Dr. Pretlow has said many times that when children and teens suffer from obesity their lives can be as miserable as the lives of youngsters afflicted by cancer. At the recent International Conference on Childhood Obesity, he heard this confirmed by a like-minded colleague, Dr. Tommy Visscher.
In the soft sciences, research depends heavily or exclusively on self-reporting. When subjects are reticent, little progress is made. Thousands of kids have shared their experiences and feelings via Dr. Pretlow’s interactive website Weigh2Rock. Yet, during the various studies concerning W8Loss2Go he noticed that they do not like to talk about their unhappiness — at least not in person.
Dr. Pretlow says:
In our three studies involving 143 overweight/obese young people, we’ve observed a striking disconnect between their anonymous voices and their face-to-face voices, in terms of what they say about their lives and their struggles with their weight. Anonymously, they write heart-wrenching stories about their lives. Face-to-face, or even on the phone, none (zero!) in our three studies admitted to being unhappy about being overweight or that they struggle to resist overeating.
The reluctance to “open up” may result from a lifetime of being judged and shamed. In his book, Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow quotes a 15-year-old girl who shared this online:
My mom said to me today “Melissa… if you just lost some weight, you’d be drop-dead gorgeous.” Comments like that don’t help one’s self-esteem.
At some point, people simply are not willing to hear any more criticism, or even any more well-intentioned but clueless concern, and build a virtual wall around themselves. Fortunately for the professionals trying to figure this out, some people talk later, when all the adolescent tumult has settled down.
Scott “Q” Marcus told readers of the Ukiah Daily Journal about his 9 lb. 14 oz. birth weight which progressed into obesity despite constant negative attention from his parents and an unspecified number of doctors. No reducing diets worked, and having to shop for “husky” clothes was humiliating. As a 230-pound high school freshman, he was “the second fattest” of more than a thousand.
Marcus describes being ignored by the female students, harassed by the males, and chosen last in team sports.
Teased and humiliated, I was shoved into lockers naked while pushed from jock to jock down the narrow aisles until finally, I could put my clothes on and run from the gym, seeking respite from the merciless cruelty for 24 hours; knowing it would resume the next day.
Remarkably, the story of Marcus took a turn. He later wrote this account, titled “Striving for Imperfection,” to celebrate 20 years of life as a person whose weight is appropriate to his height. He is quick to admit that he still occasionally slips and stumbles on the path, and forgives himself:
Our “inner jerk” is not helping us. After all, if guilt and shame were motivational, we’d all be skinny. It doesn’t work. Instead of bullying ourselves into submission, we must look at flubs in the same fashion a toddler views falling down while learning to walk. “Oops, that didn’t work. Let’s try again.”
Your responses and feedback are welcome!