There are myriad reasons why people are overweight, and I do my best to not judge people because I do not know their stories, what medical conditions they might suffer from, or the psychological trauma that they live with. The things that I say in this article are about me and are not meant to pass judgement on anyone else.
Fifteen years ago, I moved from Quebec to Ontario. Aside from the obvious inconvenience factors, because our socialized medicine in Canada is administered by province, I was forced to find a new primary care physician. While it was not at the top of my agenda, I would eventually need to do it. In September of that year, I met Theresa, and it was just easy to go to the same doctor as she did. I met Doctor John Guy Yates sometime in 2008, and after the hiatus of living out of the country, I continue to see him to this day.
As doctors do, during my first visit he planned to run a battery of tests – bloodwork and the like. He told me that because of my weight, he told me that he would also run tests on my thyroid. I asked him why, and he answered that very often obesity is caused by thyroid problems. I replied, ‘Doc, I am not fat because of my thyroid. I am fat because I like to eat a lot, and I do not exercise nearly enough.’ He looked at me and said that it is refreshing to hear a patient who is not trying to blame anyone else for their obesity… and that I was one of the few.
Over the years, Doctor Yates has seen me balloon to my heaviest weight (twice – the second time I was living in the USA, so he did not see it), and has seen me drop to my lowest weight (or within 5-10 lbs of it). He has recommended me to a weight management clinic and has told me that I was pre-diabetic… and then, when I lost most of the weight, had the pleasure of telling me that I was no longer pre-diabetic. He has encouraged me in my weight loss efforts, as well as in my exercise regimens. These have included walking, running, Taekwondo (he knew me before I started, and look at where I am now!), as well as weight-training with a personal trainer. Now, once again, he is encouraging me by standing in for a weight-management clinic, most of which are still only doing telemedicine (ironically, since when I went to Japan, I tried to get them to do that, and they refused). I need the doctor’s office visits so that I can get weighed and really be accountable, and not just for the encouragement and admonishment I would get from the clinic.
Fifteen years ago, I told Doctor Yates that I was obese because I like to eat. Fast-forward, I know there is more to it than that. I am fat because of myriad psychological issues that I have been dealing with since I left the Army… and before. The horrors of my military service, added to the trauma of an abusive childhood raised by a mother who always loved my sister more than she loved me (and who really enjoyed hitting me) have been no picnic. Add to that, it is impossible for me to discuss my military traumas with a doctor without security clearance… in Israel.
In short, I am fat for two reasons:
- I really like to eat foods that are fattening for me, and in large quantities; and
- I spent so many years ignoring the psychological damage that I have endured.
It cannot be as simple as that. I could sit here and write tomes on the reasons I have fought with obesity for my entire post-military life. Those tomes would be summarized in those two sentences.
It is important when one has a health issue to deal with it. Of course, one cannot treat a broken leg with antihistamines. It is important to have the right treatments for the right malady. If that malady is an unbalanced thyroid (or whatever the term would be), then there are medical treatments for that. If the problems are psychological, there are doctors and therapists who can help you to deal with them. If you just like to eat a lot, then changing your eating habits is the key.
Of course, once you have cured one or both of the medical issues, it is still important to change your eating habits. We might need to relearn how to eat healthy, and in some cases, we might need to learn that for the first time. If I gained the weight because of psychological trauma, that does not mean that as soon as I have dealt with that trauma (and let’s be honest, I will be dealing with them for the rest of my life), I will suddenly or even gradually lose all of the weight. Healthy eating is an important part of life, and please do not try to learn how to do it on Facebook… or even from actual books. If, like I had, you have forgotten how to eat healthy then there are professionals for that as well. Registered dieticians and nutritionists will educate and guide you in ways that books of fad diets and pop psychology cannot.
That is not to say that all of those books or fad diets are bad – I remember thirty years ago hearing about The Atkins Diet, which from what I can tell was a program that cut carbohydrates out. In other words, it focused on ketosis. Yes, that can be a good program. No, it is not for everyone. In truth, despite what so many holier-than-thou proselytizers will tell you there is no single solution to losing weight and keeping it off that will work for everyone, and you need to find what will work for you. If it was as easy as everyone reading the same book and following the same program, then there would only be one book, and we would all be thin.
Losing weight is neither easy nor simple. Before setting out on your weight loss journey it is important for you to understand why you are overweight… and to be honest with yourself about it. Nobody looks quite so dishonest with themselves as someone who tells you they are fat because of the slow metabolism, while ordering two pounds of Buffalo Wings with a large pizza. Of course, they so often order the Diet Coke to show you that they are trying.
Be honest with yourself. If you believe it is your metabolism, or your thyroid, or any other medical condition, then speak to your doctor and discuss your options. Dealing with psychological issues might be harder than that… added to the stigma of being fat you have the stigma of being psychologically damaged. So many people are ashamed to seek help. You know what? Get over it. Psychological trauma is no less real – and is often much more damaging – than are physical maladies. If you just like to eat, then yes… dieting might be a temporary solution, but the better one might be changing your eating habits.
Honesty and self-awareness are crucial to weight loss. Whether the food is the problem, or there is an underlying reason, you need to know. You cannot be cured by dealing with the symptoms. You have to address the source of the problem.
I did not say that it was easy.