Why It’s Important To Tread Carefully When Talking About People’s Weight

·3-min read
Photo credit: C.J. Burton
Photo credit: C.J. Burton

Want to know something annoying? It is scientifically proven that obesity is a key factor in driving up COVID-19 deaths. And why is that annoying? Because pretty much everyone put on a bit of weight in lockdown.

Isn’t that cruel? Trying to beat an illness has made many of us more vulnerable to it. Gaining weight while staying indoors to fight COVID-19 is a bit like chain-smoking during chemotherapy.

Because of course we put on weight. The gyms were closed, and our repetitive home workouts became hard to sustain after a while. Exactly a year ago today, I bought a Peloton, and I’ve spent the past six months wondering why my gains have got smaller and smaller with each passing day.

Plus, there’s food everywhere. Everyone ate more under lockdown. My current theory is that people without children ate more because they were bored, and people with children ate more because they were constantly exhausted and had to keep topping up their energy levels with massive quantities of processed sugar. At least, that’s my excuse.

Anyway, the problem is that these two facts – lockdown made us fat, and COVID-19 loves fat people – stand in ideological opposition to one another. At the time of writing, almost nine in 10 COVID deaths have occurred in countries where more than half of the population is overweight. That’s a staggering statistic. In a sense, it means that we’re eating ourselves to death.

If we remove all emotion from the equation and look at the facts with cool detachment, it’s clear that losing a bit of weight would do most of us some good. Of course, it’s impossible to remove emotion, because weight is an incredibly touchy subject. Get your approach even a millimetre out of whack and you’ll blunder into a minefield of self-esteem and body-image issues, and everyone gets upset, the message gets lost and we all end up unhappier.

So, what’s to be done? It seems that we should work harder to identify the line between compassionate concern and fat-shaming. But the problem is that the line is different for everyone.

For example, I’ve gone on record as saying that I don’t mind a little bit of shaming. My mum was always fastidious about telling me when I was getting porky. I hated hearing it but, since she died four years ago, I’ve had nobody to needle me. Inevitably, my weight has gone up as a result.

But clearly, I’m in the minority here, because this approach is drastically wrong for others. It’s a very familiar cycle. Someone tells you that you’re fat. You feel bad about yourself. You eat more to feel better. You stop exercising because you’re ashamed about how you look. You keep putting on weight. The spiral never ends.

Perhaps tone is crucial. I let my mum get away with calling me fat because she was my mum and I understood that it came from a place of love. Had a nurse, or a World Health Organisation spokesperson, or the government said the same thing, I would have got resentful and spite-eaten a Twix.

What we need is an understanding that overweight people are still people, not just ill-fated statistics. If we try to learn more about each individual’s circumstances, we’re less likely to make them feel horrible about themselves.

In the meantime, if anyone is feeling bad about their extra lockdown weight, I can hire out my mum’s ghost to make you feel bad. She’s cheap, too.

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