What does it mean to be “fat”? Yes, I used the “f” word (there are two “f” words I don’t like in my office – fat and fail, but that’s a whole other blog). I don’t think “fat” has much to do with what you weigh. Obesity is a chronic medical condition that is challenging to treat and can have major health impacts. “Fat” is a label that many of my obese patients have had applied to them, or they apply it to themselves.
Weight bias is a real issue in our society. There’s a great article from the CDC you can read here (http://www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2011/sep/10_0281.htm) that lays out some of the research that’s been done on this issue. I think it suffices to say that being overweight can impact others’ perceptions and make life more challenging.
So what can we do about it? Well, first off, change is coming. Groups like the American Medical Association and American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists have designated obesity as a medical condition, not a behavioral one. And groups like the Obesity Action Coalition (http://www.obesityaction.org/) are working to improve the treatment of obese people everywhere. Which is all wonderful, you’re saying, but what about in my life right now?
Let’s be honest. You can’t control how other people act or how they perceive you. No one can. All you can do is put your best foot forward every day.
Which brings us to the second half of this topic – body image.
How do you see yourself? No really – not the labels, not the BMI or the number on the scale, not the dress size or the comparisons to other people… You. Just you. How do you see yourself, physically and mentally?
I treat a lot of patients who start our pathway hoping that weight loss will “fix” them (another “f” word!). Given our culture’s attitude toward weight, it isn’t surprising that so many feel like losing 50 pounds will make them happier people. Well folks, here’s the tough truth – it’s the other way around. If you don’t like YOU, losing weight not only won’t help you feel better about yourself, losing the weight will be next to impossible.
The first step toward lasting weight loss is actually a shift in priorities away from the scale. I know, it sounds backwards, but lasting weight loss actually comes from a healthier overall lifestyle. Maintaining that lifestyle means taking care of yourself each and every day. It’s hard to take care of someone you don’t like very much. Getting your self-image house in order can take time and be just as much work as hitting the gym, but it’s absolutely worth the effort. On the bright side, there are a few things you can do that have almost instant payoffs to help get you moving in the right direction.
Step one: Be honest with yourself. Is it possible you’re depressed? Anxious? Dealing with stress in unhealthy ways? Seeking help is not a sign of weakness – touching base with a licensed counselor is part of the weight loss process I recommend to just about everyone!
Step two: Start finding ways to enjoy who you are. Right now. Not “when I lose however-many-pounds.” Today. You are not your waistline – you are a whole person with many qualities that have nothing to do with your weight. Start figuring out how to show those off.
Step three: It may sound superficial, but one strategy is to dress the way you want to be seen. In other words – it’s worth the effort to leave the house feeling like you’re dressed well. Buy clothes that fit you right. Whatever your personal style is, look for ways to enjoy it!
Step four: Another strategy to improve your body image has very little to do with the body. Ask yourself, “what am I good at?” Is there some skill you have that you could mentor someone else in or put to use in the community? Are you a leader in something at work, or could you be? Focusing on the things that make you proud of you will help build you up and remind you WHY you care about being healthier.
At the end of the day, we all have times when we fall into the trap of focusing on the negative. Those pants don’t fit, that scale read too many pounds, etc… But the more time we spend creating habits that remind us of our value as people, the easier it becomes to break that cycle. Remember, your body image and your self-worth are just like a muscle – the part you train becomes the strongest.