Large People Have Problems With Self-Esteem

The National Institutes of Health reports that about more than half of all adults in the United States are overweight. And about 20% – 40% American adults are trying to shed pounds at any given time. Thus it is not surprising that the diet industry rakes $40 billion annually.

In this world where people are increasingly becoming more conscious about how they look, more and more large men and women resort to such means as diet, exercise, pills, and surgery to lose unwanted weight. But many of them fail to achieve desired outcomes no matter how hard they try.

As a result, many large people blame themselves and suffer feelings of shame. According to Dr. Arya Sharma, chairman of University of Alberta’s obesity research, "There’s no question that many people who are obese have self-esteem issues. A lot of the bias and discrimination that obese people face in their daily lives makes living in a large body quite difficult."

The question then is: does subjecting yourself to diet programs really make you more productive, happier, or thinner? The answer is a resounding NO.

Many studies have shown that dieting is actually ineffective. In a two-year study conducted by the University of California, Davis, two groups of overweight participants ( dieting and non-dieting) were monitored.

Those who underwent dieting were asked to restrict their food intake moderately, monitor their weight regularly, and maintain food diaries. They were given information about the enormous benefits of exercise and about behavioral strategies to become successful in dieting. They were also provided information on how to measure fat content and count calories, shop for the "good" foods, and read food labels.

On the other hand, the non-dieting group was told not to restrict food consumption and to pay extra attention to internal cues (physical and emotional) like satiety, hunger, anger, sadness, and anxiety. They were not given diet propaganda, but information regarding healthy nutrition. They were also recruited to participate in a weekly support group aimed at addressing the concerns of large people in a society marked by intolerance.

The results are surprising. Almost 50% of those who underwent strict dieting did not finish the program, whereas about 92% of the non-dieters completed the program.

Although the participants in the non-dieting group did not significantly shed weight, they experienced many health benefits that the other group did not: systolic blood pressure and lower bad cholesterol levels, significant increase in physical activity, less occurrence of feeling of depression, and feeling significantly better about themselves.

Dieters lost around 5.2% of their original weight in the first six months, but they had regained almost all of it when the study period ended. As a result, those who strictly watched their diet and exercised religiously were left with much lower self-esteem.

In her book No Fat Chicks, Terry Poulton recounts her ordeal with the desire to lose weight. The Canadian-born journalist’s story starts in 1982, when she decided to lose 65 pound in 24 weeks. Poulton describes this effort as the "toughest and loneliest time" of her life.

As expected, her deadline approached much faster than her desired weight. During the course of her weight loss, she covered the case of an overweight woman who died after collapsing at the doorstep of a weight loss clinic. Poulton eventually achieved her goal. However, like many other weight loss efforts, the weight so painstakingly shed found its way back.

Another book that tackles self-esteem and large people is Carol Johnson’s Self-Esteem Comes in All Sizes. A large woman all her life, Johnson tried to diet but all she got was feelings of guilt and shame.

After years of failing to lose weight, she arrived at a life-changing decision: instead of continuing on the path that sees diet success leads to higher self-esteem, she decided to make a new path, a path that would enable her and the large people as a whole to improve self-esteem in spite of their size.

Johnson’s message is this: "The essence of who you are is not defined by your weight but by all the talents, qualities and accomplishments that, when mixed together, make you the wonderfully unique person you are." She says that one does not need to shed pounds just to be healthy and look attractive. She advises that one needs to focus on his or her real goals.

In 1987, Johnson founded Largely Positive aimed at promoting health and improving self-esteem among large people. The organization believes that: size is not equated to self-worth; self-esteem is a right, not a prize for shedding pounds; life should be lived now, not when you have lost weight; focus on becoming healthy, not dropping two or three dress sizes; develop a positive attitude; do not let yourself to be "size victimized" by anyone; and do not tolerate size discrimination.

As Johnson puts it, large people should be "largely positive".