What Do You Wish People Knew About Being Overweight?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
If you've never been overweight, it's impossible to know what day-to-day life is really like. And it's easy to assume that an obese person has made poor choices that led to their situation—they must eat a lot of unhealthy food and never exercise, right? And beyond the more obvious issues, like low self-esteem and ill-fitting clothes, a slimmer person likely has no concept of the daily challenges of obesity.

If you're the one who's overweight or obese, it can sometimes be a very lonely feeling, as well. It may feel like you're living under a microscope, surrounded by thin people who are judging everything from the food on your plate to your clothing choices. They may not understand why you don't want to engage in certain activities, or why a simple phrase or sideways glance can be so upsetting.  
SparkPeople coach Jen Mueller points out the importance of maintaining a positive mindset, even through the most challenging parts of a weight-loss journey. "I see so many people beating themselves up about gaining weight, whether it’s five pounds from a vacation or 100 pounds over the past 10 years," she says. "Although it’s good to learn from mistakes of the past, it’s important to remember that you have total control over what happens from this moment forward. If you let others' judgements about your decisions or appearance determine your own self-worth, it’s difficult to see the power you have inside to change. You have that power; we all do. You are so much more than a number on the scale, so don’t let that define the person you are or the life you lead."

Real People’s Experiences with Being Overweight

To help bridge what can seem like a very large gap, we asked a few people to share real-world experiences from their weight-loss journeys. Our hope is that these anecdotes will help illustrate what it's really like to live as an overweight person while encouraging others to be more sensitive to their struggle.
"Even sleeping is a challenge. You have to find ways to get comfortable—you can't sleep this way because you can't breathe, can't sleep that way because your chest pushes up on your throat and blocks it. I had to sit up half the night because of the sleep apnea, the hurting back, the edema…" GPALMER29
"I have had someone—a complete stranger—assume that I'm pregnant when I was not. That's pretty embarrassing and humiliating. Unless you emphatically know someone is pregnant, do not comment! Don't even ask!" Rebecca Scheerer, Cincinnati, Ohio
"I was in McDonald's once—for the first time in over five years—and while I was perusing the menu, the manager behind me said in Spanish (with me being Italian, I was able to pick up some of the words) to the girl behind the register, 'Take this fat lady's order.' I haven't gone inside a McDonald's since. I do the drive-thru because there is no one there to address your weight." BEVIEG41
“There's so much people don't understand....from going to amusement parks and worrying about fitting in the roller coaster seats to the looks you get just walking around. I remember going on a business trip many years ago when I was at my heaviest. It was a sales presentation and I was the subject matter expert. Our salesperson, who had never met me in person before that day, said (in no uncertain terms) that I didn't present well physically and wouldn't be asked to go on more sales presentations no matter how great of a job I did.” GAILIEBEE69
“It seems like being around people, your jokes revolve around your size [...] I would joke about myself all the time, about my size, to make people laugh. I was the ‘fat, funny guy,’ and it was actually depressing. I put on a good front and a happy face, but inside it was a heavy burden.” GPALMER29
"I'd see the looks. I was afraid to eat in front of people. It was isolating. A person who is overweight […] should not be shamed or ridiculed or endure snickers and whispers. If you don't feel comfortable snickering toward a person in a wheelchair, you should not feel comfortable doing the same toward someone overweight, no matter their size." Cathy*, Cincinnati, Ohio
"I think that it's tough to know that some people assume I'm totally unhealthy. I really eat pretty well (although I do have a wicked sweet tooth), but I also have a thyroid disorder and I think it makes it tough for me to lose and keep weight off. I typically have to stay under 1,100 calories a day to lose or maintain. I would give—I don't know what—to figure out how to be thin, enjoy food and maintain a more ideal weight without so much work and counting every calorie that goes in. It's exhausting, both physically and mentally, for me." Rebecca Scheerer, Cincinnati, Ohio
"The most disturbing [reality] for me has been feeling unhealthy. Before I started working out again, my heart felt weak and strained, which was an alarming wake-up call that I could not keep putting off taking my health seriously." Wellness expert Gabrielle Loehr
"When buying clothes, you have to go to the big and tall stores [...] and you walk up to the counter with size 64 pants and deal with a retailer who is average size, and you get that look, everybody knows the one [...] it's the one that says, ‘Man, could you get any bigger?'" GPALMER29
"I hate how your stomach skin flops down in front of you and you get this icky moisture, which chafes in the hot weather and smells if you don't keep up with it. Not pretty." GABY1948
"I have girlfriends of many sizes. The thinner ones love to shop. When you're overweight, that is not fun. I enjoy it a little more now, but am still apprehensive. I wear a size 12 now and still find myself gravitating toward the plus-size clothes, as I cannot believe/accept the smaller me." Cathy*, Cincinnati, Ohio
"At work, I'd look around for a sturdy chair and one not too close to others. I always went to staff meetings early so I'd get a chair appropriate for me. I never broke a chair, but my sister who was a little heavier than I did. At restaurants, booths usually didn't work for me. Even if I could squeeze in, I felt squashed and trapped. Sometimes we'd wait longer for a table." SLENDERELLA61
"Just taking a shower was a challenge. I washed off in the sink most of the time because I couldn't move around inside the shower. Even driving was a chore [...] when you have this massive [stomach] in your way, it was difficult to steer a vehicle." GPALMER29 

"[When I weighed] over 300 pounds 30 or 40 years ago, an orthopedic doctor told me that if I did not lose weight, I would lose my weight-bearing joints and be in pain. Here I am at 69 years old with a knee replacement and another one needed. I have also been diagnosed with sciatica. I didn't do what I needed to do until four years ago when I lost 240 pounds. [My advice is to] lose weight before damage is done in so many areas of your body." SINGINGLADY_JLN

"Inexpensive clothing for the short and overweight woman is still virtually non-existent. It is hard to be overweight and feel attractive." SUNNYCALIGIRL
"When I was thin, overweight women often seemed angry with me, as though my thinness was directly responsible for their weight. Now, I have noticed that I am not taken as seriously as I was when I was thin, and that thin women look at me as though I am their motivation to work out, which is both hurtful and misplaced. My brain works just as well as it did before I gained weight, and life is not a beauty contest. There is no prize for being the thinnest." Wellness expert Gabrielle Loehr
“When eating out [at a restaurant], trying to sit in a booth that's made for small people, knowing you have to find a table with pull-out chairs [...] and people are looking at you like, ‘We better hurry up and get up to the buffet before they do!” GPALMER29

"Being overweight [when flying on a plane] means you have to ask the stewardess for the extended seat belt. Some are discreet and some love to announce it." BEVIEG41
“When I was in fifth grade, we moved to a new school and I was terribly embarrassed about my size. I was teased, called ‘moo cow’ and ‘marshmallow.’ I refused to run in [gym class] because I didn't want anyone to see my fat jiggle. Besides being overweight, I was awkward. Would I have been more graceful if I had been a normal weight? Maybe. I tended to walk into things like counters and I tripped a lot. A gym teacher told my father that I was a ‘motor moron.’ I heard it. It hurt.” SLENDERELLA61

If you've ever struggled with being overweight or obese, what experiences might be surprising to people who have never faced this challenge?

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KACEYSW 2/28/2019
Really needed this validation today! Report
Thank you Report
The biggest pain for me was being treated as if I was stupid. It was annoying to have people react to something I said as if it were unexpected. Being a smart woman is hard enough, being treated as if you weren't just because of your size is harder. Report
JANSAUR 2/19/2019
Thanks for writing this article I don't feel so alone! Report
FANCYQTR 2/18/2019
People can be so cruel with their remarks. I had one woman tell me "G.. you're ugly." Another time a friend and I were out eating just regular meal at a restaurant and a couple in there commented that we shouldn't eat like pigs like we were. Meanwhile, they each had a full meal plus a chef's salad rather than a meal and side salad. I also have the problem of getting my sinus drainage worse after eating and often start choking because of it. Then I hear how disgusting I am because of the bulimia. I hadn't thrown up since I was college age until when I got stomach virus when going through chemo at age 55 and it was never from bulimia. I have also been called stupid and unable to do the work at jobs even though I was the one doing all the work. Report
SHOAPIE 2/18/2019
Thank you. Report
HOLLYM48 2/18/2019
Great information! Report
Great article! Report
FITWITHIN 2/18/2019
I can relate to several of the stories that I read in this article. It is very heart breaking, because so many people do realize the internal pain. Report
MAWMAWJ2 2/17/2019
Very relatable, real article. I've come a long way from the morbidly obese person I was seven months ago, but I don't think I'll ever forget how completely isolating it felt to be the biggest person in the room, store, restaurant...everywhere I went. Restaurants were the most humiliating to me. I can totally relate to dreading having to squeeze myself into the booths and feeling ashamed to order from the buffet because of what I assumed everyone was thinking. Flying on an airplane as an obese person is a whole new humiliating experience too when you're an obese person. Squeezing into those tiny seats while trying not to 'over crowd' the people next to you is beyond humiliating. And sadly, I was also the funny lady with the self deprecating fat jokes. I've found since I've lost weight that I also laid the groundwork for others to joke at my expense. I no longer make those jokes but still feel the pain of hearing them. Not by strangers, but by one specific person who is very close to me. Thinking back I realize that this person had been making them all along, but I was too, so maybe it didn't resonate as much. Or perhaps I chose to view it as harmless. There is a lot more pain than just the physical aspects of being overweight. I think this article did an awesome job of letting the rest of us know that we're not alone. That there are others who 'get it'. Thank you so much for posting. Report
KITTYHAWK1949 2/17/2019
I was lucky as not over weight in teens. I really don't pay a lot of attention to others I don't know and most of my loved ones don't say or do hurtful things about my weight. thanks for article Report
PIANOKEYS88 2/17/2019
I gained weight for a year with some different medications. When I didn't need thwm,my doctor, the one who perscribed the pills said you have gotten awful heavy in the last year. Havent been to a doctor ever sense. Report
GETULLY 2/17/2019
This is a really good article. I get it more in the sideways looks so I ignore and walk even more upright. Report
SPINACHROCKS1 12/22/2018
You are a treasure! Thank you for your revealing impacting blog. I am sure you've touched many hearts!!!
NELLJONES 11/27/2018
I don't expect people who have never been overweight to understand the way I do, anymore than I can understand what it's like to be in battle. Report
MICHIGAN4MOM 11/1/2018
Being obese and putting off or hating going to the doctors and the look you get from the medical profession. I have had thyroid cancer and I have epilepsy that has put me in bouts of depression. Talk about weight gain. The stomach flap someone mentioned, so real. Report
SEAJESS 7/7/2018
These are powerful quotations, more so because I know many of the speakers through SparkPeople. They have transformed their lives; you'd never know if you met them now they'd had these experiences. Thanks for sharing your stories with us!
KATHYLEE34609 5/28/2018
Am so glad to read these comments. I only wish those who have never had to struggle with being overweight could read them and really try to understand what
life is like being overweight. From being embarrassed, hurt feelings, constantly
being judged, being the outsider and many more. Do they really think we would
chose to be overweight or if it were just a case of "just eating less and exercising
more" most of us wouldn't be overweight. Its just not that simple. To those who
don't understand what this like - don't judge us until you've walked in our shoes.

KB Report
VGER8946 4/3/2018
Being 5'1" and overweight is a terrible challenge. You can be fat and tall and there are pants that fit you. But I have to order EVERY pair of pants I wear because the stores don't stock larger sizes in petite!!! Report
Being short and overweight was like a bonus for those who felt the need to be mean! Report
"It seems like being around people, your jokes revolve around your size [...] I would joke about myself all the time, about my size, to make people laugh. I was the ‘fat, funny guy,’ The premise of the show Mike and Molly. I always felt sorry for Mike. It wasn't funny to pick on his weight. Report
SLENDERELLA, I hope your dad gave that supposed teacher person a talking to. That is unacceptable. I think even 40 years ago, it would have been unacceptable. Report
So many truths stated here.
I have always, when meeting someone for first especially, looked people straight in the eyes. However, when my weight became over 300 paounds I quickly noticed that almost everyone,except Report
Part of losing weight for me, was taking control of my view of my body. I appreciate what my body has done and put up with for me.
I also decided to not be embarrassed by other people's prejudices. If someone stares at me, I calmly stare back till they stop. If I don't think a chair is sturdy enough I say something. I even asked a skinny fellow younger student to give up his chair because it was the only one that would reasonably accommodate me. I was not quiet or shy about it. He looked like he was going to say something but looked at the class and changed his mind. This attitude has helped me stop emotional eating. It helps me exercise in public. I carry myself different and people treat me better. Report
I DID make a lot of unhealthy choices to hit my all time high of 228. I ate too much because I included extras in the form of junk food. I did not commit to regular exercise. The first time Coach Nicole had me get down on the floor to exercise, back in 2009, I thought I would die. I pray I will be able to make better choices as I continue this lifestyle change, thanks to all of my SP colleagues out there and Chris Downie. Report
Great information. I learned something new today. Report
A new way of looking at the problem Report
I like this article because the contributors tell their real experiences. I think the worst for me was having people laugh out loud at me in a restaurant when I finished my son's burger. Still hurts today. Hurt him too because he heard the insults & laughter. Report
Good info Report
Good article Report
Great article, very informative and feelings Report
You must be the change you wish to see in the world.
- Mohandas Gandhi Report
So many situations and comments that I can relate to my many years of being overweight. November 2015 (my pic with my nephew is proof) I was only 10 pounds from my goal weight that I hadn't seen since college (...and we're talking about the early 1970's). I hurt my knee, had an unsuccessful operation last February and have regained 70 pounds of the 135 pounds I had lost. It is so depressing and disheartening to be almost back where I started. If I can ever get back to my goal, I pray that I won't sabotage myself again. It is just too painful. Report
It is unfortunate how people don't understand how being overweight feels, not only physically but also psychologically. Report
I have lived through so may of the things mentioned here are and am still living with a lot of them. Report
I don't understand why people have to comment on other people's weight. Weight is between a person and their doctor. Report
The sad thing is that it's not anything to do with being overweight. It's because the mean person is just a mean person. I get comments all the time about my weight because I'm too thin! I'm not I'm "normal" at 120lbs for 5'5". "You want to eat a few burgers, you do" is a common one, "how long have you had anorexia/bulimia?". I've never had either. "You wouldn't feel the cold if you put some meat on your bones". The most humiliating one was going into a lingerie shop when I was 18. I asked where the AA cup sizes were. I was laughed at and told to try the mastectomy shop in front of a whole shop full of people who then made jokes about "fried egg club" and " you don't really need to bother do you?". I was mortified.
You can't win! Report
Prejudice and discrimination are the crappiest consequences of being overweight. We're even the butt (pardon the pun) of jokes. When I was dating, I even had men say, "but you have such a pretty face..." as if that was a compliment. Report
I love articles like this...more personable and real! Thank you! Report
So sad to be judged because of our size. Report
For me, the worst part of being overweight was feeling as if I had given up and that it was all downhill from here. I'm only 55, so that was a pretty crappy way to feel. However, the incredible rush of getting healthy again has counterbalanced that and then some. All I've done is walk and track my food, and I am 50 pounds down. It is a struggle everyday, however, and I could never forget how different I felt 50 pounds ago. Report
About 2 months ago I was walking in the park and this guy decided he should yell across the parking lot how great it was that I was walking. He said his friend list 60 lbs in a month walking so I should not give up. I was so angry and embarrassed. Who does that? Then I reminded myself, I had been walking daily over a month and had lost 15lbs so he could kiss my slightly smaller behind. Report
It is so sad that people are so often comfortable with being cruel to others. Report
So many of these resonate with me from when I was obese. Maybe the most was not being able to shop in regular stores. Did a lot of standing around waiting for friends. Thankful I finally took control of my life and health. Report
I went to a yoga class once. With hindsight, this was never going to be a positive experience! Having some lithe young thing telling me to bring my leg through when it just kept getting stuck on the 50lb wedge of fat round my middle, or trying to fold forward and being blocked by the tummy rolls and don't even mention what "the girls" did when I attempted downward facing dog: not being flexible is one thing but the feeling of being truly trapped and confined by the extra weight was soul destroying :-( Report
Great article! Thanks! Report
No one gets up and says I want to be humiliated and in pain all day. Obesity is a medical issue with a big emotional component that must be dealt with. It is not easy. Report
I wish people knew that we didn't just get up one morning and say, "Gee, I'm going to gain a bunch of weight. Being fat must be so much fun!" People (esp naturally thin people) seem to think it's a matter of pure laziness or just a whim. They don't understand that there are reasons we are fat; many, highly varied reasons. For many of us, it was illness that started it and it is illness that continues to be the biggest battle to lose weight. Rant over. Report
I just love the people who act like I could just lose the weight if I "just tried harder". Report