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On The Topic of Weight – My Response

Last week I shared a letter from a gentleman who felt it was appropriate to comment on people’s weight.  He felt that not doing so facilitated the problem. “In our effort to spare the feelings of the fatsos, we have become facilitators of their irresponsibility.”  He felt that commenting on weight would help people take responsibility for how their over- weight condition effects those around them. “But if, indeed, one cannot even so much as allude to the issue of weight when conversing with a fat person, what then might induce fat people to take responsibility for the effects of their physical conditions upon other people?


He cited overweight houseguests who could not care for their personal hygiene as one example. Overweight passengers in cars and on airlines were another. “And then there is the problem of the person in the back seat of my car, who is too fat to buckle him/herself into the seatbelt.  If he/she doesn’t buckle up, then, in the event of a crash, he/she becomes a projectile in motion (and a very heavy one, at that, which would crash into the front seat occupants (including me) and cause grievous if not lethal damage.


“On a more individual level, if I cannot even obliquely mention weight, how am I to deal with the big, fat woman sitting next to me on the airplane, whose flab protrudes out into my own seat so I cannot comfortable sit in it? Which wouldn’t be so bad, except that it’s a night flight, and the cabin lights have been switched off, but I cannot stay up and read because her big size obstructs the reading light. 


“Can I say anything to my fellow passenger without hurting her feelings?  Am I supposed to complain to the flight attendant?  And yet, the fatso lobby whines that it is discriminatory for the airlines to require people who cannot fit into one airline seat to purchase two seats to accommodate their big size.”


Rising insurance costs, which he attributes to the “obesity epidemic” was another way in which he sees people’s weight impinging on others. For these reasons he feels that there is merit in making comments to overweight people.

Dear TVQ,


Thank you for your comments. I appreciate hearing from someone with the opposite point of view. I think you raise some valid issues. Obesity does impact on more than the overweight person.  It can make others uncomfortable.  But are there other ways of dealing with the problem that may be more effective than making the negative comments, which, I am told, have no positive effect on weight loss at all.


If a houseguest makes you uncomfortable for any reason, you do not have to invite them into your home. If you feel transporting someone in your car is a safety hazard for you or them, you do not need to give them a lift. And if your seat on the airline is not comfortable, you can quietly talk to the stewardess about changing it. 


There is no question that any health issue impacts on us as a society and affects our health costs. It is as true of smoking, drug addiction, mental illness, chronic illness, hypertension, etc., as it is for obesity. The impact of almost all illnesses would be reduced if we as a society would strive for normal weight by eating better, exercising more, learning to react better to stress and in general, were more mindful of our bodies and took better care of them. 


Shall we only insure those with no ill health potential or those that pass a criterion designed to cost the insurance company the least amount of money? Or do we have a commitment to help everyone with their health needs − even those that may not be able to foster optimum health for themselves at the moment?


Further, I think you may have missed the point of my column. It appears that these hurtful comments do not help the person deal with their weight problem. Often they can do just the opposite. If that is the case, then why make the comments in the first place? It is not facilitating a problem to keep quiet when the comments serve no constructive purpose and just exacerbate the issue.


If, indeed, comments on a person’s weight contributed to them becoming healthier and starting a program of weight loss I would advocate doing so in a kindly and effective manner. But they do not. These comments accomplish nothing, and as I have said, often make the situation worse. That is why I am so against them.


A dialogue on any topic is always constructive when it is presented in a respectful manner without name-calling. Different points of view are always challenging and enlightening and can often change a person’s opinion. Using derogatory words and descriptions often serves to lessen an argument instead of bolstering it. But I thank you for contributing to the discussion and always welcome a difference of opinion.


Ann


You can reach me at annnovick@hotmail.com

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When one is blind one learns to use Braille to read. When one cannot walk, a wheelchair gives mobility. Sign language allows a mute person to speak and ocular implants assist in hearing when one is deaf. These are all compensatory strategies that help a person function despite his disability. But compensatory strategies are not just for physical problems. Understanding our psychological weaknesses and setting up our lives to ensure that we are not tempted to repeat our past mistakes, is as necessary as any aid to the disabled.

Well spouses have often discovered that their friends and relatives, despite their closeness to the situation, often don’t realize the tremendous emotional impact living with chronic illness has on the family. With the best intentions, suggestions, ideas and criticism are offered, based on the non-experience of those with healthy families. Even when the good intentioned get a taste of the difficulties, it is sometimes not enough for them to then identify and understand what the family of the chronically ill must face on a constant basis.

Over the past two weeks I have shared letters from a therapist and a well spouse. Both of the letters gave personal insights into the process of losing hope, how we react when that happens and some ways of coping when test scores, diagnosis and just simple repetitive behavior indicate that change for the better is impossible.

Dear Ann,

I’ve read your last few articles on psycho-neurological testing (Oct.8-22) with interest. As a therapist who has counseled couples dealing with chronic illness, I’d like to give you another perspective.

Dear Ann,

Your articles on the Neuro-Psychological Testing were right on (October 8-22). My husband underwent testing twice and your articles explained it things exactly the way they were. Besides the test, we also tried therapy.

Very often when we can’t face our big hurts or big loses we focus on the little ones. We can discuss those. We can cry over the small loses, be angry at the smaller hurts even though it may look trite and sound ridiculous to others.

Over the last two weeks we have been discussing one way in which well spouses can determine whether behavior displayed by their ill partners is caused by their illness or is a way they have chosen to act. We have focused on Psycho-Neurological testing, what it can tell us, as well as its pros and cons.

Last week I discussed a question that haunts many well spouses: not knowing if the difficult and often inappropriate behavior frequently displayed by their partners are caused by the disease and therefore not-controllable, or if the behavior is a choice the spouse makes and can therefore be changed. This doubt can be the source of much frustration and many marital disagreements. One way of alleviating this doubt is by having a psycho- neurological work up done. But that path is not so simple.

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