These five traits challenge widely-held perceptions about overweight people, namely that they are ill-disciplined, lazy, greedy, irrational in their behaviour, and guilty of putting healthcare services under increasing pressure. The problem with the above judgements is that they overlook subjective experiences and the complexities of our relationship with food and our self-image. They assume that managing weight is black-and-white, that simply by eating less and moving more, you lose weight. But if it were that simplistic, it wouldn't be such a fraught struggle and a negative preoccupation for so many, myself included.
So here are five common traits that I've identified from listening to my clients and my own personal experiences:
1. Never say 'no'
For me Catholic guilt and being told as a child to "always be nice to others, pet" meant that saying 'NO' was just too much. So instead I binged on crisps and biscuits to quell the anger and helplessness I felt at having to so often say 'yes' when it wasn't what I really wanted. How often do you say 'yes' when you really want to say 'no'?- to spending time with people you do not want to be with, to having visitors you don't really want, to doing something for someone that you really don't want to do.
The more I started saying 'no' to what I did not want, usually demands from people around me, I also began to say 'yes' to what I wanted and what I needed. Practice saying 'no' even once today. Try to say 'no' to food as often as you can when you are not hungry. Rejecting food, "I don't want it" puts you in charge, instead of the food being in charge of you.
2. Overly concerned about others' perceptions
For me one of my worst fears was what other people thought of me. My clients mention receiving looks of disgust and nasty judgemental comments about their weight from people commenting on the contents of their shopping trolleys to shouting insults at them in the street. Fear of ridicule makes participating in healthy activities such as exercising more difficult.
I remember the gradual realisation that I didn't give a damn about what anybody thought of me. It was like a weight lifted off my shoulders. Whether or not others thought I was good enough no longer mattered to me. I didn't need the acceptance or approval of strangers or of those close to me. It also dawned on me that my anxiety about what others thought of me was keeping me locked in my food and weight struggle, as I munched through packets of biscuits to soothe my hurt feelings.
3. Elevated expectations
I've noticed that many people who struggle with weight have very high expectations of themselves and tend to be perfectionists. If their eating isn't perfect, it's not good enough, hence "I've eaten a few biscuits, I've messed up. I might as well continue eating". A problem with black-and-white thinking is that it skews your perspective. Imagine if you spilt a few drops of orange juice on your white shirt, and thought, "It's a complete mess, it's destroyed". The reality is that it can be salvaged. It's only a few drops.
4. Never good enough
"I'm not good enough" is what most of my Heyday clients honestly believe. For me the misery of nightly binges, restricting food intake and feeling ashamed of my body meant that my self-esteem was rock bottom. I was highly self-critical and constantly self-blamed.
Imagine what it would be like to have a friend who always criticised you like you criticise yourself? We somehow expect that if we despise and criticise ourselves enough, we will lose weight. If this constant stream of negative self-criticism was effective, we would all have very different bodies by now.
5. Care too much for others and too little for themselves
Do you notice that every situation that needs fixing is your job and everyone with a problem is your pet project? Your self-care is often quite poor and you feel selfish when you do things for yourself. If only I had one cent for every time I heard "I felt bad coming here to meet you because it means taking time away from looking after the kids". People who struggle with weight invariably feel guilty about looking after their own needs, and spend most of their energy look after the needs of others.
Asking for help is a no-no, "I don't want to inconvenience other people with my problems. This is my problem and I need to sort it myself". You might feel bad when you want or need things for yourself, and the main way you take care of yourself is by eating.