The stress of fat shaming is more toxic than actually being fat.
The only way to make weight stop being a problem, is to stop making weight a problem–stop judging ourselves and others by our size. Linda Bacon, PhD in Nutrition Science
According to the American Psychological Association stress is linked to SIX of the leading causes of death in the United States: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, liver cirrhosis, and SUICIDE. [source] But, did you know that it’s also one of the leading causes of diabetes? [source]
What does this have to do with fat shaming, you ask?
Fat shaming is one of the leading causes of stress in American society. Not only is it a cause of stress for people who are overweight, but it’s also a major source of stress for people of normal weight! People in our nation are so worried about being fat shamed that they are worrying themselves sick about it. Why is fat shaming so pervasive in our society? First and foremost, because it’s tolerated.
- We see magazine covers touting celebrities, “ASTONISHING WEIGHT GAIN!” As if it’s the worst thing that could ever happen to them.
- We have extremely popular TV shows – The Biggest Loser – that chronical the extreme exercise and dieting of contestants to lose big weight, only to gain it back again after the show. [source]
Biggest loser contestants must brutally exercise to keep the weight off, study shows. The Los Angeles Times
- We see supposedly legitimate news sources discussing whatever the latest fad diet is. Watch Good Morning America or The Today Show almost any week and they will be talking about ways to lose weight
- We have an American Diet Industrial Complex worth over $60 BILLION annually! They are heavily invested in telling us that being fat is bad, to keep us spending that $60 billion so that we can be healthy, look good and, according to them, feel good! [source– “The Heavy Price of Losing Weight”]
- We have a medical community that largely ignores many of the underlying causes of weight gain–stress being one of the most prominent–and cashes in on diabetes & weight loss pharmaceuticals, bariatric surgeries, and research that is funded by the pharmaceutical and diet industrial complex.
The Obesity Paradox
Obese patients with disease live longer than those of normal weight. Slate.com
- And, of course more recently, we have a president who fat shames indiscriminately.
If I were running the view, I’d fire Rosie [O’Donnell]. I’d look her right in that fat, ugly, face of hers and say, ‘Rosie, you’re fired.'” Donald Trump to Entertainment Tonight
So there’s the catch…
Common knowledge says that if we just eat less and exercise more we will lose weight! And this is true, to a certain extent for VERY FEW PEOPLE! Most people either can’t lose the weight without starving themselves and/or over-exercising. 97% of those who do lose weight, gain it back and then some!
My Insulin Story
I was a skinny kid. And I was actually a skinny teenager and a skinny college girl. What’s so funny though, is that I thought I was fat! When I was in college I went on Jenny Craig even though I was a women’s size 0! I thought I was fat because I couldn’t fit into the juniors/ misses sizes around my hips very well anymore (it was really just that my body was maturing around the hips as women’s bodies do…) I didn’t know that because I paid attention to what popular culture was telling me about my body. Anybody remember Tamilee Webb and Buns of Steel?
Except, here’s what was going on behind the scenes in my body:
I wasn’t processing the stress of my upbringing or the stress of my current situation well. I was drinking too much alcohol, sleeping too little, and worrying all the time.
The stress was starting to have an effect on my brain chemistry.
I was cycling through episodes of severe anxiety and depression. Much of the time I felt fine, but as time went on the anxiety and depression came around more often and the “feeling fine” time was harder to achieve.
Little did I know, the stress was starting to affect my pancreas and my insulin levels were starting to ratchet up.
When I graduated from college and decided to go to graduate school, the pace and workload (on top the fact that I still was not coping with my stress appropriately) led to bouts of months-long insomnia, occasional panic attacks and the dreaded weight gain! During my master’s program I gained 20 pounds – in only a year-and-a-half! During the first year of my doctoral program I gained another whopping 20 pounds!!!
Then, I had the opportunity to go to Europe for two months.
I climbed to the top of every cathedral I could find. I walked and walked and walked… and I ate the amazing fresh food that Europeans are lucky enough to eat every day! I lost 20 pounds!
It was great! Or so I thought…
The problem was that it was the beginning of a cycle of stress-induced weight gain and physical activity + a more relaxed lifestyle weight loss. I wasn’t yoyo dieting – I was yoyo stressing!
Fast Forward to 2016
I just turned 46 and was feeling horrible! I was at my highest weight yet, but I also was in a constant brain fog. I couldn’t remember words, I would show-up for appointments at the wrong time, I was lethargic and constantly battling depression.
“But, I’M A STRESS MANAGEMENT COACH!!!”
I would say to myself with exasperation! What’s going on… why are my awesome mindfulness techniques not working to help me feel better???
I sought out medical reasons for why I felt so bad.
Low-and- behold, after a year of seeing different doctors and having A LOT of blood drawn, it turned out that my pancreas was producing so much insulin that if it kept going at that pace it would likely shut down very soon. When the endocrinology nurse practitioner told me this news the first thing out of my mouth was,
but, I’ve tried so hard to lose weight! I only eat an average of 1600 calories a day, I power walk 3 to 4 days-a-week and I do yoga 3 times a week!
Her response was to look at me seriously and state, “
This is not your fault. You are not insulin resistant because of your weight; you are having trouble losing weight because you are insulin resistant.
It turns out that, according to Allison the NP, the only connections that research has found between causes and insulin resistance are heredity and STRESS.
Here are some facts:
- People with overproduction of insulin may be genetically prone to the condition. There is a hereditary effect, but it’s not necessarily the case for everyone. There is a high correlation.
- People with insulin overproduction do not usually have what is normally considered to be high blood sugar. For example, my A1C (fasting blood sugar average) ranges between 5.5 and 5.8 – that is well within normal range. In other words, they are not on the typical path toward Type 2 Diabetes which can be detected through rising blood sugar levels.
- People with insulin overproduction may be overweight in spite of diet and exercise efforts that would produce weight loss in other people. This is true of children as well, many of whom have been put on calorie restrictive diets by pediatricians who don’t bother to check their insulin.
- People who have insulin overproduction are often overweight because of their insulin – NOT the other way around!
- A history of high stress is strongly correlated with insulin overproduction.
My endocrine NP’s exact words were:
This is not your fault. This is not about our weight. Your insulin is so high that it seems like it has been climbing for decades. You may be able to control this to a certain extent through diet–A Low Glycemic Diet. But, most likely you will not be able to fully control it through diet.
Here’s the long-and-the-short of it…
- My lack of knowledge about how to control my stress early on most likely led to this condition.
- Was some of my stress due to my socially constructed ideas about my weight and body proportion? Absolutely!
- Have I been fat shamed? Absolutely!
- Do I let it stress me out now? Absolutely NOT! ☺
What’s the Take-Home here?
First, don’t fat shame, or even judge the bodies of, others. You have no idea what is going on with their weight. Insulin resistance is only one of many underlying medical conditions that affect weight. The stress you cause by judging others size is more harmful than their size actually is. AND don’t fat shame yourself! Accept yourself for who you are and what your body looks like! Definitely get yourself to the doctor if you have unexplained weight gain. Be kind, loving, and accepting of yourself. There is a lot of medical and epidemiological research on your side if you are overweight. That is, there is a lot of medical and epidemiological research that says that if you are “overweight” you are perfectly healthy and thus not “over” anything!
Aaannndddd… Let the comments begin!
Namaste Y’all!, Jen
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