Obesity: Stop Blaming the Victim, Please!

September 20, 2012






The obesity issue is rife with misinformation and oversimplification. Being overweight is not just about gluttony. Indeed, many overweight people eat far less than their thinner counterparts.

First, note that discriminating against fat people seems to be the last remaining bastion of bigotry that is socially acceptable. Regardless of its implicit acceptance, this prejudice is wrong – hurtful, misinformed and mean-spirited.

Next, note that metabolic, endocrine and genetic issues have a powerful role to play in normalizing a person’s weight. If anything is out of kilter in these systems, gross weight variances occur – from hyper-thinness to extreme obesity.

And, as my friend Kevin Knauss pointed out, being thin often exacts a terrible price. Setpoint theory establishes that attempting to maintain a weight outside of one’s setpoint sets one up for extreme frustration, suffering and eventual defeat, leading to loss of self-esteem and personal power.

Another frequently-overlooked aspect of staying thin is the fact that many common medications cause weight gain. I witnessed a young, attractive woman, under a psychiatrist’s care at the renowned UCSF Medical Center, gain over 100 lbs. due to lithium therapy (on a 5’2″ frame). Her doctor was less than helpful, suggesting that my friend could buy bags of pre-shredded lettuce for appetite control. What’s more, the extra 100 lbs. were far more hazardous to my friend’s health than the underlying condition for which the medication was prescribed. The physician was grossly negligent in permitting her patient to remain on medication that led not only to gross obesity, but placie her at risk of diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and a host of other illnesses. In fact, the condition that lithium was supposed to resolve was instead exacerbated from her weight gain.

Please, compassion is the educated and ethical response when encountering obesity. It’s imperative that we be aware of the complexity of the condition and stop blaming the victim. It’s true that fat people often overeat – but don’t we all sometimes?


Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

6 Responses to Obesity: Stop Blaming the Victim, Please!

  1. Amanda Kriemelmeyer on September 21, 2012 at 6:28 pm

    Thank you for sharing this perspective. I agree totally that compassion is the answer to dealing with this, as well as any suffering any of us may experience. Education and compassion are essential. And that being said I don’t believe in victimhood. There is much to learn in the world of drugs and nutrition and there are many of us out here working to help educate and create solutions for people struggling with these problems; however, I believe personal responsibility and compassion are equally important. People need to decide to be ready to change and find solutions. Considering someone to be a victim doesn’t help them. It only contributes to their struggle. There are no victims and I believe the sooner we realize this, the stronger and healthier we will all be. This is true compassion as I see it. Thank you for posting.

  2. Arizona Nurse on December 1, 2012 at 3:21 pm

    I do have empathy for obese patients. However you have put out some misconceptions in your article. Lithium is NOT for depression. Lithium is prescribed for Bipolar Disorder. Which is NOT just a bad depression. It is a bonifide medical condition that does require medication to attempt to stabilize a person’s moods. So, just taking one off the drug does not help. It will generally make their moods much much worse. They have discovered that yes it will often cause some weight gain. However, it is measured to be only about 10 to 20 pounds. Not the 100 pounds you stated. That is her own food intake and inactivity. Do not forget those obese patients that come into healthcare at whatever stage they are and for whatever reason are often cared for by a nurse. One that is generally smaller than they are. We often have to lift their legs or body and injure our own bodies. I am personally tired of seeing so many patients acting as if they were the victim. They need to take ownership of their own issues. Speaking as a nurse that has injured her back on obese patients. My compassion is running very thin for obese people that continue to whine about “their victimhood”.

  3. Claudia K. Nichols on December 1, 2012 at 5:44 pm

    Thank you for your response. I disagree with much of it, but for multiple reasons it is important to include in this post.

    You are correct about lithium as a treatment for bipolar disorder, not unipolar disorder. Accordingly, I’ve revised the language.

  4. Connie Earns on February 26, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    So sorry to the nurse whose patience is running thin. I was actually told by a nurse that I better not pass out because she couldn’t pick me up off the floor. I was horrified that I was so dizzy and feeling sick and then someone was making a comment about my weight. I was thin all my life. Then I found out I have Lupus. Taking steroids constantly started with my weight gain and yet I still ate less than most at the dinner table. My lupus started effecting my mucsles and joints and I was in chronic pain. Now I don’t know if you can imagine when you are in chronic pain but the answer is to move less and hope the pain subsides with yet more drugs your doctor gives you. Before I knew it my knees were bone on bone and I had to get both knees replaced. Okay I was ready to get up and going but oh no lupus strikes again. My ligaments and quad tendon kept having problems holding my artificial knees in place. I had rides to the emergency room in an ambulance more than I would like to remember screaming in pain because my knee slipped out of place and they would have to put me under to pop my knee back into place. I have had to have revisions done on both knees along with ligament and tendon repairs. I have had seven surgeries on my knees in the last four years. Each time I am in bed waiting to have surgery and then anywhere from six weeks to seven weeks in a brace for healing and then four weeks of physical therapy. My metabolism is so very, very confused that I am at the end of my rope worrying about my weight. People constantly look at me with a look of judgement. I am not lazy. Even in pain I tried to get out every day and walk but that never lasted too long because I was back to wearing a brace. If I am rambling it is because this is the first time I have had the chance to share these feelings with anyone outside my family and friends.
    Please stop blaming the victim of obesity unless you know that person’s story. You can’t imagine what it is like walking in my shoes.

    • Claudia K. Nichols on February 26, 2013 at 4:48 pm


      Lupus (SLE) is a terrible disease and there is no cure – only symptom management. A friend of mine was diagnosed in her 20’s – at the time she was slender – but the corticosteroids caused a weight gain of some 200 lbs. Within a few years. Dora could not even fit into a seat at the theatre.

      As I mentioned, the last bastion of bigotry in the U.S. seems to be about people’s size. My response: (1) bigotry is wrong, period. No one with a well-functioning body will overeat to the extent that causes extreme weight gain. (2) Whose business is it of anyone’s if one did choose to eat 10,000 calories a day? People abuse many substances. Yes, food can be abused, and it’s on the same list as just as alcohol, tobacco, mood-altering medications and sex. Those latter substances are “hidden” and so do not invite judgment.

      Mature individuals know better than to judge, unless they are a member of the judiciary.

      Connie, thank you very much for sharing your story. There are many, many others who have the same issue but did not write. Your remarks will be helpful to them also.

      • Connie Earns on February 27, 2013 at 12:49 am

        Thank you Claudia. Your kindness is very much appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *