Not my usual social media or small business rant today. You can’t have missed that the 10th was World Mental Health Day. I have been around people with mental health problems my entire life. My mother and maternal uncle were both hospitalised because of mental health issues, several times.
I remember vividly visiting my Mum in a place full of sad whispers and shadows, and loud noises and anger. It was a frightening place for a child, but I had insisted on seeing my Mum, who up until then I thought might actually be dead. You see, in those days no-one talked about mental health problems, that was something to be ashamed of. And I lived with my grandparents for chunks of my childhood.
My brothers also suffer from mental health issues, and my daughter, and I myself, was on Prozac for a short time in my early 20’s until I decided enough was enough. I am fortunate to have been able to avoid medication most of my life.
My Mothers mental health issues, which were never talked about, came about because of other big issues that were also never talked about. And it is good to see more people now talking about mental health. Because, like anything that other people don’t understand, it can be very isolating.
In amongst all the stories and articles about mental health on Wednesday was a small hidden away article – I believe – of equal importance.
It was an article about how NZ wants to make fat shaming illegal. This was met with a barrage of support but also ridicule – no doubt from people who have never had a weight problem. The article went on to shed (no pun intended) light on the many issues that cause people to be overweight. It talked about how most people who are overweight do not eat more than others or do less exercise than others.
Being overweight is CAUSED by something, and it is not always just about eating more.
Most things that in the past that set people aside have now been legislated about – being gay, old, black, female. But it is still ‘ok’ to discriminate against ‘fat’ people. I have heard stories of people being refused medical diagnosis, as their symptoms were assumed to be weight related, but turned out to be cancer/people being overlooked for promotion/people being abused in the street.
Personally, I have struggled with my weight all my life.
As a child I was always hungry. We were pretty poor when I was a kid. Mum and Dad did their best but they didn’t have 2 pennies to rub together. I only ever had one pair of shoes, one outfit that wasn’t school uniform, no pocket money.
I woke up most winter mornings with ice on the inside of my window and my breath coming out in steam as we had one coal fire, which was in the lounge. I remember hearing my Mum making up the coal fire downstairs and then calling me and I would run downstairs with the eiderdown around me (no duvets in those days) and sit shivering in front of the fire, getting dressed for school under the eiderdown. The front of me warm, the back of me freezing.
I loved school dinners, and I loved going to my Nans, because they were ‘posh’ (they weren’t actually posh) and had things like Schloer in the fridge and strawberry jam with lumps in, and things I had never eaten before like steak and seafood and yoghurt.
As a child I didn’t know we were poor – that’s just your life and you assume everyone else’s life is the same don’t you? And for many of my friends it was. I was better off than my friend Jane – at least we had an inside loo!
By the time my brothers were born we were better off, Dad had progressed in his career, we had a house with central heating – albeit no carpets.
But my “we don’t have enough to eat” gene had been properly triggered. I was always conscious of food and making sure that I had enough food. And as an adult my fridge and freezer and store cupboards are full. I was taught to finish my plate and not waste food. And I don’t.
Having said that – even though I though I was ‘fat’ as a child, I wasn’t. I look back on those pictures and though we had no surplus of food as a child I was never skinny. I wasn’t fat, but I was bigger than most of my friends and so I went on my first diet aged 11 or 12, with my Mum.
Now one thing I DO know is that diets make you fat. And my weight has been up and down over the years ever since. What I also DO know is that I eat more veg and protein than most people I know and less carbs and sugar (except in times of extreme stress or tiredness), and yet I weigh more than most people I know and I always have.
So, does my weight have any bearing on my ability to do my job? Does it have any bearing on my worth as a human being? Does it have any relevance to how seriously I should be taken or how valuable my input to society?
Can I control my weight? Yes but it involves going on Lighterlife and living a life of severe restriction, that naturally thin people have no concept about. My metabolic rate is 400 calories a day under the average woman’s metabolic rate. Might not sound much but basically that’s more than I eat for a typical breakfast or lunch. So I guess I could eat just 2 meals a day and maintain weight, but then imagine how much less I have to eat to LOSE weight.
Other people have metabolic or genetic reasons why they store weight.
A study done in 2017 in the USA showed that there is a gene variation that causes fat cells to suck up glucose faster than normal. Mice with this variant put on weight WITHOUT EATING MORE than their compatriots.
Scientists believe this gene allowed prehistoric man to store fat more easily in times of less food, but of course, we don’t have that issue any more in the western world. Defects in this same gene lead to a number of other human diseases including autism (my brother is autistic), muscular dystrophy, diabetes and irregular heartbeat (which most of my family have).
Unfortunately, scientists still don’t know HOW this gene works, but it potentially shows that obesity is not linked to appetite.
Back to the mice.
Experiments were repeated and like before the mice with the gene put on weight despite eating and exercising the same as the other mice, and what is more as they aged or were fed a high fat diet they put on EVEN more weight while the control mice did not.
So perhaps there needs to be a lot of information and education around the issue of obesity, just as there is beginning to be around mental health and not least because these two issues are often linked. People with weight issues often have low self esteem and other psychological issues which lead to poor mental health.
So, next time you see a fat person walking down the street, or sitting opposite you on the tube, don’t judge. They don’t want to be fat. And they have probably tried everything they know how to NOT to be fat (as that is the pressure our society puts on people who do not ‘conform’.)
Next week – back to normal re timings and subject matter!