The Unspoken Underbelly of Obesity

Yesterday's disturbing and disheartening report published by Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, titled F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America’s Future 2011, reveals that adult obesity rates have increased in 16 states in the past year and did not decline in any state.  

F as in Fat?  Really?

So, let me get this straight.  The folks that are supposed to be the leaders in obesity research and prevention are actually contributing to the shame and weight bias surrounding this issue?  Am I really reading this?  F as in Fat?

What is it about addressing the behavioral aspects -- the underbelly of obesity -- that is so wholly terrifying?  Rather than providing a study whose title implies that anyone who is fat is a failure, rather than stressing the importance of dieting and exercise (which we clearly see is NOT working), why not start educating about what's really going on, here?

Dr. Craig Johnson of the Eating Recovery Center in Denver told us that “there is a subgroup of people whose weight disorder is a side effect of an eating disorder … and clearly that group we need to be able to identify ... and treat the eating disorder in the hopes that the weight disorder would resolve." 

In 2007, the NORMAL nonprofit presented its live NIS Program to a middle school in an at-risk community in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The more than 1,000 7th and 8th grade students who attended the presentation participated in the immediate question and answer session with a clinical psychologist / certified eating disorders specialist and an individual in recovery from eating disorders.  There were so many questions for the psychologist and person in recovery that the Principal of the school moved the Q&A to its own separate room.  More than 45 children chose to participate in that "private" Q&A session.  Not surprisingly, the questions being asked by the kids related to coping with peer pressure, low self-esteem and stress management.  A good number of children referenced their desire to “run home and eat a bag of candy” after school each day in order to relieve their stress.  We soon realized that we needed to offer an array of alternate coping strategies so they can choose behaviors other than binge eating during stressful times.  THESE are the kinds of discussions and educational programs we need to facilitate so we can discover the underbelly of obesity and learn what is feeding the eating!

Chevese Turner, President and CEO of the Binge Eating Disorder Association clarified with us the fact that "there are many pathways to obesity, binge eating disorder being one of them, and there are many pathways either out of obesity or living in a body that is larger and still being healthy by addressing your health and not a number on a scale."  She stresses that "one treatment is not going to work for every individual.  Binge eaters need something way beyond diet and exercise." 

According to the newly published National Prevention Strategy handbook, "anxiety and depression are associated with high probability of risk behaviors," including obesity.  So why don't we start looking at what is fueling the anxiety, depression, hopelessness that our kids are feeling?  

My own experience working with kids in schools has revealed that the anxieties facing our youth (and adults) are the result of a combination of factors that may include perpetual busi-ness, over-scheduling, over-stimulation from electronic devices, fear of sitting still and going inward, possible trauma or traumatic events, chaos in the family, lack of self-esteem and a lack of effective coping strategies. 

Rather than grading an "F for Fat" and contributing to the feelings of hopelessness among those who are struggling with obesity, why don’t we -- instead -- provide the kinds of tools that teach stress management, assertiveness, financial worth, identity, healthy coping and effective communication skills?  Better yet, teach all of these things using arts based programs that engage the voice, movement, dance, yoga, music, drawing, theatre and writing.

Oh -- wait, those programs, keep getting cut, don't they?  So ... for those who are responsible for adding to the hopelessness by grading "F for Fat" and for not teaching the whole truth about obesity ... what should your grade be?

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  • 7/8/2011 7:00 PM Amy Pershing wrote:
    Thanks to you! And to Chevese! We need to focus on health, on helping kids listen to and honor their bodies, instead of teaching them hate and intolerance. Health comes in lots of shapes and sizes!

    Amy Pershing LMSW, ACSW
    PershingTurner Centers
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  • 7/11/2011 9:27 AM Becky Henry wrote:
    Robyn, thank you for your helpful article. Not only are you helping to stop the bullying of obese people but you are also offering some concrete tools as to what we can all do to help people.

    You are showing us all the bigger picture here, that I believe is the intention of fighting a "war on obesity" but has not been focused on. These tools you share are a wonderful example of how we can all be helping: "...provide the kinds of tools that teach stress management, assertiveness, financial worth, identity, healthy coping and effective communication skills? Better yet, teach all of these things using arts based programs that engage the voice, movement, dance, yoga, music, drawing, theatre and writing."

    Teaching these skills along with tolerance and love will help rather than shame. Thank you Robyn!
    Becky Henry, CPCC
    Hope Network, LLC
    Reply to this
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