Obesity and COVID-19.

I have a big space in my heart for those who are learning to be active, and those living with type 2 diabetes and obesity. I was firmly in those worlds for decades; I know the fear, shame, challenges. I also know how much it meant to be surrounded by people who believed I could change. Day by day, it would still take years find health and they stood with me.

It was a huge mountain.

I want to repay that stalwart kindness and collective support by helping others. Helping others understand that breaking out of those dangerous, non-linear ‘health holes’ is worth every single drop of sweat, every tear, setbacks and sore muscles. Health, not weight is what I focus on as a person and as health coach.

Social media has undeniably been a significant tool in connecting me to the people who want help and those who work to help others. I have been off of social media for 100+/- days now. (Blog here…) I was pretty content to stay away. The recent headlines and conversations surrounding obesity/COVID-19 have me re-thinking my self-imposed social media ban and how I really desire to be part of these growing and on-going conversations.

Even being surprised, like everyone else, by the daily developments in our world I still found myself shocked and upset to see obesity grabbing some of the current headlines and a jarring one at that:

Obesity puts you at greater risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19.(Study here explains the details of why.)

Obesity with a side of panic and public shaming. A not-at-all-awesome combination.

Early in the pandemic response; the fat-shaming was driving me a wee bit cray-cray. ‘The mask isn’t for COVID-19 it’s for the dreaded COVID-19 POUNDS….’ comments/memes. As if the worst thing that COVID-19 could dish out was some weight gain. For those with shame around their bodies, eating disorders, body dysmorphia or even teeter-tottering self confidence those messages aren’t helpful. They become hyper-amplified with the fear and panic surrounding the pandemic responses. None of it is funny or harmless. Those of us who align with various ideologies around fat and health are familiar with ‘nothing is worse than being fat’ mentalities, jabs and jokes. Sadly familiar ground for some of us.

Then things escalated.

I struggled writing this blog. What has been largely personal and private battles for individual health has become a matter of increasingly urgent public health discussions. It felt like it was a slow burn when it was ‘just’ an obesity epidemic and now it’s full throttle as COVID-19 pushed the additional perils of obesity to a new forefront. People assume they can look at you and know what you eat, how much you move, what health issues you may or may not have. Public comment and scrutiny like never before. Meanwhile obesity can not be resolved with an overnight magic bullet so those living with it can only take baby steps to change their life and health outcomes. Shame and panic have never worked to help people make lasting changes.

If you’ve missed them; here are the headlines…

‘Having obesity, defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or above, increases your risk of severe illness from COVID-19.’ (CDC)

‘An estimated 160 million Americans are either obese or overweight. Nearly three-quarters of American men and more than 60% of women are obese or overweight. These are also major challenges for America’s children – nearly 30% of boys and girls under age 20 are either obese or overweight, up from 19% in 1980′ (Source: IHME)

‘National surveys estimate that 20 million women and 10 million men in America will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.’ (source NEDA)

People who are obese are in greater danger of being more ill/dying with COVID-19.

The personal layer that I’m aware of for myself and many others, and can not be ignored, is that woven into the mix is Eating Disorders (ED)… In elevating this conversation to a very public forum, where everyone can comment and opine, we’re inadvertently pushing into the world of ED’s as well. And in my opinion, obesity and ED’s are not something you can simply untangle or isolate or easily explain and throw COVID-19 into the mix and you have a bonafide shitstorm. This is a twisted and difficult but excellent time to help with some public education and stigma-breaking. I don’t have the answers, but I can’t ignore that the conversations happening are really important for us to be having.

Prevention of being infected with the virus is the key for all of us. Attention to improving overall/general health markers and being at a healthy weight is also important for at least 160 million of us. Suddenly what most of us were able to manage as a more personal shame/issue/problem or at least as a ‘local’ problem that only involved those who physically interacted with us is now very PUBLIC and callously and carelessly being discussed ‘about’ us. Piling shame on shame never helped anyone heal or grab hold of new habits or feel good about the slow, baby steps they’re taking to head in a new life direction.

I too am confused. And scared. I’m wondering what to think and who to believe and how to help those who need help. Meanwhile I have to work hard to stay focused on balancing my own mental wellness while living in a body that is healthy and yet looks visibly overweight…

How do we publicly talk about health and obesity without shaming those who struggle? That’s the core issue I am interested in. COVID-19 adds another urgent health layer on top of a really complicated problem. I don’t have answers, but I have ears and a willing spirit and I’m not afraid of the tough conversations or the hard work.

And I know, from hard-fought personal experience, that the view from the top of the mountain is always worth the climb, no matter how long it takes. And this is one hell of a mountain…