For people who have never dealt with weight issues, the challenges of living with excess weight — let alone trying to lose it — can be incomprehensible.
There are some people who have never dealt with weight issues. For them, the challenges of living with excess weight, let alone trying to lose it, can be incomprehensible. They may see it as a simple black and white issue: if you weigh too much, eat less and lose weight. This perception misses the many and varying shades of gray that anyone who has ever been on a diet — or 10 diets, or 100 diets — has had to struggle with.
Myths and Misperceptions about Obesity
A common misperception about weight is that people with obesity get that way because they lack willpower. This view suggests that every bite a person takes is a conscious choice and that many people are making bad choices. If only it was that easy! There are so many inaccurate beliefs about why people are overweight or have obesity, so let’s address a few of the more common views:
“Overweight people just eat too much.”
Eating too much food combined with too little activity certainly contributes to overweight and obesity. However, these are far from the only reasons. Some people have physical limitations that restrict their activity level, and others have medical conditions or take medications that increase appetite that reduce the body’s metabolism. Additionally, we all have hormones that regulate our weight, but they don’t always work as they are supposed to, just like the receptors in our brain don’t always communicate effectively with our stomach. All of these can lead to weight gain, sometimes substantially.
“Overweight people should just say no to food so they lose weight.”
Everyone has a favorite food that they can’t say no to, and we all indulge at least every once in a while. But for some people, the craving for certain foods can be overwhelming to the point of addiction. Food addiction, like a smoking or gambling addiction, is a real thing. Research indicates that up to 20 percent of adults have a food addiction and that rate is higher among people with obesity. As with other addictions, people crave more and experience withdrawal when they are unable to have what they want — in this case, food.
“If you’re not losing weight, you’re not trying hard enough.”
There may be some people in the world who are so organized and put together that everything, including meals and exercise, are optimized for peak efficiency (at least that’s how it is in the movies!). For the rest of us, life happens. Demands on our schedules mean that sometimes we sacrifice the time to make a well-balanced meal and instead catch up with our families over a frozen pizza. It’s also true that it can be much more economical for families to buy snacks rather than fruit. In fact, there are many factors beyond any one individual’s control that affect what they eat and whether they can exercise that can make it all but impossible for them to make changes they know and want to make to benefit their health and well-being.
There are more people in the U.S. who are overweight or with obesity than there are people of a healthy weight. This is a national epidemic! But until it is acknowledged and treated as the health crisis it is, everyone is stuck dealing with their situation on their own. The very least we can do as a society is to recognize that there are many, legitimate factors beyond one person’s control that contribute to weight gain that have nothing to do with what and how much they eat. Until we have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, the very least we can do is educate ourselves on the causes and show some compassion for others’ struggles.
About the Author: Dr. Andrea Pampaloni has over 20 years of communication experience across corporate, academic, nonprofit and government sectors. She provides research and writing services on a range of business issues and industry-specific topics to prepare white papers, articles, proposals, presentations, technical content, and speaking points, as well as marketing-communications content such as blogs, website content, newsletters, news releases and award submissions. Dr. Pampaloni’s research findings have been presented at national and international conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and she is a ghostwriter for three books, a Forbes article, and several corporate blogs.