As I often talk about in my lectures, many obese individuals appear to be waiting for their life to start – dreaming of all the things they will eventually do (next week, after their final exam, after Christmas, on January 1st, next Summer, etc.) after they finally get the weight off.
Canadian Obesity Network bootcamper Nicole Glenn, from the University of Alberta, has now published an exploration of just this issue in a paper titled, “Weight-ing: The Experience of Waiting on Weight Loss”, in the journal Qualitative Health Research.
In this phenomenological exploration of what it means to wait for weight loss, Nicole examines the weight wait through experiences gleaned from interviews, blogs and other sources.
As is typical for this type of work, the analysis is deeply personal and subjective and makes no claims to ‘saturation’ or universality of the interpretation or experience. Yet it provides deep insights into an issue that concerns millions of people living with excess weight.
“Phenomenological research aims for a certain effect, one that can lead us to suddenly see or grasp a human phenomenon in a way that enriches our understanding of everyday life experiences. Such seeing may transform our being and thus our practices”
As she writes,
“Waiting on weight loss shows itself through the promise of starting over, through repetition and resolution. The journey begins again, and again, and again. Or at the very least, the possibility of the wait for weight loss rebeginning is ever present.
‘It is January 2nd. I face the scale: Get on, get off. Repeat. I spend the rest of the day telling myself that I will do better, that things will change. Nevertheless I find myself cutting up the leftover ham, mindlessly stuffing the sweet, brown sugar goodness into my mouth. I can literally feel my rings tighten and ankles swell. I start to sob. I told myself last year I would not be in this position next year. In fact, I’ve made pretty much the same promise to myself for the past 20 years.'”
And yet, weight loss, even when it occurs is not the end of the wait – it may now be a wait (fear) for the weight to come back:
“I am somehow unsafe in this my new, thin body. Here I cannot let my guard down. I cannot dwell as I would in a place that is truly my home. So I am left to wonder if the waiting has really ended.”
As for the clinical implications of her findings, Nicole states:
“Recommendations for weight loss are commonplace in contemporary culture, with infomercials and commercials on television, and print and online advertising constantly offering up the newest ways to slim down…..I do not seek to confirm or refute the effectiveness of weight loss as a treatment, but instead strive to shift the focus to how such recommendations might manifest in an individual’s lived experience.”
As I have often said before, simply throwing out “weight loss recommendations” or even just linking numbers on the scale to “health” contains a message of “value” that is hurtful, damaging, and does harm.
Hopefully this paper will be read both by those interested in health promotion as well as everyone involved in obesity management.
Glenn NM (2012). Weight-ing: The Experience of Waiting on Weight Loss. Qualitative health research PMID: 23202478