OVERWEIGHT IS A FAMILY AFFAIR

Let’s face it! Millions of people can and do lose weight. On the other hand, millions of people can and do gain weight. What else is new? Our body weight varies during the course of daily living. Most often changes in body weight are unintentional, resulting from changes in eating habits, exercise, health problems, emotional stresses, aging, genetics, and other causes.

We gain and lose weight at some “natural” rate. At some point in our lives we are told, or we determine for ourselves that we are overweight. If not overweight, we are at least fat, or stout, chubby, heavy or perhaps obese. At that point we might make an intentional decision to lose weight, get slim, diet, trim down, get lean, reduce or shed pounds. Unfortunately, the decision to lose weight is usually characterized by several other demands. The demands are that the weight loss must be rapid, painless, enduring, and inexpensive.

During the past twenty years an entire industry has developed to service the intentional goal of weight loss. We have weight loss workshops, clinics, centers, spas and institutes in all but the smallest villages. Weight loss programs are housed in churches, hospitals, schools, motels, hotels, private homes, offices and some are available through correspondence courses. There is no human condition that has the services of so many varied techniques including; meditation and hypnosis, drugs, intestinal bypasses, surgical closure of the mouth, guilt and self-hate tapes, reinforcement programs, acupuncture, fat farms, prayer, food supplements, diets from A to Z, and fasts. Not a day passes that doesn’t announce the birth of a new weight loss program.

Despite many significant differences in the various programs, the primary focus in all current programs is the individual. The overweight person is responsible for the success of the program, and as such, all the instruction is designed for individual performance. Each approach to coping with overweight requires the individual to be self-disciplined, self-determined, self-motivated, self-controlled, self…. self…. self…. The “self” is overworked, overwrought, overwhelmed and of course, overweight.

In a recent issue of a local newspaper the messages to the overweight person were: The bottom line, of course, is that the person must do for herself…use the same kind of willpower…and make up your mind in advance…firm up your will power…where there is a will there is a way to stay slim.

To the millions of persons suffering from overweight, the word diet has come to mean many things beyond losing pounds. Successful dieting has come to mean the return of self esteem, pride, acceptance and personal freedom. The loneliness and despair of the overweight person is a private torment with a unique language system. A language full of self criticism, e.g. “I was bad today”, or “I’m ugly”, or “I’m weak and worthless”, or “I have no will power and I hate myself for it.”

As a society, we have made lepers of the overweight person. They are scorned, criticized and laughed at, while at the same time we demand that the overweight person overcome our ridicule as well as shed poundage. The overweight person is not invincible. He or she is no stronger willed or weaker willed than anyone else.

How many of the “normally” weighted population could intentionally lose weight? How many persons of “normal” wills eliminate sugars, salts, and starches from their diet? How many of us could put down the fork and leave the table when “full” or almost “full” or not quite “full”? How many of us could initiate an exercise program and complete it regularly? Try avoiding alcohol, sodas and treats. How many of us could withstand the constant slander of our appearances, willpower and self-esteem? Are we demanding from overweight person more than they can produce alone? Are we demanding more than most individuals can produce?

Assuredly some persons do lose weight through individual effort, and their weight loss may even be maintained; nonetheless, one must question the prevailing attitude that the overweight individual must be solely responsible for their own weight loss. Considering the increasing problems of obesity in our population, despite the numerous weight control programs, it is doubtful that most individuals can lose weight and maintain that loss when the focus remains on individual compliance and self-willed must approach the problems of weight control from a social perspective.

We must view “overweight” as a family and/or peer group problem. The overweight person is not solely responsible for weight gain, nor can he/she be solely responsible for weight loss! Eating began as a social experience. In infancy and throughout childhood, adolescence and on into adulthood, most people eat in a social environment.

Whether it is a family or peer group, eating is a social experience. Our eating habits, tastes and attitudes toward food have all derived from a social learning experience.  A social learning approach to weight control would involve the immediate social environment, e.g. spouses, children, relatives, and even friends. Many overweight persons live in homes that ignore the family responsibility for eating, nutrition and weight control. The dieter” is scorned for weight gain, and praised for weight loss.

The “non dieters” assume the role of evaluators of the “fat” family member. Will he or she control themselves? Will self-control prevail? Will the dieter be “good” or “bad”? The inevitable resentments smolder and the tensions increase. Eating becomes a test of will and a commentary on one’s character. Is it any wonder that eating and stress are so interrelated? The families and associates of the “overweighed” must commit themselves to weight control. The mutual concerns and bonds of our social relations must be identified and focused upon controlling weight.

Each “Normally” weighted person must assume the responsibility for eating, nutrition and diet. The overweight person cannot do it alone! The volume of research findings is clear and repetitive. Many persons can intentionally lose weight, but most regain the weight, and many even increase their weight.

Weight control programs that emphasize the individual and neglect the family and other social support systems will probably fail in the majority of cases.  Overweight is emotionally, socially and physically crippling. We cannot stand by and allow the overweight person to “go it alone”. We must take the control from the “overweighted self” and do our share. The task is actually the responsibility of the group. Only by assuming the responsibility for weight control, will “normally” weighted persons control the problem of the overweight.

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