Why So Many Of Us Are Fat: Resolving The Weighty Issues That Impact Our Health & Well-Being

I hope the title of this post got your attention. I’ve decided to discuss this under some duress I might add because the combination of our fear, rage, apathy and mixed-up thinking is killing us. Or at the very “least” negatively impacting and lessening the quality of our lives. It’s not an easy topic. This also ties into why we need to let go of the pain (porn) and stop wrapping it around us as if it were a blanket to protect us when it is in fact an anvil sending us to the bottom of the ocean to drown.

I’ve observed the conversations at several BWE blogs who’ve tackled addressing why many of us need to lose weight. (I say get rid of because I don’t want it “finding” me again!). I’ve noticed the knee-jerk defensive attitudes of many women and can totally relate. I usually avoid participating because reading those words in their various combination: “you who are overweight and obese need to change” felt like a knife jabbing my heart.

The main reason of course, is that I already knew this. They’re not saying anything most of us don’t understand. It’s the equivalent of broadcasting something at full blast that we think we’re hiding in our pockets. Yet, everyone can see it as plain as day!

We just don’t want to hear it. We are stressed and distressed and being stubborn. It needs to end today.

Many of us have survived (barely) growing up in predominantly black environments where we’ve been told a lot of upside down things were normal. We weren’t always protected. We’ve been sexualized at an early age, violated or had our senses assaulted repeatedly. Be it by strangers when we walked down the street or by family members or some combo therein.

Many of us have been told we had to be responsible for others to our detriment, that wanting to be treated with consideration was asking for too much, that wanting reciprocity was selfish and often this was strictly enforced by other women with a particular viciousness that crushed our spirits.

We tried to be “good” girls and model citizens despite being fitted with lead weights around our ankles to keep us grounded. We are often the “exception” to many things. We’ve gone on to achieve so many things. Yet there’s still a jumbled mix of pride, confusion and even loneliness we may have to contend with.

Self-medicating with food and perhaps with the sugary-types in particular was one such recourse (drugs, sex and other coping skills may abound as well). Those coping mechanisms  only work for so long until we have to up the ante to get the same effect. Binge-eating and stuffing ourselves past our comfort is a sign of disordered thinking as surviving abusive and counterproductive situations will permanently alter our perspectives.

The rush of serotonin likely offered a calming balm to highly-charged negative situations and feelings. Perhaps we’ve engaged in some starvation/purging tactics but realized we couldn’t maintain that, so overeating became the preferred reactionary compensation attempt. Perhaps our eating habits didn’t have to be examined for years due to our high metabolism and exercise regimes, but time and a more sedentary lifestyle eventually displayed the increase in weight. Perhaps we never gained a huge amount of weight all at once and it was a slow drip 5-10 pounds per year. Perhaps we woke up one day and went, “What the *(&^ happened to me!”, but choosing busy work and rescuing others got in the way of properly addressing it.

Perhaps we’ve been disconnected from our bodies for years, since shortly before or after puberty and we’re still stuck emotionally at a certain age. Perhaps we’ve tried to address these things by attending OverEaters Anonymous meetings but were surrounded by a lot of non-black women discussing their anorexia and bulimia battles and thinking we weren’t nearly as messed up as they are or felt we could not relate at all to those stick-thin girls and who wanted to be vulnerable around them?! Plus the no-dating anyone for a year rule had us balking if we were already single and starving for affection. Telling us we couldn’t do yet another thing when we were already going to have to give up our crutch of food was just too much.

Perhaps we’ve been to therapy and the tenure of the remedy revolved around our feelings but we were so numb we couldn’t distinguish what they were. Maybe we didn’t really connect with the therapist because we’d be too busy trying to be the Model Minority and couldn’t discuss certain things. This professional looked like all of those OA girls or was a male or maybe from a similar background as us but deflected any evaluation of what we may now recognize as the abnormal conditions of our surroundings.

Or all we felt was rage and expressing it was not a freeing experience it just left us exhausted and more enraged. Especially if we thought this was supposed to set us free. Perhaps not having anyone connect the dots to where we lived and the acceptance of the violation against our person wrapped as cultural instead of being recognized as anti-woman further alienated us.

Perhaps we see these conversations as yet another person telling us there’s something wrong with us when we’ve had to fight other people tearing at us for such a long time. We feel helpless but we don’t want to hear it. We’re being told we’re fully responsible…but we’re so doggone tired from years of heavy lifting other people’s burdens. Perhaps we’ve had our bodies dissected growing up and inherited other people’s shame instead of being taught to have a normal reaction to our development and safe exploration of our sexuality. Perhaps we or those we’ve been intimate with do not understand basic anatomy to this day. Perhaps we’re embarrassed by that as an adult but still haven’t addressed it because our religiosity gets in the way.

Even though the intention may be to help it doesn’t necessarily feel that way. We like to think of ourselves as the exception. We’ll remain healthy. We’ll get the love we deserve. We’ll climb the ladder of success. Despite all of the obstacles.

So having someone, especially someone who has never walked in our shoes (the way we think is valid) tell us that we have to change, that we have to take responsibility, that something is off is like sticking so many pins in our balloon. The one we’ve self-inflated and taped over in our focused attempt at soaring. We may have traveled for many miles and gone to great heights but we’re always aware one big gust or rain storm can send us crashing back to earth. Perhaps.

Besides, we may not want to accept our concept of the black community no longer applies, that we have to include a completely different set of social “rules” and engagement outside what we may be comfortable or familiar with. We may not want to accept as some bloggers have said, that we’re surrounded by zombies. It’s incredibly sad and distressing when you see your entire ethnic group going down in flames by choice. Even as they have little pins of their own to poke holes in your balloon and have been doing so for a quite some time. Even as you logically know these things to be true, you have examples of exceptions to wave proudly just to counterbalance that. Even though you see the foul behavior and may write about it in fact, you still want to find the uninfected in hopes you all can band together in real life and form an intentional community for support – or at least have some a sense of solidarity amongst each other. Even as you’re preparing to step into the world at large or have already done so. Some people like being the only one of their kind in a new territory. Perhaps you would at least like a few people who look similar to you, that you can relate to and who’ve had certain cultural ties that you share. Because you’ve not had an issue with the core of your person or the package you were sent to this Earth in.

Perhaps you think all of this stinks on so many levels but you’re a pragmatist. Perhaps you have to contend not only with random people, but those who share your closest blood ties. Reading what some person writes on a blog is the last thing you want to have to deal with even as what they’ve posted is a double-edge sword and you know it to be true.

You’re already so tired, so overwhelmed, so angry or so disappointed and just trying to get through the day. You may be planning your escape route or your reinvention story. You may have a load of responsibilities. You may have to clear up the damage from previous mistakes. You may just be stalling. You may not believe you can make this change and think it’s better to accept defeat rather than try and fail because then you’ll really feel like crap.

Here’s the thing: all of the above are various scenarios that some of you may or may not be able to relate to. At the end of the day none of it matters anymore, because what we may not realize is that we’re walking around with a ticking time bomb designed to take us out. If we’re overweight we think we have time because “it’s not that bad”. If we’re obese or worse, morbidly obese we may tell ourselves that we’re merely overweight. That the BMI index is utter BS and culturally biased. So what!

Even if we think we can’t possibly change it we’re wrong.

We can address our excess weight even while dealing with all of the above. It starts by deciding to take it seriously. By choosing what we eat instead of grabbing whatever is convenient. Now we may have to figure out a nutrition plan but the immediate thing we can control is not eating the obvious crappy foods we’ve been consuming. We can keep a food journal to actually see what we’re eating. It might be more food than we realize or lack nutritional variety. We can reduce our portion sizes. We can immediately add more fruits and vegetables. We can do 15 minutes of exercise doing something every day. Even if it hurts eventually our bodies adjust. Then we keep increasing the duration and level of difficulty. We don’t have to be perfect or have all the answers before we take the first baby steps towards our recovery and getting all aspects of our lives under control.

We’ve been dancing on the edge of a cliff this entire time. We can’t be resentful of those trying to dispense common sense and win. We can’t be envious of women who’ve managed to avoid falling into certain pits for telling us to get out of those that have ensnared some of us. They’re doing us a favor when they have other things they could be doing.

Regardless of the ultimate goal – some of us will be more concerned with the external results not our health – even if our health needs to be our primary concern we still need to get started today. We may not have tomorrow.

******

Here are three places to start if you’re ready to make a change —

One of the first things I did was to reduce my daily calories and following some of the techniques with The Volumetrics Eating Plan: Techniques and Recipes for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories as I adjusted.

Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple blog has a great post on dealing with stress and has written books extensively about optimal health with a return to more simple eating — The Primal Blueprint: Reprogram your genes for effortless weight loss, vibrant health, and boundless energy

Fans of Tim Ferriss will be pleased to find he has a new book on fitness amongst other things (lol)

The 4-Hour Body: An Uncommon Guide to Rapid Fat-Loss, Incredible Sex, and Becoming Superhuman

27 comments to Why So Many Of Us Are Fat: Resolving The Weighty Issues That Impact Our Health & Well-Being

  • jayybe

    It's very simple. Burn more calories than you consume. That's it. If you cannot burn it, don't eat it. It's psychology and impulse control. You have to learn to not put it in your mouth. People medicate themselves with food. It has to do with feeding themselves emotionally instead of physically. But do you want to "wear" the food after you eat it? I certainly don't. You have to stop your arm/hand from putting the food into your mouth. If you can stop it, you are on your way to not being overweight. I've stayed at 107 pounds by following the rule of not medicating myself with food.

  • kiwihelen

    Last of all, we talked about how she could identify the 6 year old in the future (through how her body felt when that 6 year old was expressing -- looking at body language, hearing the words she was using), and what things would soothe the 6 year old instead of food. Her soothing included playing some Wii games, having a bath, reading a book with her daughter, and just acknowledging that this 6 year old was allowed to feel wounded -- as this 6 year old was the element of herself who was told she was adopted by an uncaring older cousin.

    On the physical scale, she has lost 30kg, but this is one tiny bit of her success. Instead of waiting to be thin to return to studies, she has returned to do the last year of high school at age 29, and got accepted into tertiary education. She also got a diagnosis of dyslexia during her process of resitting her high school final year, which helped her re-evaluate her interal script of being "stupid". She still struggles with winter depression, and is still scared her husband will stop loving her, but she can now tell him when she gets stroppy that she just needs to be held, so her 6 year old self can feel accepted even when she is angry. Her children argue with her less, because she can use the techniques she has been taught to break out of arguments quicker. She managed to deal with her own daughter having a persistent nightmare for 4 weeks in a healthy way without using food as a soother for her wee girl.

    Most excitingly, she is planning to study so she can do similar work with other people…she wants to pass on the gift of insight she has been given. At the point she doesn't need me in a thereputic role we will have an interesting process of renegotiating our relationship to that of colleagues -- but that too is a pleasure for me as a practitioner.

    None of this is easy, and as a practitioner, I have to put myself on the line and be authentic with my clients. Yet, I have the lowest scores for burnout risk of any of my colleagues, because in being open and authentic I have dealt with my own scripts and games and I am aware of the impact clients have on me.

    If you are interested in TA the book I recommend as a starting point is TA for kids (and grown-ups too), which is available on Amazon.

  • kiwihelen

    The number 1 technique is to enhance emotional intellegence -- and for many people having a language to express what they are feeling is a core skill they have never aquired in their upbringing.

    I use transactional analysis (TA) as a model for teaching the language, in part because it is both non-gendered and has very few cultural features which could result in confusion associated with language (bear in mind, because I am an economic migrant, I am working cross-culturally, even though the people I work with are white like myself).

    A quick summary of TA: We have three primary elements of our internal dialogue, Parent (P), Adult (A) and child (C). A "clear" communication between two people is where there are no crossing of lines e.g. "Do you think the weather forecast is right today?" "Well, I checked the barometer and it seems to agree with what the TV said." is an A to A response, or "I feel all sad, because my family are a long way away at this time of year" "Poor you, would you like a hug from me, even if I am not family" is a C to P response.

    A messed up communication is when the lines clash. An example would be if I said "Do you think the weather forecast is right today?" (my adult speaking to their adult) and I got the response from the other person going "You always worry too much at this time of year, stop asking such stupid questions (their parent speaking to my child)

    Also in TA, it reminds us that we all need transactions, i.e. to get feedback to LIVE, so even negative feedback is better than none…and so if we grew up on a diet of limited feedback, we will seek transactions regardless of whether they are good or bad for us, and these patterns become scripts we live out.

    Identifying scripts and the games associated with them (a game being how a script is played out -- i.e. the pattern a transaction takes), allows you to then use your adult brain to referee, both between external transactions i.e. if you always fight with your Mom at Christmas, you can use your adult brain to step in and defend your child from her negative parent who starts off the fight, and your internal transactions i.e. if you always respond to the fight with your Mom at Christmas by demolishing the entire chocolate supply of the east coast of the US, then your adult brain can think of other ways to soothe the internal child instead of resorting to food as a nurturing parent subsitute.

    For some people the internal script is harder to conquer than the external one, for others it is the complete reverse.

    My own journey has taken me through conquering some really hard internal scripts (still fighting some battles over a few of them!), while I had relativly benign external scripts and games in my family of origin (all thanks to my Mum who dealt with a lot of her own personal issues well, rather than handing them on to her children). Many of my more sinister external scripts came from an abusive first husband, and the experience of being undiagnosed until adulthood with dyspraxia…not good coming from a sports mad country, as I was bullied and marginalised as the kid who no one wanted on their team.

    My role in the process of supporting others is to help them learn the language, offer insight when they are struggling to see patterns, and sometimes gently challenging when their transactions are at cross-ways to the work we are doing in the adult-adult domain.

    An example; one of my clients who had been doing very well, went completely to pieces and I was dealing with a completely frustrated "child-self". I actually had to challenge her and express my opinion that her child self was 6 years old and was completely pissed off with me. I then asked her adult self to see if she could track down what was causing this anger and why the 6 year old was expressing.
    It turned out I had inadvertently said something that felt like she was going to be abandoned in her attempts to lose weight, and she was certain it was because I felt she was failing -- so she was pushing me away. We then sat down and talked about why I had said what I had said -- I had been dealing with a very difficult management situation in my job and was having to delay an appointment, not cancel it.
    We then talked about the sense of failing, and I got her to work out what she needed to do to measure her own success…so she fired up her Wii fit and weighed herself (while on the phone to me), and she nearly died of shock to realise she had lost 6lb, despite having what she thought was a bad month. This lead us to work out what the "bad month" was compared to a time before she started this work with me, which was a "good month", and she could see how much healthier her coping mechanisms were when it came to things like conflict at work, or her kids playing up at home.

  • kiwihelen

    Hello,

    I am book marking your post and will probably share it with some of my clients. Most are not black. Most are white -- but they share a common experience of abuse and suppression.

    I started working as a registered dietitian around 14 years ago, and quickly gave up on the commonly held paradigm that morbidly obese people lacked will-power. As I listened to the stories of my clients (rather than trying to "educate" them -- LOL), I began to realise that these people had the most immense will to survive, and that food became a crutch, a friend, a support, a weapon, a gag and a substitute for the nurture and support of good relationships. I started working with (mostly) women to help them identify how they could change their script -- to chanel that enormous will to survive into ways that were self-nurturing and supporting.

    I'm not going to say there were always successes -- not everyone is ready to confront the darkness which is forced down with the food. But rather than leaving my clients feeling they have no control, I hope I impart the sense that they can make choices to give them control.

    Yes, some people put on weight through "absentminded gain" -- but in my experience, once you are hitting the level of morbid obesity (in what ever way you chose to measure it), you are looking into root causes which will not be budged through public health announcements.

    Thanks for your posting

  • Just a note to say, I love your blog, your writing style and fearless topics. Proud to have you on my blogroll. :)

    Re: Aretha, like my mother, came of age during a very destructive era of "diet pills" and in so many ways had it far worse than us. Nobody had a clue what amphetamines could do to you in those days. They were the guinea pigs. And the doctors passed out the cheap dexedrine like it was Halloween candy.

  • ph2072

    (this is @wizardofoz321 -- saved this a couple days ago since my work internet sucks)

    I'm not what anyone would consider fat. As a matter-of-fact, as I stated in one of the last entries, I'm the smallest in my immediate (and some extended) family. However, having overweight aunts & mother, I've seen the exact behaviors that you've described (including one who admitted to bulimic eating patterns in the past due to all kinds of abuse). I've challenged each of them about it, but to no avail. I'm not sure what to do or say next, except to leave them alone. It's sad because I want to have them around for many more years; I'm just not sure if THEY want to be around for many more years and they won't be if they don't get help for the things they went through that led to the overeating (and other) behaviors.

  • NoturMammy

    This isn't so much an argument, but rather an explanation. An embellishment also implies that I am being fanciful or indirect, and that's not what I'm against. Most of the claims that I made in my previous post have been supported by recent research-and legitimately belong in a discussion about how Black women should move forward in maintaining a healthy body/weight. As I said, I don't think many women are even pretending they don't see weight as a problem-therefore I don't think the "hands-off" idea is a fair assessment of people's sensitivity. As I said before, the girl who had an issue was discussing her issue on a blog dedicated entirely to weight loss. Surely if she did not think she needed to change or feared discussion about obesity, she would not have been there in the first place.

    In the case of Aretha Franklin, causation does not equal correlation. She is over 60 years old, and from predictors that I know of cancer her diagnosis could be a combination of things-many of which may not be related to her size. How are we to really know? At least half of the famous people mentioned with PC were also half her size-or smaller. Her appearance should not be enough for a public diagnosis.

    I also wanted to mention that I attempted to respond on the other blog but comments were closed. I don't have issues with anyone-I don't even necessarily think I'm a dissenting voice either. But the issue of vanity/problem with the appearance of fatness and concern for health are often conflated and contribute to the pervasive myth that a few soldiers are carrying this issue to people who are blind deaf and dumb, when in fact it is a pervasive topic for black women that is under-acknowledged as a concern. I think that's my main point. I believe people sense when they feel someone is more motivated by the former (vanity) rather than the latter and respond (or refuse to respond) accordingly. There is nothing cowardly about sensing that and being put off by it-even if that person may like you or believe they mean well. Harping on obesity is not a call to action, it's a statement of an already accepted truth. But for people who already accept/know that-and I believe most of your readers do- what next? I am asking rhetorically, as you've already given your take on that…

  • NoturMammy

    Hello Faith,

    Sorry my post is long, lol.

    I registered to say that I think this is the most thoughtful piece on this subject I've read thus far. I really enjoyed it. However, I do disagree with the reason some may feel "miffed" by the way this issue is addressed by other bloggers. I don't think people "think we’re hiding in our pockets." I think people are quite aware that others are aware that they are fat and that society has an aversion to it. Especially if you work in integrated environments or have an active social life, it's an inescapable reality.

    I think a major issue some may have with other bloggers is the pervasive perspective that black women don't care and traditionally haven't cared, and therefore NEED a "hard-lined" approach. I believe this is a huge falsehood, and the hard-lined approach (from society) has been a part of the problem. I also believe that the black women that say they don't care, do so to obscure the fact that it is very painful and just another issue they have to deal with on top of being marginalized for a wealth of other reasons. I've personally known women who "don't care" but down laxatives after every meal. There is a misconception that black women do not suffer from eating disorders at the rate of white women-and researchers are now starting to acknowledge that this is also untrue and a result of misconceptions about black women's behaviors. Even if you desire to be "thick", as the black community prefers, that thickness is still curvaceous and it is still a body ideal that excludes lots of women. Research is showing that Black women are more likely to binge eat and just as likely to be bulimic. The problem is that a bulimic won't always appear to be sick or starved-as they are usually normal weight or fat because bulimia is generally known to be ineffective. All three are diseases, and yet society tends to have the most sympathy for anorexics-possibly because they appear sickly and on some level we (society) admire the dedication it takes to starve one's self.

    So, when a position is formulated on the idea that black women are/have been careless or are overly sensitive for no reason, I believe it doesn't speak to the fact that black women, particularly those most likely to be BWE readers, HAVE been suffering and trying-but *failing* for many reasons. I appreciate that you noted this.

    I remember you addressing the issue with Gabourney on the cover of Elle vs. Kerri's. While Kerri embodies the mainstream feminine ideal, she also struggled with bulimia. And if my senses are correct based on things she's said in interviews, she still harbors disordered thinking about food/body but has come a long way. A part of why she has freed herself from that is because she has had to love/accept herself and body. Is it possible or right to teach an obese person who binge eats to love their body in order to cope with negative treatment/stigma (that cyclically contributes to overeating)? That is a part of fat acceptance. Not excusing unhealthy behavior, but valuing one's self regardless of size. The concept of fat acceptance seems to be unpopular in much of the BWEsphere. Yet, it's often that mentality that helps people move through their issues with food by discouraging body politics. Letting go of the fixation on the body and focusing on healthy behavior. Often discussions around obesity are full of counterproductive body talk. When 95% of people who diet regain weight, at what point do we start to focus more on the actual journey rather than the starting or end point?

    I recall specifically the case of "Nikita" posting on another blog and she was chewed out for that. But the blog that she turned to was still a weight loss blog. I don't think that she was someone who has issues facing the truth. I think it's someone who is tired of being looked at as a problem or a failure, rather than a person.

    Hope this all makes sense.

  • Neecy101

    Hi Faith,

    Very real talk article. I think you broke it down very accuratley.

    BUT there always seems to be much focus on BW who are/were abused in some various way or shape.

    I have to admit, there are some of us BW who are overweight b/c of pure carelessness. I can honeslty say I had a great loving childhood. i was often the most popular girl, always dated, had a wonderful family. i cannot recall anything in my life that would make me gravitate to food -- besides maybe stress?

    What i am trying to say is, I believe there are also many of us who gain weight b/c we are CARELESS. PERIOD. Nothing more, nothing less. This is not to say that the MAJORITY of BW who are overweight are not dealing with the issues addressed. but when I look at my own case, i have to own up to the fact that (1) I love food and (2) I was careless about my weight when i saw it creeeping up. When I look back i ask myself how the hell did I allow myself to get like this. The answer is just that -- I IGNORED IT. Maybe I thought it wasn't a big deal.

  • I tend to view weight gain as a more simple process, so it was an interesting read to look at the problem from all angles.

    Even with all the cultural reasons why black women are overweight, the bottom line is we HAVE to take responsibility for our own health. There are so many excuses out there -- from black women being 'big boned', to being ok with eating 'differently' from other racial groups, to giving ourselves a pass for being poorer than other races and thus not have access to quality food.

    It comes down to the fact that food and health aren't priorities, instant gratification is. And I find that most people don't want to face the truth that we don't have emotional control over what we put into our mouths and why. So we don't control our emotional reactions to being told what we already know… that our eating habits are unhealthy.

    I just want more people, especially black women, to see that food is fuel for the body, not a cure to anything or a band-aid to other issues.

  • thought provoking read. I wish that black women blow the trumpet wasn't private now; she had a post on how so many black women gained weight in order to keep sexual attention away in their youth or because they'd been sexually assaulted and it was a very thought provoking read as well.

    It's sad to see so many giving up on living well and accepting little to less than nothing in their lives. I want us to thrive and win, but black women often times rally against their OWN happiness and I don't know how that will change en masse. hopefully the next couple generations get it together, but I don't know how if their moms are indoctrinated, their communities in shambles, dudes whispering a whole lot of nothing at them, and the media telling them that they should be real "housewives" that aren't married, basketball "wives" THAT AREN'T MARRIED, or rap groupies with big butts. jeez