Obesity is a completely different health condition than addiction.
People who struggle to control their weight are often blamed for their own condition. “Why would you do that to yourself?” the uninformed bystander thinks, wondering why someone who begins to gain weight wouldn’t just start eating more vegetables. In reality, each person’s average weight is determined by a whole host of factors, some of which they can control, like diet, and some that are invisible, like hormone levels. Here are three of the biggest challenges obesity and addiction share.
Editor: Saad Shaheed
Social stigma interferes with treatment. Addiction, like obesity, is seen as a choice. Addicts in pursuit of recovery are expected to just stop using their drug of choice and are shamed if they struggle to avoid one of their most effective coping mechanisms. Similarly, many who try and fail to lose weight are blamed for their lack of success by those who only see one cause of obesity, overeating, and one way to fight it, eating less. Instead of getting connected to services and treatment modalities that could actually help someone manage their weight in a healthy fashion, the social stigma surrounding obesity leads those who must manage it to try the same ineffective techniques over and over again, especially trend dieting, without the hope of seeing real results.
It’s more than just behavior. The only thing worse than getting sick is not having access to the life-saving medicine that could cure you. Although we are far from anything that could resemble a “cure” for obesity, many people fail to seek any kind of professional treatment for their weight-based health condition beyond a personal trainer or gym membership. But like addiction, obesity is more than simply over-eating and can’t be fully treated only through a harsher exercise regimen or more restricted eating habits. Just as any quality addiction treatment program does more than detox the body from the addict’s drug of choice, quality treatment plans for obesity must recognize that it is more than just the sum of behaviors; internal regulators like hormone levels must be taken into account as well and addressed.
Management is key. Although an addict may cut out an addictive drug of choice, like opioid painkillers, their entire life they must manage an impulse to use and abuse drugs. Overweight people do not have the luxury of cutting out their problem substance, calories, but must carefully manage their interactions with it for the duration of their lives. Assigning so much importance to a substance you must confront every day in order to survive is a huge challenge that requires thoughtful management techniques and comprehensive support from everyone in one’s life if the weight is to be taken off and kept off.
Obesity is a completely different health condition than addiction, yet they are often lumped into one category crudely described as moral afflictions. While it is true that they share the burden of social stigma attached to one of society’s gravest sins, over-indulgence, the reality of how and why too much food or too many drugs are consumed is anything but decadent. If you know someone who struggles with obesity or drug addiction, be kind. Accepting people who want help for who they are without conditions is the first step toward building a community we can all enjoy together.