“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I recently went to a health and fitness event, and after the main speakers had left the stage, there was a bit of chat by some of the audience members in the dining area.
“I just don’t really have sympathy for fat people,” this particular woman said.
“They just need to eat some salad and go for a run.”
The other people seemed to agree, whether it was out of social convention (not trying to stir anything up) or because they actually agreed.
Whatever the case, the conversation put a bitter taste in my mouth and made me realize something.
Have you ever noticed that this lack of compassion only comes out of the mouth of people that have never been overweight?
Seriously. Think about it. This level of “oh, it’s so simple” almost never comes from someone having lived it.
And in fact, not only is this “it’s so simple…” talk discouraging, most of the time, it isn’t even accurate – at all.
Usually, there’s a story behind the story, and if you knew the real underlying story, you’d hesitate to say anything more.
The Story of An Abused Woman
I spoke with a young girl about ten years ago when I was traveling abroad in Europe, and after a few drinks, we started talking about our past.
She was overweight, which she kept commenting on (in a joking way), until she went into the real back story. As a child, she lived in Europe around the time when there was lots of poverty and famine, and tens of thousands of people were starving in the area that she lived.
In order to ensure that her family would survive (and that she would survive), her parents made her overeat, and forced her to keep eating, because they knew that the fatter she was during this period, the greater her chances of survival would be as food got scarce.
Anytime she hadn’t eaten enough, her parents would say, “you’re too skinny, it’s unattractive, keep eating,” so she kept eating. Obviously, she survived, but the remnant of this kind of pressure remained with her for the rest of her life. She associated having weight on her frame as being attractive, and safe.
Eventually, in her 30s and 40s this kept progressing more and more, without her realizing the underlying emotion behind it.
It wasn’t until we started talking more did she begin describing what was actually going on, and for the first time in a very long time, unboxed her Pandora’s box of emotions that she had been hiding away, archived somewhere in her brain.
Now can you imagine – if you never heard her story – how easy it would be for you to say “Oh, just eat less and move more” without understanding 1% of what’s truly going on in her life?
Really, all we’re really doing is showing her just how little we understand her and what’s going on behind the scenes.
The average person claims that weight loss is purely logical – eat this, don’t eat that – but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Binge Eating After The Death Of His Wife
Mitch had been destroying himself for the better part of a year.
He had been married to the love of his life for less than two years, and his wife was killed in a freak accident crossing the road. She also happened to be pregnant, and although they could save the baby, they couldn’t save her.
He left the hospital with a new baby girl in his hands, and a much quieter home that he wasn’t used to.
For months he spent his work-leave repeating that day over and over in his mind.
Was there something he could’ve done differently? Could he have somehow warned her before hand? Why did this have to happen to her, and now?
He was binge eating and gorging himself. Once he started going back to work, he couldn’t get himself focused after he got home. He’d check on the baby, take her from the caretaker, put her to sleep, and then just turn his lights out. Then he’d sit down with a six pack, takeout, and just watch tv for hours and hours.
He’d watch movies on repeat, and hours of TV would elapse without him ever realizing what he was even watching – he was totally checked out.
Over time, this took a toll on Mitch’s health, until he reached a level of self destruction that worried himself (that he might die young, and mess up his own daughter’s future too).
The sad thing is that Mitch just as easily could’ve become a drug addict, or someone who walked into a shoping mall with a gun, or someone you hear about on the 5 oclock news jumping off a building. In fact, we’re surrounded by people like Mitch (and sometimes during phases of our life we are Mitch), but we rarely realize it.
The Socially Isolated College Student
A few months back, I spoke to a guy in his late teens who had just gone to college, and for the first time in his life, had moved away from home.
He told me that he thought it was going to be this great adventure that everyone thought it was going to be – partying, fun, girls, travel, stories, and more. But honestly, the only thing he found himself feeling was depressed.
For the first time in his entire life, his friends weren’t just given to him – he had to invest effort into finding new friend groups and doing activities.
For the first time in his life, he found himself not wanting to spend time in his room playing games, but he did it anyway because he didn’t really have a very big social life.
And for the first time in his life, this overwhelming sense of loneliness and social isolation filled every single one of his waking hours.
So he decided to jsut spend a lot of time in his room. Watching TV. Playing games. Drinking soda and eating chips.
When his roommate came back and would see him, he always commented about how he never left the room and asked if something was up. He just kept saying everything was fine.
Over the months, and eventually, years of doing this, this particular teenager just kept gaining weight, and got more and more unhappy.
The world became a scary place, isolating, unfriendly, and it just reinforced this idea in his head that virtual reality was always better than reality.
You tell me, for this guy, is telling him to eat a salad and go for a run really tackling the root cause?
Is It Still About “Eating Less & Moving More?”
“What you have, what you are – your looks, your personality, your way of thinking – is unique. No one in the world is like you. So capitalize on it.”
– Jack Lord
I’m not writing this for people to say “stop judging others, blah blah blah,” it’s just because you rarely really understand what’s behind someone’s health struggle, or their life, or their meltdown.
It’s so easy to criticize someone based on what you see in that moment, but in reality, you usually don’t see anything. You don’t see 1% of the iceberg.
It’s also so important to remember the fact that all of us have our own narratives, our own story behind the story, which always plays a role in who we are, and who we become.
Until we consciously are aware of the narrative and choose to change it, it guides our life.
Thoughts on this? Comment below.