Last year, the American Medical Association recognized obesity as a disease. This annoys me beyond belief. Obesity is not a disease. You can’t just “get obesity,” nor can you take a pill and make it go away (despite what certain bogus diet pill companies would have you believe), something is causing it. Obesity is a symptom that is often (not always) a precursor to other, more serious symptoms such as type-2 diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, high glucose, high blood pressure, at least 1/3 of cancers, and possibly even Alzheimer’s. These symptoms are often progressions of the same disease, malnutrition. To be clear, obesity can also be a symptom of other underlying problems such as hormone changes and metabolic disorders, but I will be focusing in on the issue that affects the majority of people, nutrition. It may seem counter-intuitive to think that most obese people are sick from malnutrition, but it’s true! It is important to understand this concept for two reasons.
First, when we do not recognize obesity as a symptom of malnutrition versus a disease in and of itself, we tend to try and “cure” it by any means necessary. We try starvation diets, crazy restriction diets, liquid diets; and increasingly we try dangerous surgeries like gastric bypass; all aimed at one goal: weight loss. Sadly, most diets that address weight loss do not address the real disease of the body, malnutrition. Instead of helping us to achieve and maintain a healthy body, these diets leave us with irresistible cravings and cause us to avoid entire food groups. They create fear around eating high caloric foods that are important for health, such as fats, and in nearly all cases, result in gaining the weight back.
The saddest part of this misconception is, in today’s society, weight gain is thought of as personal weakness or stupidity. The truth is, you are probably not gaining weight because you’re “a stupid cow who eats too much.” It’s possible that you are gaining weight because your hormones are out of balance, or your emotions are out of balance, or you’re eating one particular food that is throwing your whole system off (like sugar, for example). Sometimes the cravings we experience while dieting come from nutrient deprivation. Many people gain weight because they are suffering from chronic stress. Weight gain is not always an issue of over eating and lack of will power. In my case, it appears I spent the first six months of this year gaining weight because of severe vitamin D deficiency. Choosing a weight loss diet does not guarantee that you will address the nutrition problem in your body, but looking at your food as the ingredients that help you make blood, muscle, and hormones just might.
Second, because obesity is such close bedfellows with all of these other “lifestyle diseases,” it is expected that when you “cure” obesity, you will also cure your high cholesterol, or your high blood sugar. This is simply not true. In fact, a diet that fails (yo-yo diets, i.e. almost all diets ), can make health problems worse! A much better approach would be to focus on feeding the body the richest nutrients you can find, not on “doing anything necessary to get the weight off.” Get the nutrition right and you will see the symptoms fade away.
Try thinking of malnutrition as the flu and obesity as the runny nose you get when you’re sick with the flu. When someone has the flu, you don’t say, “Oh, that runny nose caused your flu.” That would be silly. We all know it’s the other way around. The flu caused the runny nose! Let’s take this analogy one step further. Both malnutrition and the flu can cause multiple symptoms, but not everyone will experience the same set of symptoms. Malnutrition can cause high cholesterol, type-2 diabetes, high glucose, and high blood pressure; and the flu can cause a hacking cough, a head ache, a fever, and vomiting. Just as two people with the same flu might not experience the same symptoms, two people with malnutrition might not experience the same symptoms, either.
There is one more lesson to be drawn from this analogy, and that is on how we treat people who are obese. When a person has the flu, you bring them homemade chicken soup, chock full of nutrients that bolster the immune system. You don’t berate them for the stupidity of getting sick, or throw them out into the cold, or starve them, or put them in a room with more germs, or stress them out, and then expect them to get better. You treat them with love, care, rest, and some bad-ass, amazing nutrition. Imagine if we did the same for our overweight population? In addition, when someone is getting over the flu, they sometimes have lingering symptoms; for example, a deep cough that takes months to fully clear up. You can’t tell how far along in the healing process someone is just by listening to their cough in line at the grocery store. In the same way, malnutrition may also have lingering symptoms. Healing takes time. You can’t tell, simply by looking at someone’s body size, how far along they are in their healing process. Be gentle with yourself and others. Leave the judgement behind.
Our bodies are miraculous and can be self-healing when given the right ingredients. . Conquering malnutrition and its symptoms, obesity, heart disease, diabetes etc. is possible. Be patient. Be kind. Be brave. Try new things. Build community. Move, smile, touch and eat like your life depends on it. It does.