I know someone who has a child with a disability. I’m not exactly sure of the details, but it has to do with her leg being squished while she was just a fetus. So when she was born that leg was twisted inward severely and a atrophied. They did surgery shortly after her birth and have since done a couple more surgeries. Each time, they apparently have to break the bone and twist the leg towards being straight. And then they cast her entire leg until it heals. There is a whole protocol and this poor little girl has to go through a few more surgeries, but the hope and plan is that it will make her leg normal or close to normal by the time she is 10 or so.
She is only 4 but recently had another surgery. I was talking with her father and he was telling me about sitting down with her explaining about why she needed the surgery. How he knows that there is some pain and she will hate the cast but that the doctors want to make her leg normal so she can play sports and have a relatively normal leg. The parents and the doctors thought that it was important that she have it explained what was happening and why rather than just subjecting her to medical procedures.
It made me think of a recent blog post that one of my Facebook friends shared. It was from a woman who talked about sitting in the doctor’s office as a child and having him say to her that he knows that ice cream and chips taste good, but that they were making her “big and fat”. The doctor apparently poked her belly and told her that she needed to get “rid of this”. She recalls just feeling so humiliated and believes that this was the start of her life-long battle with food. There was no sensitivity displayed and no real discussion - just an “you eat too much” condemnation.
I, too, was put on a diet when I was young. No one sat me down and talked to me about weight or eating right. Instead, the doctor gave my mother a list of what to feed me. I remember feeling hungry all the time. And angry. And guilty. I began sneaking food and was berated when caught. Around that same time, in my life, I was in a meeting at school for a club I was in. There were donuts. Everyone was having one and I, of course, eagerly reached for one. I saw one of my peers lean over and whisper to another peer and they both snickered. I was so embarrassed.
It was then that I learned the art of bathroom eating. I know that some of you out there know exactly what that is. When you sneak food into the bathroom where you theoretically won’t be interrupted, lock the door, and chow down. Often while feeling ashamed, but you don’t stop. There are no witnesses - no one to condemn you in there as you eat forbidden foods.
Later in life, this can translate to car eating. Our vehicles become ideal places to hide and scarf down food we aren’t “supposed to” have. I talked to a woman not too long ago. She was telling me that she would call her husband and tell him that she was in a late meeting a work. She would drive to the grocery store and buy a large amount of sweets - usually donuts. And she would give the cashier this long story about why she was buying several items (like the cashier cared - right?). She would then drive to the far corner of the parking lot and eat the sweets. Afterwards, feeling sick and guilty she would make her way over to the dumpster and throw out the containers or wrappers and vow that she would never do it again.
Of course, disposing of wrappers, wiping up crumbs, checking your face to make sure there is no “evidence” - those become essential to making sure no one finds out your secret. And, of course, pretending it didn’t happen, putting on a show for your loved ones afterwards? That is just as important.
I never quite reached the of level of sneaking food in parking lots, but I’ve thought about doing things along those lines. And even today, I sometimes don’t take a cookie or a candy because I don’t want anyone to see me take it and/or eat it. I might take one later when no one is looking, but even if everyone else is having one, I can’t do it. The feeling that I will be judged or mocked - that hasn’t gone away entirely with weight loss.
There is still that battle with food. One of the reasons for this is that unlike that little girl with the disability who has things explained to her with dignity and respect - obesity is not treated like a medical condition even though there is a TON of research out there that tells us it is! No, if you are fat, it is due to a defect of character. You lack willpower. It is YOUR FAULT. You need to be treated with contempt and disgust, right?
So we address the issue in hushed tones or we don’t address it at all. As a society we do this and even our medical professionals do this. If we stopped linking obesity to a judgment on someone’s character and as solely a medical condition would that reduce the stigma? Make them feel less ashamed? Allow them to talk about it? Would it help people live a more healthy lifestyle?
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. But I do know what it feels like to struggle and to feel like less than.