The fat algorithm

By Unsa Athar
Fri, 09, 19

I see a young girl, hardly over 12 years old, walking in the ultrasound room for a sonogram.....


I have been meaning to write this article for a while now. But, with depression and anxiety comes the writer’s block as well. And only now I have found the mental energy to actually put my thoughts together to form words. So, here goes nothing.

“You are really pretty. You are just ‘healthy’ which takes the focus away from your pretty facial features.”

“You are the only lady doctor I have seen who is continuously gaining weight, instead of losing it.”

“You take care of your mind. You read a lot of books. Why do you not take care of your physical health?”

These are some of the many actual statements that were said to me, to my face, and were in no way meant as derogatory. The tone and intentions were genuine, but all of them hurt. Every single one of them.

I suffer from clinical hypothyroidism which means my metabolism is slow. I also have major depressive disorder which in its atypical form causes an increased appetite. I am on medications for my depression, which causes weight gain as well. I also have been diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder which often throws me in a spiral of over-eating. But I cannot tell this to every passerby, can I? Can I write down my struggles and paste them on my back, so that people might shut up? I wish I could. I know I am not supposed to take people’s opinions and comments to heart, but what option do I have if it is the first thing people notice about me, if it the basis of all my nicknames, it is why I am given certain roles to perform in the annual dramatics? How can I not let my weight define me to myself if people actually do define me by my weight? I am not a smart and kind doctor. I am just a tiny, plump person.

I see a young girl, hardly over 12 years old, walking in the ultrasound room for a sonogram. She is obese, that is obvious. And I cannot imagine the horrible things she gets to hear from her relatives and friends. After her sonogram, we find a suspicious-looking growth in her right ovary. It was most likely cancerous and was producing hormones causing her weight gain. But what mother would tell people that her daughter has an ovarian mass, which is why she is ‘fat.’ People do not care about the reason. They just see someone’s fat and they think it is crucial for them to point it out.

A junior of mine thinks that obese people should be called out for being obese. They can adopt a healthy lifestyle and can exercise to lose the excess fats. He has read this in his biochemistry book. If they do not lose weight, they are putting themselves at risk for heart diseases, high blood pressures and diabetes. It is their fault. I want to kill myself after reading this. I see people engaging in a discussion in the comments section. I see it being in vain. What a sad state of affairs.

I see a clip of Urva Hocane saying that “depression ho gya hai” and other such mumbo jumbo of mental illnesses is because of what we put inside our bodies. I get annoyed. She does not know the physiology behind depression. Healthy eating cannot be the treatment. It helps, sure, but depression needs assessment. But then, I see posts defending her remarks. I see people saying pizza and other such junk foods are proven to release “happy hormones.” So, what you mean is she was right and I can make my depression go away by eating pizza? Trust me, I am trying. All that it has done is given me a double chin. I need to watch the whole show to understand whether she was talking about healthy eating or pizza. But I have better things to do. Like munching pizza.

We live in a confused world. Awareness about mental health disorders is on the rise, but ignorance and confusion are also rising. You would think living in the 21st century with so much information would make us more knowledgeable. It has, for sure, helped the brain in knowing things but the hearts have become non-functional. There are facts and figures available on the tips of your fingers, but empathy has become obsolete.

I have heard people arguing that in this time and age anything can offend anyone. People have become overly sensitive. It is not easy to know anymore what is the right or wrong thing to say. I do agree that people these days are becoming more and more intolerant towards the freedom of speech. But, that in no way justifies being mean to someone or calling them out for the way they look. Kindness is a virtue that shall never go out of style, and it is needed more than ever now. And a mature, sensible, compassionate person should always try to weigh things in his or her head first before saying them out loud. To be honest, this is not a trait that everyone possesses. And it can be really difficult, especially for people who are used to speaking their minds. There is a difference between being honest or straight forward and being unkind.

Kindness is a virtue that shall never go out of style, and it is needed more than ever now.

Though some people are just plain, old mean fellows who would mock anyone who does not fit into their definition of pretty or healthy, some people genuinely want to show empathy and concern for the health of them “fat folk”. The questions and comments can end up hurting them. So here, I am going to give you an algorithm which might help you in such a situation. If you feel the urge to say something about someone’s weight, first question yourself, which of the following categories do you fall into, and then formulate your action.

You are an acquaintance/colleague/friend of an overweight person

Just keep your mouth shut. Please. They know they are overweight or that they are gaining weight. They have a mirror at home. An anorexic person will see himself or herself as fat but there is no mental disorder that hides away the tummy rolls. So, for the love of God, keep your opinion to yourself. If you want to be a b****, do all the back-biting and gossip you want to, but do not say mean things to such people. You have no idea what a terrible reaction they might have. They may smile or laugh it off with you but they will end up crying themselves to sleep at night. Your comments and body-shaming does not help. STOP.

As long as you are happy and in a good place,nobody can enforce a twisted version of beauty on you. You are alive and being alive is beautiful.

You are a family member/loved one/close friend of an overweight person

You are concerned for a person who is gaining weight. You do not want them to suffer from all the consequences of obesity. You are genuinely worried. I get that; it is pretty understandable. But practice a little empathy before talking to them. If you are genuinely concerned about your dear ones, you should know better than to confront them. Be gentle and bring it up in a casual conversation. Do not directly ask them why they have gained so much weight or why they eat so much. Ask them about their routine. Probe them to see if they are doing okay. Let them know that they can talk to you about any stressors in their life. Especially if you know they are suffering from a condition that causes them to gain weight, ask them if they are taking their medications or following the doctor’s instructions. Do not scold them if they are not compliant. Just try to help them get back on their feet. And when they are in a good place, then you can bring up ideas to help them lose weight.

If you are a “fat” person yourself

Nobody can be meaner to us than we are to ourselves. I know the struggle. I understand it. And I want you all to know, it is okay to put on a few pounds at the cost of being alive. If a pizza is what you need to not overdose tonight, eat it. You need only one person’s validation and that person is you. Take care of your mental health/physical condition causing the weight gain first, then work on losing the pounds. As long as you are happy and in a good place, nobody can enforce a twisted version of beauty on you. You are alive and being alive is beautiful.

On the good days, try taking a walk and eating a salad. You might feel a surge of happiness. But do it because you want to, not because of people’s mean comments. Also, let your loved ones help you. And if someone says something hurtful, call them out on that. I say this from experience, being known as a grump is better than being mocked for your belly. You get to decide when you are ready to work on your physical and mental health.

Be kind to yourself and others.