Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Social Desensitization & Obesity Perception

As a society, have we become socially desensitized to obesity?  Or is it that we've developed a distortion of normal?  Yesterday, Ted Kyle of ConscienHealth posted a blog titled "Shopping for Obesity," which brought me back to an incident over the weekend.  My husband, you see, leads a sheltered life.  He'd never been to Sam's Club before this weekend, when we just so happened to be out and about together shopping.  I needed a new printer, so my trusty Sam's Club membership comes in handy when purchases, such as this arise.  Costco was all the rage here this weekend, our first in the state had opened in MidCity, so everyone was talking about it.  My husband's reaction:  what's the big deal?

So, we go to Sam's Club, he grabs the first printer we see (which happened to be the one I intended on purchasing anyway) and we set off to pick up oatmeal, apples, and along the way he grabs a can of mixed nuts.  When I'm ready to check out, he trails off to buy a pretzel and escape the madness.  Of course, I'm just going about my business, not really paying attention to the people around me, but rather, probably fiddling with my cell phone to avoid speaking to anyone I encounter.  I'm not very social in public when I'm oriented to a single task-- usually, to get in and out as quickly as possible.

As Jonathan licks his fingers clean of pretzel salt, he lends over to me in a whisper and says, "Did you notice anything odd in that store?"  I stumble over the throngs of people and say, "No, why?" He goes on to say, "So, you didn't notice the inordinate number of obese people in that store today?"  Well, no.  I didn't, honey. I imagine that with two-thirds of the population classified as overweight or obese there would be some people who fall into that category.  So, we questioned this phenomenon, and there, in Ted's post was the exact situation we encountered.  The overabundance of food supply and the enlarged waistlines of the American consumer present in our Saturday trip to purchase a printer.

As social media content development guru for my company, I came across an article yesterday that drove it home, "Is he healthy? Exposure to Obesity Changes Perceptions of Weight Status in Others."  We've been desensitized to appropriate size.  Not only in portion control but in what's considered normal in actual human physique.  Now, here's where I get personal about my journey in weight loss and gain and all the psychological distortions I've gone through in this process.  It's my personal, in-depth analysis of self.

I've never known a normal weight.  Therefore, when I lost weight and was a "normal weight" I wasn't entirely sure what to do with myself.  I enjoyed it, but I almost felt uncomfortable in this new body that I had.  It wasn't what I was used to at all.  It was the new normal, but my mind didn't have a chance to get caught up with my body.  As I have regained the weight after my band removal, I am more familiar with this size but more uncomfortable in this body.  Then there's the skin-- with the weight loss, the skin was just a necessary burden after having lost 180 lbs.  Now, I've only lost 80 lbs, it's just flab and fat, not skin.  I tolerate it a little be more openly because it's not just hanging there, being a burden.  Now, I have 100 lbs. to lose, again.

So, what does the counselor say to this, "How do you feel about that?"  Well, I definitely don't like my regain.  I definitely have paid attention to what I've eaten and exercised and still found myself in this place.  This place where I was once comfortable for so long, and now I am not.  I know I have to accept myself where I am right now to move forward in a healthy way.  I continually question whether or not having another surgery is going to make anything better or if it's just going to put a temporary relief on a lifelong problem.  I don't want to struggle with regain anymore.

I've broken down, broken out, and processed all I can about what got me here.  All I know is, I have to be come excruciatingly meticulous about what goes into my mouth and how I exercise my body and what I think about how I'm doing that.  How much I put needs to be an exact to a science.  What I do needs to be quantifiable in the gym.  It's not just time and type of cardio but keeping a record of weights in strength training.  It needs to be following a plan, rather than haplessly doing something because I'm there.

I think as a society, we're all working with a distorted view of size.  The new normal that should be developed is an old *societal* standard. However, you have to find where you are most comfortable.  In many ways, I feel like I cheated.  The band forced a diet of starvation and bulimia for an extended period of time, and my accountability tanked.  Now, the accountability must be exact, measurable. Those SMART goals we all should be making-- our dreams and our goals need to be specific.  They can't just be "I want to lose weight" and I want to lose it as quickly as possible without concern for my health.  They simply must be, "I am going to lose weight as a product of eating the right foods in the right portions. The byproduct of my efforts will be weight loss."

Back to my husband, he's not insensitive to obesity-- he's just never been obese.  He's learned what he's learned about weight bias and size discrimination and obesity from listening to me.  However, he's still one of these people who thinks that weight loss is easy, eat less, lose weight.  For so many of us, that's not the battle we are fighting.  We're fighting deeper seeded wars against ourselves.  My empathy for people with obesity is deep because I've outwardly fought this fight since I was seven years old.  My social cognition is in a state of acceptance for others as they are.

My perception of self is to accept myself as I am.  That doesn't mean I'm not driven to change the size of my body, I am, I think, talk and do things to it to drive that change every day.  But I don't go around judging other's place in their world.  I just don't have the knowledge of them to make judgments of their current body size, nor would I want to because I understand how much that judgment hurts when realized. I think we each need to realize that someone else's obesity is not our business unless they ask for help.

"Prophet"-izing your weight loss successes is great to a point. (Profiteering on your success inappropriately is another blog altogether!)  People will be happy for you, but you may turn them away in your gloating.  People will say you took the easy way out.  Accept that their words aren't meant to hurt you, and that yes, you made your success more attainable with surgery. It's certainly not easy to make the decision to go under the knife, and you can't take it back once it's done. Realize that it's okay to have surgical help to resolve your obesity. Never, ever forget the struggle you had, the emotional pain that you experience, and the harsh judgment you felt, heard, saw and experienced.  Think twice before you say to someone, "I have the key to success."

Guess what.... You don't have their "key to success."  You only have your own "keys to success."  Finding one's own keys to success is an individual experience-- some may need others to help, some may not.  It's never, ever appropriate to go up to a complete stranger and assume you know how to fix their obesity because you've fixed yours.  You're keys don't fit in their door.  Walk away, or learn to be tactful, LISTEN to them and their STORY, and you might just walk away having learned something from someone you thought you could fix.  I learn more from my clients about myself when I listen and hear their stories.  

Your "Keys to Success in Recovery from Obesity" are not the same as someone else's-- Lose your perception of fixing others' problems, stop and listen to their story, and don't try to fix them.  Compassion can go a long way without offering "quick-fix" solutions.

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