Monday, May 05, 2003
Getting Help for the Help
posted by Julie |
I'm becoming aware of the vastness of the gulf between people who struggle with their weight and people who don't.
If you watched Saturday Night Live, an American comedy show, back in the 1980s, you would have seen a brilliant piece by a very young Eddie Murphy. He made himself up as a white man to "infiltrate" the white man's world, just to see, once and for all, how different things were for white people than for black people in America. Screamingly funny bit. Sort of.
I live a fairly private and quiet life, surrounded by many of the same people every day. That is, I don't get out much. But I've had a few episodes over the past few months, in gyms, at events, reading the literature, researching for the SDP, that have given me a glimmer of how different life as a naturally skinny person is from life as a fat person, or for that matter, life as someone who struggles with her weight.
I pass for naturally fit right now. But I'm only passing. I walk among the naturally fit, and I hear things. Not good things.
I used to dismiss them, brush them aside, think of the comments as not very important. But the truth is, they are important, because they represent an incredible lack of information, knowledge, understanding. I won't be so harsh as to say ignorance. Because why should someone who's naturally fit pay attention to the difficulties of people who aren't?
(I won't bother commenting on prejudice or insensitivity, because I find that people who are insensitive about extra weight, prejudging, or disgusted by fatness are usually pretty unevolved in general. Their problems with fat folks look a whole lot like the problems they have with all the folks who don't see the world in just exactly the same way they do. I'll worry about these folks in some other lifetime.)
My concern is with evolved but uninformed, usually fit or athletic folks in certain situations. When these folks run gymnasiums, become dieticians, coach kids, counsel dieters, teach Physical Education, and they don't have a clue about what it's like to live with a crappy metabolism, an eating disorder, a physical limitation, a temporary but powerful cultural body ideal impossible for many to fulfill, or how about another set of interests well outside of athleticism?
It's performance athletes who often enter coaching and teaching professions in health sciences. Many have never known what it's like to live another way. Many can't imagine, for instance, preferring a complicated Russian novel to an hour of Fartlek training. Of course, some like both things. I'm being facetious. But just a little.
I've encountered pretty strange ideas out there among the "pros." Many actually think losing weight is a simple matter of self-control, though many of the veteran dieters I know have far more self-control than their high-metabolizing cousins.
Some think athletics are a virtue rather than a hobby. I don't even know what to do with this idea. I distinguish exercise from athletics here. But exercise isn't a virtue either. It's necessary, but not virtuous.
Some link fitness with smartness. Again, where to go with that, I don't know. I gape when I encounter it. (I suppose that's because I've always had the opposite prejudice. I assume the least cut person in the room will have the most going on in their heads. Really, just as awful a prejudice.)
The danger, here, is when these ideas -- in the heads of a teacher, coach, mentor, guide, counselor, professional -- meet up with an obese person who's truly struggling. This collision almost always leaves the obese person feeling even worse about their obesity, even more full of futility than before. The obese person will not get the guidance he or she needs, and will be discouraged still further from pursuing a healthier lifestyle. The obese person, in fact, is likely to receive a lecture, or a pep-talk. The nerve of that is completely lost on the athlete.
This happens a lot.
Doctors need nutritional training. And athletes who go into weight loss counseling need obesity training. They need to be given a good deal of education, a hard look at the statistics, understand the studies, get a grip on their presumptions, explore cultural influences, map the steady decline of the quality of our food against the steady increase of portion sizes, and the drop in our activity levels as a culture. They need to conduct metabolism studies and stress tests on hundreds of people of every shape and size to learn that we are not all built alike. We are not all molded of the same clay. Our bodies are different, and react differently to the same stimuli.
Had to get that one off,
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