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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