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Obesity is Not a Character Flaw

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Robin Schroeder, MD, with LVPG Bariatric Medicine, understands what her patients face when they try to lose weight. When she turned 50, the always-dieting doctor opted for a LAP-Band® surgical procedure to help her lose excess weight. Since then, she has maintained her weight by making changes to her diet and regularly exercising.

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I recently read a news story about “fat shaming” beginning in elementary school. Growing up, I was always the “chunky” girl. Fat shaming wasn’t a term back then, but the comments about “Having a pretty face, if only you lost weight,” still stung.

I struggled with weight (and diets) my entire life. My weight was at an all-time high due to increased emotional eating following the passing of my dad, and I was approaching 50. I felt like a hypocrite advising patients to lose weight when I couldn’t seem to do it, long term. It was then then I decided to use a surgical weight-loss tool that was available to me.

The LAP-Band® (an adjustable band that wraps around the stomach) seemed like the best choice at the time. Yet there’s something more I want you to think about that has nothing to do with the pros and cons of weight loss surgery or diets, but has everything to do with so-called “fat shaming” and “obesity bias.”

When I attend conferences and present on weight management, I often show a set of photos of the same two women, before and after significant weight loss. When showing the “before” heavier photos, I ask, ‘What words come to mind when you see these women?’

All sorts of negative words, like unmotivated, lazy, overeater, are often associated with overweight people and come to mind for the audience. When I reveal that both photos feature the same women – and by the way, these women happen to be me and a close (highly successful) friend who also had weight-loss surgery – the audience is silent.

Here’s my point: obesity is not a character flaw. There are hundreds of reasons you, I, or a first-grader are heavier than we would like to be. Weight does not define who we are or what we can achieve. Judging a person based on their weight is like judging someone based on their hair color or other physical attribute. It isn’t an indicator of my drive to become a doctor, or your devotion to your family, or how well an elementary child learns to read.

Think back to what I shared about my and the audience’s obesity bias. Before you make a judgment based solely on size, remember this person has a chronic illness that is not fully understood. They may have tried and stuck to traditional weight loss recommendations without long-term success or they may have given up. In any case, it is not our place to judge.

If you are struggling with your weight, continue to strive for your goals: education; career; personal life. Obesity is not a character flaw and weight loss doesn’t eliminate all of life’s challenges or guarantee success. You hold the key to your successes in life. Own it.