*Editor’s note: Elephant Journal articles represent the personal views of the authors, and can not possibly reflect Elephant Journal as a whole. Disagree with an Op-Ed or opinion? We’re happy to share your experience here.
Of course it’s okay to be overweight, but how far is too far in condoning it?
Is it okay that we celebrate plus-sized model campaigns in advertising as if by doing so we have made a major leap as a society?
There is no such thing as a healthy person who is overweight. We are all perfect as we are in this moment, but, in my opinion, we should not glorify people who are identified as, and okay with, being unhealthy.
We should glorify people who get to the point of obesity, accept it, and begin to make lifestyle changes to heal. These are the real heroes because this is not an easy thing to do.
This is not about shaming people who hold a few extra pounds, it is a wake-up call for a society with millions of unhealthy people who are suffering. I have never been overweight—so in this regard, I do not speak from experience—but I have been unhealthy to the point of having allergies so bad I could barely breathe at times.
Unhealthiness can manifest itself in many different forms, and just because a person is skinny does not mean they are healthy. Skinny people get cancers and other diseases too, so it’s important to understand that weight itself is not the only metric for good health.
We should never settle for poor health, no matter the cause. It’s okay to be overweight, but this knowledge should be an opportunity to heal, not an excuse to stay sick. We all deserve vitality in every sense of the word and we have the choice to create this for ourselves.
The obesity epidemic has gone too far and we should not be okay with it.
The belief that being overweight is somehow normal is disturbing to me. We even see the media stamping its approval of “okayness” on being unhealthy with lovable “fat, funny guy” characters, and with plus-sized advertising campaigns.
We should not be celebrating unhealthy bodies. This is not to say we shouldn’t make clothes for overweight people or should shun them from society. I am asserting that people—and especially the younger generation—may see things like this and think, “Oh, it’s normal to be fat. I shouldn’t try to change my lifestyle. I’m just like the people on TV.”
Perhaps the intention behind these types of campaigns is helping people to accept themselves as they are. If this is true, my opinion is that this is not the best way to go about it. Maybe this phenomenon is a reaction to the photoshopped cover spreads with insanely skinny models, which have no resemblance to real life either. It is almost as if we have completely lost a grip on the reality of what a typical human body is supposed to look like on both ends of the spectrum.
As a society, we should be promoting what real healthy lifestyles and bodies look like.
Is obesity in our genes?
I also sense people viewing obesity as a disease caused by genetic predisposition. I have heard people say things like, “I’m fat and it’s just the way I am,” or, “I have bad genes. I wish I had better ones so I could be skinny!” Obesity is caused for the most part by poor diet and is usually accompanied by emotional trauma. Genetics is old science and the new science of epigenetics proves unequivocally that genes turn on and off based primarily on environmental factors.
Blaming bad genes is a total victim mentality and it has got to go if we are going to overcome this health crisis. Of course, different people’s bodies do respond differently to changes in environmental factors, like diet. Some people put on weight a lot easier than others, but there is no such thing as being born destined for a plus-sized waist.
Weight as a part of our identity.
It is possible for us to identify with things like weight, making absolute statements like “I’m fat” as if we’re saying something like “I’m a man.” We can identify with these statements so strongly that, subconsciously, we create behaviors to stay where we are—we convince ourselves that it’s okay so as not to lose our identity.
Disease identification is pervasive among diagnosed conditions, and diagnosed conditions are in and of themselves disempowering. A diagnosis can very easily become a self-fulfilling prophecy and it happens all the time when doctors tell patients things like how many months they have left to live. A diagnosis should be taken as a present moment assessment of our health, not as a solidified state of being in our future.
Our weight is something we can control. Yes, it can be extremely difficult to overcome obesity—or any other health problem for that matter—but it is not impossible. We all have the ability to heal ourselves and we can become empowered in this sense.
What causes obesity from a biological perspective?
Overeating sugar—and anything that turns into sugar in the body like pasta or bread—is the primary cause of gaining fat mass from a surface-level perspective.
Here’s what happens biologically:
>> Sugar enters the bloodstream.
>> Sugar being in the bloodstream causes the pancreas to release the hormone insulin.
>> Insulin tells cells to absorb the sugar and burn it for energy.
>> Insulin tells the body to store any excess sugar as fat.
Hormones send specific signals to the body. When certain hormones are released in excess, the body can actually become resistant to the signals of these hormones. This is what happens to diabetics: their cells become insulin resistant, and at the later stages their pancreas completely loses its ability to produce insulin.
Insulin resistance is analogous to being at a really loud concert and wanting to cover our ears. A cell experiences too much of one specific hormone as loud noise and “covers its ears” by deactivating specific receptors for insulin on its surface.
This causes the body to produce even more insulin, because it thinks the cells are not listening to its signals. All of this extra insulin in the bloodstream means more sugar is being directed into storage as fat.
Looking deeper at the cause of obesity.
Most people know by now that excess sugar causes a lot of problems for the body, including obesity, so why do we still eat it? Sugar helps us deal with painful emotions. In my eyes it is no different to the way we use alcohol, drugs, or even sex, to numb ourselves to feelings. With any kind of health condition, like obesity, we need to try to look at the root cause. If we treat sugar like an addiction—and let’s face it, chocolate is pretty damn addicting—we can use it as an opportunity to look deeper into ourselves.
Practicing mindful eating to beat sugar addiction.
There’s nothing wrong with having a piece of cake, but things can go south when we do it without awareness. Perhaps many of us have had the experience of looking down at an empty dessert plate and thinking, “I don’t even remember eating that.” Especially when I’m eating something sweet, I try to take my time and practice mindful eating.
We can take the next moment when we are about to enjoy our favorite sweet treat as a powerful opportunity. We can check in for a moment, feeling into our emotional body and seeing what is going on there. Perhaps there is nothing to note and we can move on to enjoying our dessert. I feel it is always good to check in before engaging in any kind of pleasurable experience and asking the question, “Am I doing this to push down an emotion, or am I just enjoying life?”
Wherever we are on our journey, it is important to be okay with it. Where we can get lost is being okay with settling for anything less than exactly what we deserve: abundant health and happiness.
Author: John Miller
Editor: Emily Bartran