Judging Fat People
Be honest: What's your first reaction when you encounter an obese person? I'm guessing it's not sympathy.
Don't think the fat person doesn't notice. According to The STOP Obesity Alliance, a nonprofit organization headquartered at George Washington University, the stigma associated with being overweight or obese is enormous and has broad implications. According to Morgan Downey, the Alliance's policy director, society's disdain for overweight people often contributes to their feeling defeated, to a sense of "nihilism" that makes them just want to give up any efforts to lose weight.
We're not inclined to like fat folks. Just look at the flap that erupts every time a celebrity gains weight. A study released in 2007 suggests that there's a biological basis for our revulsion: The theory holds that our subconscious mind sees fat as akin to disease, something we inherently fear may be contagious.
I've been thinking about these things extra hard after writing this week's "Eat, Drink and Be Healthy" column about Kate Kane, a young woman with a genetic disorder that causes excessive hunger. Left to her own devices, Kane would eat anything that's not nailed down -- and probably pry the nails out so she could get to the rest -- and would be obese. (Kane, who once weighed more than 300 pounds, now lives in a group home where her food intake is restricted and is of normal weight.) Scientists are studying her particular condition and the endless hunger it entails in hopes of better understanding the potential genetic causes of obesity in the general public.
Learning about Kate Kane's condition reminded me that, among all the people who put on weight from eating too much and exercising too little, there may be some who simply cannot help it.
There may be no overcoming our initial, knee-jerk judgment, which, according to that 2007 study, is perhaps hard-wired in our brains. But at least we can work on what comes next. As one whose weight has fluctuated over the years, I know that being overweight can stem from all kinds of circumstances, from emotional stress to the simple fact of being relegated to sitting at a desk all day. I know I feel crummy when I'm heavier than I should be, and I can tell when other people notice my weight, too. It would be nice if we could all cut each other a break.
Here's this week's poll....
... and the results of last week's about fighting the post-grad 15. Of just 270 people voting (come on, people, get in the game!), 30 percent said they'd developed healthful diet and exercise habits only as adults, after leaving college; 20 percent admitted they'd stuck with their college-era bad habits for too long after leaving school. A lucky 24 percent said they'd eaten healthfully during college and continued to do so afterward -- just the opposite experience to what 19 percent reported, which was that they did well in college but lacked time to pursue healthful behaviors once they left school.
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