It's time to stop focusing on weight

focus guest overweight Feb 10, 2023
Podcast cover art with scale and measuring tape

My eyes fell upon a horrible newspaper headline from 2008: “Fat kids die earlier.” That is the first article that I remember talking about obesity in childhood, but there were plenty more in the early 2000’s. At the time, I clipped it because it reinforced my approach at the time: identify issues, educate, act, and avoid. 


Over the past 2 decades there has been an increase in the prevalence of children being diagnosed with overweight and obesity.


The jury is out on the specific reasons why. Could it be the processed food, the portion sizes, the composition (macros), the ready-access, the emotional eating, distracted eating, the preservatives or hormonal disruptions? Could it be us: our genes, our eating habits, our sedentary lifestyle?


Buried inside the question about why waistlines are increasing is the search for an answer, a culprit to blame and something to fix.


Consider this: what if the answer is to stop focusing on the waistline and the scale?


The vast majority of the approaches to childhood weight is to focus on it in order to control it. We label the weight, first with numbers, then BMI and then with diagnoses of overweight or obesity. We think that to name it is to tame it. But as we have learned on the playground, when a label is given to you by others, it produces shame by indicating that something is wrong with the person.


Parents approach overweight and obesity in their kids in a very understandable way: fear, worry for their children’s health, long-term impact of weight, as well as social pressures and bullying. We parents also fear what it means about the job that we’ve been entrusted to do: to raise our kids to be healthy.


We think that if we change the weight, our kids will have better health, better social interactions, and no bullying. If we help them change, we can tell ourselves that we’ve done all we could and we are, indeed, good parents.


That is the wrong focus.


Fear is a potent motivator to get us moving into action, but fear puts blinders on us - all we see is what we have to fear. 


When we focus on the weight, the food, the exercise – we create fear and diet-mentality for our kids under the guise of trying to avoid the consequences of heavier body weight. We cannot fear ourselves to health, nor can we use fear to reach a sustainable, healthy weight.


Fear is exhausting. Willpower is used to avoid foods, to stick with an exercise plan. And eventually, the willpower RUNS OUT.


When willpower runs out, when we become exhausted – we seek comfort. And do you know an amazing source of comfort that a lot of us find? Food.


Food is not the enemy. Food is not bad. And neither is our weight. It’s just a small part of the story.


Fearing obesity, putting so much focus upon what we are trying to AVOID is not the answer.


It’s time to focus on what we do want. The parents that I work with describe wanting to have freedom from food rules, freedom from focus on weight and the scale to determine what kind of a day/week/month they’re having. It’s time to focus on improving our relationship with food, our bodies, and our kids.


I took over as the Obesity Champion for the medical society. First order of business: removing the word obesity. We do not work to champion something that has all the connotations of fear and avoidance. I embrace championing for what we want. I was briefly the Artist Formerly Known as the Obesity Champion. And then I became the Healthy Lifestyles Champion.


It’s not a perfect name, but it is moving towards something. And I am a strong proponent for moving towards what we want, not just looking at what we don’t want, running away, yet constantly keeping an eye on it.


When will we learn that if we really want to make an impact on our society’s weight health, we need to move toward a goal we want? What do we want to create for our health?


Calling all Healthcare Professionals: I'm so glad you're here, to benefit yourself, your family, and your patients. The CE experience for this Blog/Podcast is powered by CMEfy - click here to reflect and earn credits:

This article originally appeared on the blog on Feb 3, 2023.

Check out the Family in Focus with Wendy Schofer, MD Podcast!

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