One of the few people with whom I feel entirely simpatico on the subject of human health is Mark Sisson – author of the Primal Blueprint. Yet, Mark published an article recently called the “Stigma Of Obesity” that I think deserves a closer look. I want to use this post to present both points of view for you to consider.
Always a part of this issue that we can agree on is the need for compassion for a fellow human. But if the point of this article is that this compassion is the way to encourage a reversal of the condition, in that I can offer another view. As is widely known, sometimes love is tough.
It seems that Mark is asking us all to avoid being a part of the “stigma of obesity”, but I’m not sure what that would look like. Mark never uses a word for the attitude that we should hold regarding obesity, so perhaps this is more about clarification than a contrast. Here’s a little background:
The condition of obesity will always change the dynamic between people, and new burdens fall upon the more able-bodied in any relationship. To ignore that shift is to be in denial, and not an entirely honest response. To ignore that shift is to engage in the act of accommodation. It is never a simple matter of “all other things remain equal, therefore they can be treated equally.”
As many of my readers who are familiar with both of us know there is very little, if any, difference in our philosophies on the subject of human health, but in my teaching I never use the word “obesity” because I believe it is misleading. It invites a distinction, and in that distinction is an opening for accommodation that would not exist if it were referred to by its more accurate meaning: a self-imposed disability.
Obesity – in and of itself – is never the core issue. Obesity is merely the most obvious symptom of a much bigger problem caused by – and only by – inattention to health. And the result of this choice is not always obesity. There are many skinny people who have made the same choice, but for reasons of genetics or hormones or some other flip of bio-logic, the symptoms show up differently. There is however one thing that is common to all who make this choice, and that should be the issue we’re addressing: self-imposed disability. To wit: even the skinny ones can’t get up a flight of stairs or carry their suitcases through an airport.
Of course, food-like-substances are a large part of the cause of obesity, but the result is no different from the self-imposed injuries by any number of means: like drug addiction, for example. Or, utter inactivity regardless of body weight. Anything that causes the human body to fall below a minimum threshold of functional capacity (which obesity clearly does by virtue of fat alone) all results in the same basic problem: the individual becomes disabled to some degree.
Disabilities do come in several varieties, but they all have the same characteristic: a lack of able-ness. Able-ness can be defined as a human’s ability to function normally and with no assistance from others in performing the acts of survival. Anything less is disable-ness, or disability.
It is true that some disabilities are caused by accident and other un-preventable means, and there should be another word for those (that is a distinction that does matter), but we can agree that even a cursory examination of common disabilities shows the vast majority of them to be caused by simple neglect – neglect of human health by a failure to do what we already know we should, and that which can only be done on an individual level. I honestly don’t see the “struggle” that Mark speaks of in this. The path is known and the methods are well-documented, and Mark’s are among the best; available freely and proven effective.
Therefore what we know of as obesity is not a mystery that needs to be solved, and no one is a victim of it. Obesity/self-imposed disability would/could never occur in a primal environment. In other words, nature always discriminates against excess body weight. The price is always the inability to survive. That is pretty compelling stuff, and no one had the option of waiting until tomorrow to do something about it.
The condition of obesity always brings a significant impact on society (that’s you and me), but even more so on those closest to the person disabled by their own hand. As their disabilities increase and their ability to function normally decreases, the activities in which they can participate diminish, and those who seek their company and care about their comfort must accommodate or leave them behind. When you love someone, leaving them behind is not an option.
I do not engage in or support discrimination in the way that it is typically understood, but is it prejudiced to refuse to accommodate a drug addict’s erratic behavior, or do anything for another person that they could easily – but won’t – do for themselves? I suggest it is also not prejudiced or shaming to reveal to someone that their choices are unhealthy for any reason, and if they continue on the path that they’re on there is a cost to themselves, their family , and the rest of society? Is it even remotely possible that what is aggravating the majority of self-imposed disabilities is not “stigma” or discrimination, but rather accommodation?
What I want most out of this discourse is to shine a light of reality on the subject of self-imposed disabilities – of which obesity is only one – so that everyone will recognize the power they possess to have full control over these issues. The only truth around obesity, and so many of the disabilities that are only known in modern times, is that they are the direct result of a failure to create an environment that supports a thriving human body. No one can do that for anyone else; it must always be done at the individual level. If it is discriminatory for me to hold that attitude, then maybe it is the concept of discrimination that we should be looking at – not obesity.