Emotional and Psychological Implications Of Adult & Childhood Obesity

The Social Stigma

There is a huge social stigma and quite a bit of prejudice in the United States towards the overweight. As a society we worship anorexic models, and hot beach bodies. Any shape that strays from that ideal is usually viewed at best in a negative light, and at worst, as “disgusting.”

For the most part, the overweight and obese are seen as some type of alien creature that spend their days at fastfood drive thrus’ ordering piles of food that they will spend the rest of the day gorging into.

As a result of this type of this mindset, the social relationships and overall connection and belonging in the world is impacted for those who suffer from obesity.While the world throws judgments and wonders “why don’t they just eat less,” the overweight know all too well, it’s not at as simple as that.

Obesity is a Social Problem

Obesity makes people uncomfortable, and when people are uncomfortable, they do not want to be around the person who makes them feel that way, so if you’re obese the chances are you’re lonely, too, because people simply do not want to be associated with ‘the big person.’

This is true for adults as well as children. It’s hard to imagine adults being so shallow as to let another person’s obesity sway their opinion, but, who said adults always act mature.

Again, the culture that influences the media places a lot of emphasis on youth and beauty, so much so that men and women can feel pressurized about as to  how they should look. In many cases this leads to extreme measures being adopted that only a mental health practitioner is qualified to address.

Being Labeled

When you’re labeled ‘fat’ that moniker can stay with you throughout your life. Even if you drop some weight you’ll still be known to friends and acquaintances who knew you before as ‘Fat Lisa’ or ‘Fat Tom.’

A typical conversation may sound like, ‘I wanted to call Lisa,’ ‘which Lisa “fat” Lisa?’ That short but all tootelling conversation is a typical one. No one else can see beyond the fact that Lisa is or was fat, regardless of the fact that she’s accomplished a lot more in her lifetime other than gaining weight. None of that matters ,however,because she is remembered by her friends, even family, as ‘fat.’

Being fat or to use the more appropriate term ‘obese,’ is a social problem, a health problem and a psychological problem, which can be just as damaging as the physical drawbacks because we live in a society where emphasis has been put on vigor, hot bodies, youth and beauty.

Being fat does not go along with that ‘image,’ so the ‘fat person’ is often left out of the ‘social circle’ simply because he or she is obese.

The Emotional Consequences

The overweight feel the brunt of these attitudes all too well, and the looks, remarks and general stigma can affect their already shaky self-esteem and feelings of self-worth.

Often, this leads to depression, loneliness, isolation and a lack of connection to the world around them.

While this is not always true across the board, for the most part, society’s prejudice towards the obese can greatly affect the obese person’s ability to belong and feel worthy of love and attention.

In fact, according to Lancaster General Hospital’s Neuropsychology Specialists, 20-70% of obese individuals who are pondering getting bariatric surgery either have a current or a past diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder, with Major Depressive Disorder at the helm.Even worse is when the overweight’s person own family is unsupportive and judgmental with useless statements, such as, “you have to lose weight, stop making excuses,” or “it’s all in your hands,” or “get control of your weight”. Such unfortunate and unproductive attitudes donothing more than compound the helplessness and feelings of worthlessness.For many, romantic relationships can be an uphill struggle as the fear of rejection which more than likely has already occurred in the past, can prevent many from reaching out to the opposite sex.

A Vicious Cycle

Often obesity is a vicious cycle.

Society views the obese as weak, and somehow inferior because they cannot control their weight. The obese who are well aware of this stigma and as a result often ” internalize ” these judgments. This puts them at risk for drug and alcohol abuse problems, mood and anxiety disorders.

According to a report by The Medical Clinics of North America titled “ Psychosocial and behavioral status of patients undergoing bariatric surgery: What to expect before and after surgery,” numerous failed weight loss attempts lead to body image disorders, lowering of an already fragile self-esteem and a general discomfort of the obese being in their own bodies.

These feelings lead to further strain on social interactions, personal and romantic relationships with the opposite sex.

Failed weight loss attempts often lead to feelings of helplessness, discouragement, anger, and frustration.Often this results in the feeling that losing weight will never be a real possibility.

Not surprisingly, a study published in the International Journal of Obesity, showed that of those who lost weight after bariatric surgery illustrated major improvements in both their mental and social status and therefore, a much better quality of life.

Children : Teasing And Bullying

For children, being overweight can be especially difficult and devastating. For those who grow into obese adults those feelings get carried over to adulthood further aggravating an already vulnerable emotional state.

The adult prejudices and overt attitudes towards the overweight is minimal compared to how cruel kids can be.

If adults are uncomfortable around those who are obese and even go as far as to “make fun” of others who are whispering behind their backs loud enough so ‘Fat Lisa’ can hear, imagine what children do to their obese class mates and/or “play mates”. Children and teens can be extremely cruel, with out loudschool hall teasing and name calling that can beseech the obese child. This type of teasing can really  take a toll on their already fragile esteem and self-worth. It wii undoubtedly lead to serious consequences for their mental and emotional well-being.

This is one of the reasons that it is so important for parents and care givers to implement a healthy lifestyle and nutritional balance for kids from the start of life. Parents need to educate their children on the health and risk factors and to help them understand the importance of portion control and the benefit of following a healthy diet.

This would ideally happen before an adolescent’s weight is deemed “out of control.” Once it’s out of control and a child’s weight has now been diagnosed as ‘obese,’ all the health, social and psychological problems that adults face are now the same ones that burden a child, but children lack the maturity or presence of mind in many cases to handle the cruelty that confronts their peers.

Let’s face it, children can be mean, which, opens up a whole host of problems that the obese child has to try and  cope with.

Adolescence is difficult enough without the added stress of being ‘bullied’ by peers simply because of an overweight issue, but, that is the reality.

According to The American Academy of Pediatrics website,healthychildren.org ,the social stigma ofchildhood obesity can be devastating and lead to serious emotional heartbreak.

In fact, the social stigma, teasing and bullying related to being overweight can cause as much, if not more damage, than the medical repercussions that often accompany obesity.

This teasing causes profound detrimental effects as well as feelings of shame that usually carry on to adulthood and impact the young adult’s ability to adapt him/herself in a healthy manner in society.

What’s the Solution?

First and foremost overweight children need to be feel that they can talk honestly about what is going on in school with their parents. Opening lines of communication is the best way to deal with teasing and its aftermath.

You can safely assume that if your child is overweight or obese,you can be sure he/she has been subjected to some type of teasing, it’s just human nature.

Children need to know from you, their parents, that the shame is not theirs, and put it where it belongs ie on the culprits at school.

Speaking with the school in regards to dealing with rampant teasing is also very important because we have to deal with this issues as a society, as it has become a major problem that has led to teen suicides and can also be sourced in part to the mass amounts of school shootings that have plagued the United States as of late.

Psychotherapy is of course another answer. Another approach, however, is “nipping it in the bud” before psychotherapy becomes necessary. ( Prevention is better than cure! ).

If a parent sees his or her child’s weight begin to spiralout of control that is the time to step in and offer some guidance through education regarding a healthy, low-fat diet and an exercise regime. It’s all about lifestyle changes that will hopefully follow and stay with that child into adulthood.

The same applies for adults whose weight is out of control.Regardless if obesity is a problem at age 21 or 61 or anywhere in between, it’s never too late to incorporate a few lifestyle changes if the outcome is going to be a healthier and happier individual ie a new you.

All it takes is a little determination and eventually the weight will come off and best of all stay off because now both the adult and the child have some ‘tools’ in their arsenal that they can use to combat the urge to eat more than is necessary and/or eating for the sake of eating

Whatever it takes, there are people who care and there are people who if you only ask will be more than willing to help their obese friend, family member, patient, remain on that train to ‘Healthy-Town’ via education, encouragement, understanding, compassion and, best of all, love.

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