” Jenny notes. “If he loses his chest, I’ll still love my husband.”
His advice to young couples: “No harsh words.” Her advice: “Don’t expect to stay the same.”
8. “Your Body Doesn’t Belong to You.”
A lifelong athlete, Chelsea has always “needed the stress release” of regular exercise or else she’s “antsy.” Now the mother of two, the 36-year-old says her relationship with her body changed temporarily post-birth. With little free time, she struggled for two years to lose weight after her second pregnancy. She and her husband had less sex: “I’m sure noticed, but we didn’t have a specific conversation… Women are often more critical of themselves than they need to be.”
“When you’re breastfeeding, your body doesn’t belong to you,” she says. “Someone attached to you needs you. And your husband needs your body parts too … I said, ‘My boobs are off-limits.’”
9. The Reformed Sun Goddess and Her Husband
Former “sun goddess” Tracey, 50, talked with her husband Daniel “about everything” happening to her body when her doctors told her melanoma would probably kill her. Through chemotherapy, surgeries, and blood transfusions, “I couldn’t accept that I had to leave my daughter.” A last-ditch experimental treatment worked. She’s been cancer-free for three years — and finds herself wearing bikinis un-self-consciously for the first time in much longer.
“You can look good to other people but not be fit,” she now realizes. Together she and Daniel, 58, adopted a carb-free Paleo diet. He stopped drinking beer. Even when he had a potbelly, Daniel thought that he and Tracey “always looked like a Hollywood couple.” He suspects he lacks machismo now: “I used to look a lot tougher and stronger. Guys want to be a tough guy. I don’t look like a threat.” But he feels better, and he and Tracey plan to stay this way. “I’m just happy to be here,” she says. “Young people don’t think about living a long life, they think about looking good, the now.”
10. Tuesdays with Weight Watchers
Three years ago, a TV show gave Jane and Mark’s backyard a makeover. “It’s not like we didn’t know we were overweight,” Jane says, but seeing themselves onscreen “scared” them for their health.
Mark, 50, changed his work schedule so he could walk Jane the three miles to and from her weekly Weight Watchers meeting on Tuesdays. He keeps walking while she’s in the meeting. “The momentum of two is tougher to stop. One pulls the other,” he says. Jane adds, “He knows anything could keep me on the couch. It’s a great time for the two of us. I have him all to myself, no distractions.”
After losing about seventy pounds over three years, Jane realized, “When I was heavy, I became invisible.” Now men open doors for her. Mark has lost weight but not as much as Jane. The pair rarely discussed their gradual weight gain, but Jane says, “His body type has zero affect in terms of how I feel about him … It’s not like, ‘Oh, great, now he’s sexy.’ That we’re healthier just means I’ve got a shot at spending more time with the person who makes me happy.”
11. His Weight Loss Signaled Illness — and Bonded Them Together
Soon after Kyle and Alison became fast friends, he began losing weight and suffering flu-like symptoms. They started dating in their late twenties. One month later, Kyle, already “damn near gaunt,” was diagnosed with cancer.
Even as Kyle underwent chemotherapy, he kept working as a social media strategist and “tried very hard to project independence.” He had only recently moved out of his parents’ home and “didn’t want family doting.” Alison’s care allowed him his adulthood: “I tried to help him keep things as normal as possible,” she says.
Chemo so weakened Kyle that even picking a movie wore him out. Alison made their plans, and they often “restricted their radius to the neighborhood” because he was tired. Despite his illness, she didn’t consider leaving the burgeoning relationship. “I just wanted to hang out with him,” she says. Because Kyle’s illness immediately plunged them into “intensity,” “once in a while” she’d wonder, “Who’s he going to be in the future, my friend, my boyfriend, fiancé?”
Now that Kyle is cancer-free and they’re living together, they’re learning later than usual to negotiate “little New York couple things you take for granted,” like going out separately. Alison says that they “broke down the walls under a vastly different peril” means they can “broach uncomfortable topics” like how they’re feeling about themselves “without fear.” He adds, “It doesn’t mean it’s not awkward sometimes … But it never feels judgmental.”
I’ve been together with my wife for nine years, married just over three. She was a soccer player, very fit, and exactly what I wanted from a wife so I stuck with her. But she gained 80 pounds about two years into our relationship. I always saw her working it out and getting back to her old self. Instead, she has regressed further, both physically and personality-wise, whereas I am very driven and active and want to experience all I can in life. I’m at the point where if she doesn’t take things seriously soon, I’ll want a divorce. Is this wrong of me to want a deeper connection and attraction? I’ve given so much time to waiting without result.
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It’s funny: We live in a culture where this is a taboo topic. It’s “fat shaming,” we should all be happy with our bodies the way they are, and so on.
And to be honest, I’d feel a lot more comfortable with this question if the sexes were reversed and it was a wife complaining about a husband.
Also, I’d love to drop bromides like: These considerations shouldn’t matter, it’s the love and spiritual connection that counts, the main thing is communication and whether you’re soulmates.
But I just can’t. Time and experience and everyone I talk to and everything I’ve read indicate otherwise.
Google “my spouse got fat.” Hundreds of online forums pop up. You tend to hear more from the women, and the common thread is along the lines of: “I love my husband, he has a great personality, but he’s become a tubby hubby and refuses to do anything about it. Now I’m finding I’m not attracted to him and thinking of leaving him. What do I do?”
It’s been a problem for me, too, I won’t lie. My wife loves me, we’re soulmates, but I’ve always wrestled with my weight. And I know my wife has wrestled with it (my weight) too.
Time passes and wrinkles and grey hair happen to everyone, but she has the right to a reasonable facsimile of the hot guy she married.
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Or at least someone who’s trying. And I do: I go to the gym (I live across the street from one, so I really have no excuse), watch what I eat. I fight the fight. If I decided just to pull the ripcord and let myself go, I think you’d have to stick a fork in her, because she’d be done.
(Cyril Connolly famously said: “Imprisoned in every fat man, a thin one is wildly signalling to be let out.” But Kingsley Amis was truer and funnier, I think: “Outside every fat man is an even fatter one trying to close in.”)
Which leads me to your question. Two words jump out: “regressed” and “divorced.”
Are you sure it’s not a medical or psychological issue? If so, she should see a shrink or a doctor prontissimo.
If not – well, it’s unclear if you’re communicating your concerns, or the gravity of your concerns, but if you aren’t you should start to do so immediately.
But you have to do it gently, tactfully. Gaining weight can be a vicious cycle: you get fatter, you get depressed about it, gain more weight, etc.
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You have to help her, not hurt her. It’s a fine line between insulting and “fat shaming” a person and making them even more depressed and self-conscious, and encouraging and praising them into getting their old self/mojo back. It takes delicacy and diplomacy. Show her you care.
Meanwhile: Have you taken a long look at the man in the mirror and asked if he really loves his wife? It was interesting, I thought, you mentioned she was fit and a soccer player and “everything you wanted in a wife,” but not one word about her personality or loving her or being soulmates. Could you have gotten married for the wrong reasons? If so, the sooner you open the Yellow Pages to “Lawyers – Divorce” the better, so she’s still got time to find someone who really loves her.
If you can honestly say you love her, then realize: These things go in cycles. According to my calculations, in your eyes she’s been overweight for seven years – a long time, but not that long, really. If you love her, give her more time to get her old self/mojo back.
Encourage her. Praise her efforts. Maybe keep healthier food around the house, and suggest you exercise together – even if it’s just something mellow, especially at first, like going for a walk together.
But ultimately motivation has to come from within. She has to want it herself. No amount of hassling or browbeating or encouragement or praise is going to change that.
Are you in a sticky situation? Send your dilemmas to [email protected] Please keep your submissions to 150 words and include a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.
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Deep breath. My husband is “fat”, and I love it.
I love having an overweight husband, I really do. My husband has always been big. He was big when I met him and has gotten a little bigger in the eight years we have been together. I can’t fit my arms around him anymore but he can fit his around me. I really feel like there’s just more of him to love. He’s my ‘tubby hubby’.
When I’m with my married friends they speak about their husbands looks and weight in such a negative way. They seem to think how their husband’s look is a reflection on them. They speak longingly about how fit their husbands were when they first met them and how unfit they are now. I think they’re crazy and completely insensitive. How would they feel if their husband talked about them like that?
I love that he eats foods I didn’t realise still existed, like Space Food Sticks and Lolly Gobble Bliss Bombs. I love how he appreciates everything I prepare for him, how he relishes it and enjoy it.
Whenever I make a cake and am waiting for it to cool, I can always put money on him stealing a corner of it and eating it before I’ve frosted and decorated it. When I’m making an important cake I have to put signs on them saying, “DO NOT TOUCH!” His personality is just as big as his body and I love how big and loud and and boisterous he is.
But some of my family and friends have pulled me aside and told me they’re worried about how much he weighs. My sister, in particular. She says that at his age it’s just not healthy. He’s 46 and she said I should be encouraging him to lose weight.
I’ve never wanted to be the kind of wife who nags her husband about his weight but she’s made me a bit worried now. He does snore really loudly at night and sometimes his knees get sore. But besides that he’s pretty healthy. He exercises every day for a hour. He used to be a professional cyclist so he still does his rides most days. He’s fit but fat. He just really loves his food.
You know, I really think it would freak me out if he lost heaps of weight. I’d probably think he was having an affair or something. Isn’t that one of the signs? I’m comfortable with him at the weight he is, but now I’m beginning to wonder if I’m comfortable with a fat husband for all the wrong reasons.
Is it okay that I don’t nag my husband to lose weight?
Like this? Try:
Is it normal…My husband has offered me money to lose weight.
Is it normal…My husband has never seen me naked.
It’s not every day that you hear a woman say her divorce was a “blessing in disguise.” But that’s the case for 34-year-old Betsy Ayala.
Though she’d struggled with her weight her whole life, Betsy reached her heaviest after giving birth to her daughter in 2013.
Weighing in at 260 lbs., Betsy wasn’t as concerned about her physical heath as she was her mental health. She’d begun wrestling with postpartum depression and anxiety.
It was around this time that Betsy’s brother suggested she try eating better, as a way to help herself feel better.
“I had a newborn, and I didn’t have the will to cook,” she says, “so I learned about Herbalife shakes and I gave it a shot.”
To her surprise, the change in her diet slowly started to work. Betsy started to feel better, and although weight loss wasn’t her intention, she even began to shed some pounds.
Down 30 pounds postpartum, Betsy was feeling pretty good about life. She’d managed to tackle the depression and anxiety she was experiencing after giving birth, and got her health on the right track.
That’s when everything she’d ever known came crashing down.
She discovered her husband—and high school sweetheart since the age of 17—was cheating on her.
“At that point, my whole world fell apart.”
To add salt to the wound, she found out he’d been calling her a “cow” and “fat” behind her back.
Despite being deeply scarred, Betsy says they tried for months to make their marriage work, but to no avail.
“At that moment, I thought, ‘This is not going to define who I am. I don’t want to be the way I have been all these years.’ That drove me to make a permanent change in my life.”
Her determination to move on with her life, and be a healthy, happy role model for her daughter, moved Betsy to make some radical changes.
“I wanted her to be proud of me and have an example of a strong mom that perseveres despite whatever happens, and have a happy life. That moment was when I decided that I wasn’t going to be the same person I was before.”
Christmas 2013 came and went, and along with all of the other New Year’s Resolutioners, Betsy hit the gym in early 2014. Despite never being active before, she was determined to make a change.
Being intentional about her diet, and working out regularly, Betsy committed to a healthy lifestyle.
She exercises six days a week, and cut out soda and processed food—with the exception of a “cheat meal” once a week.
Three and a half years later, Betsy has lost 111 pounds to date, and even started her own fitness ARMY.
To those who can’t find the motivation, or just simply feel like they’ve hit a dead end in their weight loss journey, Betsy encourages with this:
“At the beginning it was hard, but it’s honestly not as hard as you think it is. Once you feel good and you make that change and you see how amazing it feels to feel good, it just becomes part of your life. For me, it’s second nature. I don’t question going to the gym—it’s part of what I do. And even eating right, it’s not, ‘Oh I have to eat healthy today.’ It’s part of my life now. I enjoy it.”
While her weight loss journey has been remarkable, Betsy says the best part about getting healthy has been discovering a more positive outlook on life.
“When you feel good and you’re good with yourself both mentally and physically, it changes your perspective on life. When I go to the gym, I push myself to do things I couldn’t do before. It shifts your mindset—you become fearless because this one thing you thought you never could accomplish, now you’re able to do.”
Her transformation from depressed and overweight mother to healthy and active mama is truly inspiring.
Of course, I have to believe the sweet revenge of taking back her life after her husband cheated on her must have felt pretty good too!
May her fitness journey inspire you today!
Mocked by husband
Her cheating husband and his lover called her “cow” and “fat.” Well, I wonder what he would say now, when she looks just like Kim Kardashian
Posted by Kami.com.ph on Friday, January 27, 2017
People come in all shapes and sizes. The human body has a tremendous capacity for variation, which is why everyone looks different. Someone may be happy with how they look, they may feel they need some serious changes, or somewhere in between, but all things being equal the only opinion that should matter is their own.
Sadly, that’s typically not how things work.
Some people are “overweight”. This is undeniable. Over a billion people are believed to be officially obese. From a health perspective, this isn’t ideal, given all the problems that being overweight can lead to.
However, another more indirect but still-harmful consequence of being overweight is the increased risk of “fat shaming”. Some folk really have a problem with people being overweight and see no problem with openly condemning them in public. Granted, you’ll always get those unpleasant sorts who think it’s OK to criticise someone for their physical attributes, be it skin colour, height, sex or whatever, but criticising people for their weight is still seen as surprisingly acceptable.
In some ways, you can see the logic of this. While someone’s skin, ethnicity, height, gender etc. isn’t something they can help, that’s not the case with weight. How much food you consume and how much exercise you do, these are both things we consciously control. Eating less and exercising more will stop you being overweight: basic physics that is. So, anyone who’s overweight is so by their own volition, and stays that way due to laziness and lack of effort; why should others make allowances for them?
No doubt this is true for some people who are overweight, but is it true for everyone? No, not even close. Human beings and the society we live in are frighteningly complex, and this means there are numerous ways that someone can end up being overweight, most of which defy the “it’s their own decision” argument.
Scales are useful, but if you’re overweight some ‘charitable soul’ is likely to just point this out to you. Photograph: Image Source/Getty Images/Image Source
For instance, it’s often dismissed as a cop-out when someone claims their weight gain is “genetic”, but there are indeed genetic factors linked to obesity. Before anyone gets worked up, genes aren’t that straightforward: it doesn’t mean that if you have specific genes you’re 100% guaranteed to be overweight, so why even try to avoid it. But it does mean that certain people are far more prone to gaining weight. Foodstuffs that a typical person could burn off with a quick jog may cause them to pile on the pounds like a Daily Mail article on immigration collects poorly-spelled comments.
The irksome workings of our brains are also involved. Studies suggest we actually have specific areas of the brain that result in compulsive eating and sugar addiction. This makes certain evolutionary sense: we evolved in the wild where food was hard to come by, so if we did find a source of high calorie foods, eating as much of it as possible would provide us with valuable stores for more scarce periods ahead. However, we in the developed world have created a society where food is abundant, and as this is a relatively recent change in evolutionary terms, our more basic neurological instincts haven’t caught up.
Perhaps this isn’t an excuse. If someone is so seriously affected by/finds it difficult to resist calorific foods, maybe they should just avoid them? Once again, this is a lot harder than this simple logic suggests. A lot of vitriol is aimed at overweight people because they “spend so much on food”, particularly if they’re poor. But data suggests that unhealthy, fatty foods are in fact much cheaper than the healthier alternatives. Also, healthy foods (the pre-prepared kinds) are often ludicrously expensive: I may be a Guardian contributor, but I still draw the line at spending upwards of £5 for a worryingly-green “energising smoothie” or some other crap. Maybe it’s my working class background, but I can’t contemplate paying paper money for a bottle of denser-than-average pond water.
While the , it’s nonsensical to condemn a poorer person for eating high-calorie foods, as those are invariably the cheapest and most widely available option these days. It’s like rants about poorer people having “luxury” flat screen TVs. When was the last time you saw a TV for sale that wasn’t a flat screen?
But so what? So fatty food is abundant and cheap, surely you can still exercise to offset any weight gain? Only the lazy or lacking in willpower would argue otherwise.
It’s one thing to tell people to avoid ‘unhealthy’ foods, but in practice this isn’t a straightforward task. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA
This is a good point. Except when it isn’t. Because as well as motivation and commitment, regular exercise requires time! Someone working three poorly paid jobs to make ends meet (especially if in mostly sedentary roles like call centres, admin etc), or commuting four hours a day, or raising children as a single parent, or caring for a sick relative full time, won’t have the time needed to attend a gym and run on a treadmill for hours at a time.
The stress caused by challenging work/living situation is also a factor. Stress has numerous effects on the body, and one response to these is comfort eating. High calorie foods activate the reward pathway in the brain, giving us pleasant sensations which alleviate the stress for a short period. It’s a temporary relief though, so we keep doing it. And now we’ve still got the same stresses which haven’t gone away, plus we’re gaining weight and our health suffers. And so the cycle continues.
All this doesn’t even consider those who may have physical or psychological ailments, ones that are very common but aren’t immediately visible, but still impede any attempt to maintain what judgemental types might consider a “healthy” lifestyle.
And that’s what it often boils down to: the judgement of others. This can have a massive impact on how we see ourselves and our willingness to do something about a problem. In a society with a media where people are body shamed for even the most miniscule imperfections and the standards of beauty are often literally impossible to achieve, you often need a boatload of confidence to be overweight and overcome it and the negative preconceptions this invariably results in, such as women genuinely being paid less due to their weight. It would hardly be surprising if many people struggled with this, instead ending up lacking any motivation to get in shape just to meet the approval of those who love to criticise them.
Gyms are logical place to go to get in shape, but often times they can seem like a place for fit people to show off their fitness, rather than for unfit people to get fitter. Photograph: Robert Stainforth/Alamy/Alamy
Undeniably, there are countless more variables than those discussed here. There are plenty of ways to achieve a healthier lifestyle, but before passing judgement try to consider the fact that individual circumstances mean they may not be achievable by everyone, any more than someone living in poverty can just choose to get a better paying job.
And yes, perhaps people with weight problems do put extra pressure on the NHS, but then so do cars and alcohol, and people who use either of those don’t get such a hard time for it. In my personal experience, the type of person who’d condemn someone for their weight and the burden it causes on others is also the type to scream blue murder when they get a speeding ticket, or someone tries to cancel Top Gear.
The sad fact is, some people just love to judge and condemn others, and will find any excuse to do it, no matter the burden it places on society. Why don’t they just learn some self-control? It’s disgusting, it really is.
Dean Burnett is still trying to plug his book, but it’s not a diet book so don’t worry. He’s on Twitter, @garwboy