Anonymous Overeater

“Please don’t be upset – we don’t have to do this if you don’t want to.”

“No I don’t mind, I’m always crying over it, just ignore me.”

“Well I’m sorry to hear that.  But just let me know if you want to stop, okay?”

“Of course.  No, I’m happy to talk about it.  I don’t usually and it might help people to understand.”

“Okay, so why don’t you just tell me what you want about how you feel.”

“Well, okay.  I feel pretty miserable most of the time.  Particularly recently, I feel like society has really turned against larger people – all you hear all the time is obesity, obesity, obesity, how dreadful it is, how it’s costing the health service so much money.  It’s making me angry – it’s almost making me radical about the issue.  You want to say – well, if it’s going to make me die younger, then in fact the health service will save money, won’t it.  And I haven’t been able to have children because of it, so that’s saved the taxpayer a big chunk in terms of all the education and healthcare I haven’t used up for my six children!”

“You’ve gone from being upset to radically angry quite quickly, if I may say so.”

“Well, it’s all mixed up together.  How dare they threaten to withdraw healthcare for people with a weight problem!  Do they withdraw it from people who have chosen to have a dozen kids?  Or people who do extreme sports?  If people turn up in hospital with a leg broken whilst hang-gliding or skiing, do they get told they can’t be treated because they’ve brought the problem upon themselves?  Maybe doctors should refuse to save the lives of people who have attempted to commit suicide?  No point pumping their stomachs out, they brought it upon themselves!”

“But, well, is being overweight really comparable?”

“The point is, if you haven’t experienced it yourself, you can’t really comment on how it feels, how difficult it can be.  It’s all very well for those people who don’t have a problem, who find it easy to control their eating, to just say – well, eat less, or eat more healthily.  But what if someone has tried over and over again to eat less, to change their habits, but hasn’t succeeded?  Who just isn’t able to do it; who has failed over and over again and is still fat.  Do you castigate them for being lazy and greedy – even evil, as it seems some would have it – or do you try to help them?”

“I would have thought that most people would agree that they need help.”

“Well, I do understand why sometimes other people don’t get it.  Of course ultimately it must be that you take responsibility for your own weight, that you are theoretically in control of your intake.  But what if you are constantly plagued by eating urges that you just can’t overcome?  Whatever causes them, whether it’s physical or psychological, the fact is that something causes some people – well, lots actually – to eat too much.  And then they are risking their own health and well-being, and could be said to be committing suicide slowly.”

“Do you think that society is more understanding about alcohol and smoking?”

“Yes, it seems to be more socially acceptable to drink or smoke to make yourself feel better, or to try to deal with your problems.  And the outcome of those indulgences isn’t so obvious at a glance.  Loads of people apparently take hard drugs to get them through the day, and yet their colleagues don’t know it, they manage to hide it entirely.  The difference is that with drugs, drink and smoking, you can give up completely.  With eating, you can’t just stop – you have to eat to live, so it has to be about control and compromise, and that can make it more difficult, because it’s something you have to face and deal with and try to control every single day, you can’t just avoid it.”

“So do you enjoy eating?”

“That’s another fallacy, the fact that people eat too much because they like the food so much.  Well, maybe some do, but if you’ve got very overweight, food is your enemy and you can never really enjoy it.  It’s exactly like a drug that you’re addicted to.  People see you sitting eating in a café, and they probably think, look at that fat woman stuffing herself with food, as if she’s having an orgy of indulgence and loving every minute of it.  In reality her head is probably full of anguish and self-hatred, feeling like she’s being compelled to eat for some emotional reason, but actually dreadfully self-conscious about it, and feeling awful with every mouthful.  That’s why I hate this new habit of people saying ‘Enjoy!’ in restaurants – that weird mistranslation of ‘Bon Appetit’ or ‘Guten Appetit’ that seems to have come about because so many of our waiters and waitresses are from Europe.  No, I can’t ‘enjoy’, I never ‘enjoy’ and it’s just embarrassing when you tell me to!”

“Well, I think you’re right that people don’t realise how much of a problem it is for some people.  It seems to be something that is laughed at a bit too much.”

“The other day I was coming out of a mini-supermarket with a bag of food – not even a huge bag, just one bag full of some food for a couple of meals.  And someone shouted at me in the street, mocking me – “are you hungry?”  It’s so hurtful and so infuriating.  Fat people have to eat every day as well.  If they stop, they die in a couple of weeks.  And the person doing the mocking has no idea what’s in the bag, whether it might be for someone’s partner or children.  Or whether the fat person is in fact on their way down in weight, and might have successfully lost six stone in the last six months.  That’s the other fallacy, that fat people are always eating so much.  No, they are just not eating little enough to lose the surplus weight they are carrying, which they have probably put on over a long period of time, and perhaps even decades ago.  If they are large and not putting on weight, but just maintaining their size, they are probably eating about the same as a much thinner person – who doesn’t need to diet.  Perhaps 2000 or 2500 calories a day.  It’s the social perception that’s the curse, more so than the affliction itself.  It’s difficult to be fat in a largely thin society, where people are so quick to judge and condemn.”

“So you see it very much as a mental issue, by the sound of it.”

“Yes, people don’t get life-threateningly overweight on purpose!  It is something that has happened to them gradually and has built up over time.  I think it should be treated as a mental health issue.  Overeating is about emotion, often about feeling bad.  The answer has to lie in a therapeutic or behavioural approach.  Not in having stomach surgery!”

“You don’t believe in that as a solution?”

“Well, there are so many horror stories of it going wrong and people dying of malnutrition down the line.  I can understand that maybe people choose it because it seems like a way of forcing you to stop eating so much.  If you have felt for years that you can’t stop yourself, you feel you need something to physically stop you.  But why can’t they send people to health farms instead, where food intake can be restrained and monitored?  If the operation costs thousands of pounds – what could be achieved by spending those thousands on physically limiting intake in other ways (like sending people away to special facilities), or spending it on therapy and personal trainers?  Why are they so quick to cut up people’s bodies in massive surgical operations?  I refuse to do that, just because society thinks I should have narrower hips!”

“So health farms and therapy is the answer?”

“Well, I would think so, but the only thing my doctor seems able to suggest is to put me forward for surgery.  The silly thing is, that recently there has been a lot of research on things like hormones.  And after all these years of people like me seeing it as a character weakness or a mental problem, and beating themselves up over it – scientists may be close to actually identifying some chemical in the brain that makes people feel driven to overeat if they happen to have too much of it.  So maybe there is a physical – well, biochemical – explanation after all, and one day people will just be given a tablet and be able to say, oh, how strange, or that’s nice, I don’t feel like I want to eat all the time any more!”

“It seems like a complicated issue.  Good luck – and I hope they manage to make that tablet soon!”

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