Morbid Obesity & Other Impairments

I saw this image posted on facebook yesterday and couldn’t ignore it.


Morbid obesity is a medical impairment. There are many legitimate medical, genetic, and psychological causes for morbid obesity. It has a very real impact on people who suffer from this condition (social stigma, mobility issues, health problems). It is not something that can usually be fixed by diet and exercise adjustments. It’s more often a case of them needing intensive therapy to help them adjust their relationship with food along with surgery to help them get started in achieving a healthy weight. If someone’s income is low enough where they are on food stamps, that means they probably cannot afford to pay for therapy and surgery – if they are working, it is unlikely they get health insurance coverage or access to an EAP through their employer. On top of these challenges, they probably don’t think they’re even worth the work, time, and resources it would take to get healthy. A person doesn’t become morbidly obese over a few extra cheeseburgers – it is because of life-long habits that probably began in childhood and patterns of behavior that were instilled upon them before they were even capable of making their own decisions. Behavior patterns are difficult to break and the courage it takes to face those kinds of challenges should not be underestimated.

I think about the kinds of transformations we’ve seen on shows like “The Biggest Looser” – candidates who get on the show have a support network to cheer them on. They have a one-on-one coach to be very direct and very aggressive in encouraging them in making improvements in both diet and exercise. People on a food-stamp income cannot afford to pay for these kinds of services themselves – and even if they could, the issue of self-esteem (they don’t think they’re worth it) still exists.

I am not morbidly obese, but I do feel a tremendous amount of compassion for people who suffer from it. I (along with many other women) know what it’s like to have an unhealthy relationship with food – using it to provide emotional comfort instead of nourishing my body. As a rape survivor, I know what it’s like to feel like you are so disgusting that no one else in the world should have to look at you – so instead of going to the grocery store to purchase fruits and vegetables, I would go to the McDonald’s drive through and order off the dollar menu. I was bullied in high school, so I know how much it hurts to be the subject of ridicule. People who suffer from morbid obesity really do need more than food stamps – they need to be told repeatedly until it sinks in through all those layers of self-loathing and shame that their life is worth living and being healthy means they can live it more fully.

Another group of people to keep in mind are our veterans. I know of a handful of older gentleman who were very physically fit as young men, but then sustained a life-altering injury while serving our country. They may have gotten the medical treatment they needed, but our culture is just now beginning to provide returning soldiers they psychological care they need. But because of the stigma against it, many soldiers are reluctant to seek help. I can’t imagine what it would be like to go from being able to scale walls to loosing a leg or an arm. The trauma from such a life-altering event would be enough to put anyone into a state of apathy towards their health, let alone a shell-shocked soldier.

In the interest of full-disclosure, my grandmother likely met the medical definition of “morbid obesity” – she was a quadriplegic, meaning she had no use of her legs and only partial use of her arms. She was physically unable to move more than gesturing with her hands, so exercise was out of the question. And as for her diet, I remember her enjoying full sit-down meals with the rest of the family. Remember- in our culture, food is something people use to connect with each other. And just because she lost the use of her legs didn’t mean the size of her stomach was any smaller than it was before. Her hunger, both for food and social contact remained the same as it ever was – but her ability to be mobile and do things like gardening, ranching, sewing, and cooking were all taken away from her. She did not choose to become obese. She chose to enjoy meals with her family, give her body nourishment, and live her life as fully as she was able – which is exactly what we should all strive to do.

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1 Comment

  1. DeeRae

     /  November 1, 2013

    I see so much morbid obesity, overweight, etc. in my job that it’s motivation enough. I eat pretty much whatever I want though I’m somewhat of a workoutaholic & grew up with the farm style organic love of veggies ingrained. We actually ate McDonalds recently & felt physically ill later as our bodies couldn’t process the change. A few friends & I have our own little “community” of health/fitness. My best friend & I are technically both beachbody coaches though I’ve never worked the biz. I basically have a few people I call up when I’m blue & unmotivated & say, “Come be my accountability partner!” You’re welcome to join 🙂


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