The Importance Of Being Believed
Not being believed is a horrible feeling. Not being believed over and over again is a really horrible feeling. Being blamed for what you are not being believed about is also a really awful feeling. Being blamed by people who are meant to be helping you or reading running commentaries on social media about the concept of will power and lack of self control when it comes to weight is deeply hurtful and stigmatising.
I'm talking about what I hear over and over again from people sharing their stories with me about living with excess weight. The assumptions that are made about another person are extraordinary.And people are not afraid to say it publicly. "Oh they just eat too much" "If they just moved a bit more" "They just are not trying hard enough" "I cut out sugar from my diet and look at me, I don't have excess weight "they must be cheating".
This takes a heavy toll on people, feeling like they have to justify themselves, to plead for understanding or hide and lie for fear of this judgment coming their way.
A very long time ago I worked in a gym as a weight loss consultant and people would tell me they would exclude writing things in their food diary because of the spoken or unspoken judgment being passed their way. I tried to reassure them I was not there to judge them but I'm sure that sounded hollow, given the years and years they had one bad experience after another.
When someone says no matter what they do they cant seem to lose weight or they are able to lose a few kilos and then it stalls, please believe them.They are asking for understanding and compassion. Why would they be lying about this?
I've worked with so many of people who have spent thousands of dollars on programs and potions and lotions with promises of success. Hope is alluring and often all we have is hope.
But if we are to offer hope it needs to be genuine and based in understanding of what we are promising or offering.We cannot wash our hands of people once they have been asked to starve themselves on a particular diet, clap our hands and say "see it worked" and then walk away when the weight returns and then blame the person for a lack of will power or self control.
It is like blaming someone for their asthma flaring up when they stop using their preventer puffer.
As Dr Michael Mindrum (2022) says " Weight is regulated in a part of the brain called the hypothalamus. It is genetically conferred. It's a disease that exists in a deep structure in the brain that regulates our appetite as it interacts with an environment that is prone to causing obesity in those that have genetic susceptibility, so all this really is beyond an individual's control,"
When you are used to being dismissed, not believed, blamed and shamed for something which you know in your deepest of self is not within your control but every encounter you have is telling you differently, it leads to a feeling of hopelessness and despair.
People tell me they want to hide, hide in all aspects of their life. They don't want to go to the supermarket because they attract stares or glances at their shopping trolley. They don't want to go out because they may not fit at the tables in the café they are going to. They don't want to fly because they get shamed for taking up space.
They feel so visible yet totally invisible.
Weight seems to be an area where everyone has an opinion and an answer and a solution. It seems these days you do not need to really understand the science or the complex emotional experiences of what it is like living with excess weight, you just need to have an opinion. Opinions are great about some things but this is not an area an opinion is helpful, useful or beneficial.
I think this is doing irreparable damage to people who are truly vulnerable and are seeking understanding and support.
We cant just have an opinion on how someone should mange other health challenges so why should weight be any different?
I feel bad I do not properly understand what is going on, but it is my job to trust you and believe you and try to support you in getting access to the best help and knowledge out there.
Why would people be lying about what they do or don't do? It doesn't make any sense. But then again if people are going to judge you, be cruel and dismissive perhaps keeping your eating patterns and choices to yourself is the best form of self-protection in the given circumstances. Being praised for eating a tin of tuna with celery and being criticised for having a sandwich with the filling of your choice is so whacky really. Diet is very important for good health, I'm not disputing that but being judged for what we eat or don't eat is not good for our mental health.
The sadness expressed that I hear is truly palpable and I just so hope we can shift societies understanding of what living with excess weight really is like with compassion and a genuine commitment to helping in a way that is anchored in science, the latest research, knowledge and understanding.
Ginette Lenham © May 2022