I recently saw a link to an article someone posted on Facebook about a study that was done to see if people ate less when calories were posted next to the menu items. There were menus with just the food item, the food item with the calories listed, and menus with the food item, the calories, and the number of minutes of brisk walking it would take to burn off those calories.
Not surprisingly, when confronted with how many minutes of exercise it would take to burn off a menu item, people opted for smaller, lower-calorie meals more so than when just confronted with the number of calories. (If you’re interested in the full article, you can read it here.) The theory is interesting and makes sense. That’s not where I have the problem. My problem was with the comment this person posted along with the article. This is what he said:
“I understand that most people simply do not get this concept. If you are fat it is simply because you eat more calories then you burn. Knowing how much walking it would take to burn off desert might make a difference once or twice for a meal but the fat person will still eat more then they burn over the long run.”
Now, as someone who has struggled for a lifetime with my weight, I was naturally annoyed and frustrated by his comment. This is not someone with whom I had previously interacted, and although other posts he’s made have been things I agreed with, I could not let this go without giving some thoughts from the other side. Clearly, he is not someone who has struggled with this issue or been close to someone who has. And, as this issue hits very close to home for me, I responded. Here is what I said:
“That is an extremely simplistic view of weight loss. Most overweight people are not that way due to laziness or love of fatty foods. If you see an overweight person chowing down on junk food, it likely is because they have tried every diet out there and have exercised until they can’t breathe, but it makes no difference, so they have simply given up. There are thousands of factors that contribute to obesity, including metabolism, genetics, food sensitivities, medications, and on and on that make it much more difficult for people some people to lose weight than others. To suggest that all fat people are fat because they eat more than they burn is the statement of an ignorant person who has never had to live daily with math that doesn’t work, has tried everything and has to live with the constant feelings of frustration that their bodies don’t react the way other people’s do and their effort doesn’t produce the same results, the feeling of constant judgment from skinny people, the eventual realization that the effort is not worth the results and if they’re going to be fat anyway, they might as well enjoy it.”
“Avily, it is a simple fact that it is impossible to gain weight unless you eat more then you burn. If you have figured out how this does not work then there are millions of starving people in the world that would like to know how others do it.”
Now, at this point I pretty well decided he was an ignorant jerk who along with never having had to struggle with this himself, has fallen for the common misconception that it’s all about the math, but even knowing this, his comment made me want to cry. It seriously ruined my entire afternoon, and I spent hours on the verge of tears, frustrated and angry and hurt and feeling like a worthless loser, because this one uneducated, ignorant, narrow-minded jerk personifies the attitude on the part of the skinnies of the world that makes us fatties think it’s a lost cause and makes us feel horrible for being fat, because clearly it means we’re doing something wrong and if we just had more self-control we wouldn’t be fat.
I did not respond after that. It was not worth the emotional turmoil. I vented to a couple of my best supportive friends to heal emotionally, but the incident stayed with me for a long time. And it got me thinking.
All of us have misconceptions and prejudices, even if we don’t realize it. For some, like for this guy, he has the idea that weight loss is about math and refuses to consider that there might be more at work. But what other misconceptions are there?
Have you ever driven past a homeless person on a street corner and thought, even at the back of your mind, that if they would just get a job or stopped drinking and doing drugs, they wouldn’t be living on the streets begging for money? But if you’ve never experienced it, you can’t really know what it’s like to lose your job, and then lose your home because you couldn’t get a new job, and then had to fend for yourself, never getting enough to eat, never getting enough sleep, never getting to take a shower and having to use grocery store bathrooms just to clean up, so you were always just far enough behind on all the simple things that other people take for granted that you could barely think one day at a time, let alone plan ahead for a job interview?
Have you ever looked at someone who was divorced or had an affair and thought, if they’d only tried a little harder to work on their marriage, they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in? But perhaps you haven’t lived with daily abuse or neglect or any of the things that can cause a person to seek an out in a relationship.
Have you ever had a friend who was in financial trouble, buried in credit card debt and considering bankruptcy and thought that if they weren’t so materialistic and didn’t need the latest gadgets or just had the discipline to stick to a budget, they wouldn’t be in that mess? But maybe you’ve never experienced living paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet, only to have unexpected car repairs or have something break down in your house that needs immediate fixing, and have to put it on the credit card, and then that compounds until the next inevitable crisis or repair, and it continues until you’re so far behind you feel you’ll never get out.
I’m not saying this is always the case. Stereotypes develop for a reason. Some people are overweight simply because they’re lazy and they like to eat junk food. Some people are homeless because they’re too lazy to get a job or because they’re alcoholics and drug addicts. Some people are divorced because it wasn’t worth the effort to work on their marriages. Some people are bankrupt because they have to have the latest toy and don’t have the discipline to stick to a budget. But these are only a few of the many, many things about which we judge each other every day.
Perhaps instead of judging, we would do well to try to understand the causes of people’s problems, and perhaps we should give them grace in the areas they struggle with, because we all have struggles, and who knows what it is in our lives that someone else is judging us for.