Archives for March 10, 2015

A mystery of obesity

I have a friend, Maggie, who only commands respect from those she knows well.  People who see her in the grocery store can’t see her character.  They probably make assumptions about her based on her appearance.  She is a brave, honest, generous, loving woman.

She takes children into her home and into her heart, when their own mothers can’t care for them.  She isn’t wealthy.  The family must ask for financial help from time to time.  She has provided emergency care for months at a time for 3 different young girls when their own mothers could not care for them.  That is the embodiment of love and generosity.  A casual passerby might assume that her quick ponytail and sweat pants point to someone who doesn’t care.  They can’t see that she just invests her time and energy into children, instead of her appearance.

Maggie homeschools her children.  She has 5 biological children ranging in age from one to thirteen.  She believes that homeschooling is the best education for her children.  She braves the chaos and curriculum to provide what she feels is best.  Outsiders don’t see how her passion for her children’s academics impacts her ability to have time for herself.  They just see a busy, disheveled stay at home mom.

Her honest nature compels her to profess her true self even to people who disagree with her. Without preaching she explains her spiritual journey and colorful history. People trust her because she is open and vulnerable.  She knows that some people might criticize her, but she prefers honesty to hiding behind a façade.  If you ask her how she is, be ready.  She will tell you the truth.  Someone just meeting her might not know how to relate to her.

Another reason people criticize Maggie is that she has had a lifelong battle with weight issues.  Even though she is not a typical suburbanite, stay-at-home mother, she struggles with a very typical problem.  She is very overweight. This affects her body image, her fashion, her energy, and her health.

It would be easy to assume that she is a lazy, slob who doesn’t take care of herself. That assumption would be false. She goes to the gym regularly, takes care of her hygiene, her home and her children.  She is so motivated to change her body shape, that she started an accountability group for herself on Facebook.  She chronicled her exercise habits, her successes, her failures, and her goals.

I have known Maggie for seven years.  I have seen her through several pregnancies.  Through all her efforts, I don’t see her body dramatically changing shape.  When she exercises regularly and eats right, she makes progress and feels good. Still, she remains obese.

The source of her problem perplexes me.  If she were someone else, I might think that she just eats junk food in secret.  But Maggie has been so open about all her struggles and life.  If she had an eating compulsion, she would say “I have an eating disorder.  Help me, please.”  She doesn’t say that.

Maggie might have a metabolic disorder, but I don’t think so.  If she had a medical condition that predisposed her to obesity, the problem would be isolated to her. But obesity is definitely not isolated to her. Maggie has a beautiful eleven year old daughter, Maura.  Maura was lean and athletic until age 9, but now she is steadily gaining weight beyond what is healthy for a growing girl.  Maggie’s husband has a large midsection so common in American men.  So I wondered if the problem lied in their household habits or familial genetic disposition

So what is happening in Maggie’s home that keeps her from getting the body she wants?  Is there something about Maggie’s home environment that makes the family overweight?  Maybe, but look at the statistics for obesity published by The Center of Disease Control.  The CDC considers obesity to be a national epidemic.  Clearly Maggie and her family are not alone in their struggle.

Maggie and her family live in Colorado. While Coloradans are leaner than many in the nation, it is still a major problem for men and women.  20% of adults in Colorado are obese compared to 35% in the country as a whole. That’s an alarming amount of Americans struggling with weight.

Race and poverty are also correlated to high levels of obesity.  Maggie is Hispanic and her husband is black and their daughter is mixed race.  Do they live in a food desert where they don’t have access to healthy foods?  That is a real problem for many ethnic minorities and people living in poverty.  But Maggie lives a few blocks away from many well stocked grocery stores, including discount a health food store. She has access to affordable, healthy foods.

Most people, including Maggie, understand the basics of nutrition and exercise, so why are we getting fatter?  The statistics point to obesity being a national problem, not just a personal problem.  Millions of loving, honest and brave people, like Maggie, suffer socially from teasing, shaming and being at the butt of jokes.  So much emotional suffering from a societal problem.

Why does Maggie struggle year after year to shed the unwanted pounds? Solving her mystery would shine light on the obesity problem as a nation.  She is a wonderful person and deserves to walk tall and proud.  Her body should reflect her effort, just like her actions reflect her heart.  People who pass her in the grocery store should see the efforts of exercise and eating right.

Many wonderful people around the nation are trapped in a body they struggle to transform.

Do you know anyone like Maggie?  What do you think make Americans fat?  Share your thoughts.