What Fat Women Want

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Weight discrimination increases risk for staying obese

Two scientists at the Florida State University College of Medicine spent who-knows how much money in order to determine that “Obese participants who perceived weight discrimination in 2006 were more likely to remain obese at the later time than those who had not experienced such discrimination.”

I could have volunteered that information to them so that they could spend their money finding ways to fight weight discrimination and done some real good in the word.

What in being called names, or being “informed” by a doctor, relative or employer would inspire an overweight or obese person to lose weight? I’ve always said that for each time my (or anyone’s) weight is mentioned, it will be another three months before I (or anyone) “does something about it”.

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At least if that anyone is someone like me – addicted to sugar, carbohydrates and fats, what Dr. David Kessler, MD, calls “hyperpalatable foods” that increase my desire to eat more.

As an addict, I don’t have instant, balanced reactions. It’s as though the knee’s deep tendon reflex part of my emotions is either hypo- or hyperactive. I can react like a volcano when pushed too far, but for the single jibe or remark or advice about my weight, I may need days to articulate the correct response.

In the meantime, I’m humiliated and ashamed and angry and the easiest thing to do with those emotions is to hope that the nearest deli doesn’t run out of my favorite ice cream and butterscotch cookies. My jaws react while my brain lights up with chemicals and then quickly shuts down again so that I have few feelings at all. Call me fatso, give me a pint of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream and I’ll say, “What anger?” The problem is that the next morning I may have gotten over that first flare of anger I binged over but have now doubled the shame factor.

What Angelina Sutin and Antonio Terracciano don’t factor into their study is that most obese people are running on low, living through food rather than through the dopamine-fired planning/response/fluency/problem solving aspects of the prefrontal cortex. As Dr. Pam Peeke, MD, discusses in The Hunger Fix, “obese people who have fewer dopamine receptors also have less activity in the prefrontal cortex”. A strong emotion calls for strong food which wipes out that many more receptors thereby making me need yet more strong food in order to get over the shame of binging and being called fat. Shame is an emotion that likes to cycle. It’s the hamster wheel we can’t jump off of except to grab another bag of chips or box of doughnuts.

Numerous studies, seemingly always involving chocolate milkshakes, bear out the dopamine spike in overweight or obese patients.

I wonder which of their local pushers these subject stop at after participating in those brain imaging studies?

I think that what overweight and obese need, then, is a list of responses to moments of discrimination.

To the doctor who says, “Your blood pressure would go down if you lost weight,” one might say, “Given that probably a third of your patients are in my predicament, you must be able to refer me to people and resources that will really help me in this struggle, right?”

To the family members we’re going to see on our annual visit, we might send a preparatory email saying, “Mention my weight and I’ll move to a hotel. And I’ll pawn your sterling silver to pay for it. And it will be another three months for each comment I hear before I hack the diet you’re so desperate for.  There twelve of you.  How much more weight will I gain in the three years it takes me to get over you?”

It could be helpful to offer bosses who move us to a less visible position or flat-out tell us we’re too fat for their tastes either your lawyer’s telephone number or an in-office game of Jeopardy on the subject of your profession. Be sure to tell the boss about the three-month rule.

To the a**shole on the street, I think a mere, “And you’re an a**hole” is appropriate.

What do we say to The Look? The one that comes when we put our carry-on down on the airplane seat next to a thin person, or the skinny check-out clerk, or the people we’ve given our stock responses to and have now resorted to The Look instead of verbal comments?

To strangers we can nothing or we can shame them with niceness. “I love your hair” or “If you need to get up, don’t hesitate to ask” or “I hope your day is going really well,” all or any of which said with a smile, can turn the wave of hostility back on them as a load of embarrassment.

I think we have to turn inward, as well. We have to have a mantra at hand to counter those moments when our throats close up but crying is not an option. We have to remind ourselves of who we are when we’ve been reminded of what we are. “You know nothing about me” is good, then couple it with what you like most about yourself or are proudest of.

I recently got a look from someone I used to know. She has gotten super-thin through a 12-step program that I feel encourages anorexia, and she looked at me from across the street with the kind of heartfelt pity that made me want to throw a handful of gravel at her.

What she doesn’t know is that I’m forging my own path with food and my particular 12-step program right now. I’m doing it with a sponsor’s input as well as a physician’s. I’ve noted here recently that I’ve had some success. I laughed, a little, inside, and thought, “You don’t know what I’m doing.”

The Look stung but it’s one of the messages I’d like to send out to the Fat Police: you don’t know where anyone is on their physical journey. That size 2 walking just ahead of you may have been a size 00 three months ago and may be a size 18 in a year. The fatty might be crafting her own program of positive lifestyle change or waiting for the eureka! moment when he will do so with earnest. He might have already dropped 70 pounds and be exuberantly on his way. She might be twenty times happier than the cop, with cozy friends and talents she exploits beautifully and fulfillment beyond the cop’s dreams. He might be a cupcake junkie in a social milieu of cupcake junkies who is innocent about what he’s doing to himself.

The point is, Fat Cops, you don’t know and might be surprised or jealous if you did know that person’s story. And if you persist in feeling superior, well then, you might get a handful of gravel in your face or find the Hummels have been stolen or discover yourself in someone’s blog.

And chances are, you’ll find at some point that food becomes an issue for you, that someone who was heavier than you is now smaller, that you are not the prettiest or smartest or most talented person in the room.

Maybe billboards to that effect are what the Florida State University College of Medicine researchers should have spent money on.

Because soon enough, it will be your turn to live with The Look and to find in-the-moment responses to what other people call you out on.

Frances Kuffel is the author of Passing for Thin: Losing Half My Weight and Finding My Self.

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