Stone Throwing

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They gathered around the figure who was lying with face toward the ground.  Holding stones, they demanded justice – that the sin of this person be exposed for what it is: inferiority.  Her sin had been exposed for all to see and the righteous rage of those who were pointing fingers and holding stones was pounding at her on the inside, just as the stones would soon pound her on the outside.

\”Her BMI is over 30!  It may even be over 40!\” one of them cried out.  The others responded to this with a howl.

\”How can she be fit for leading the country\’s health if she can\’t even fit into her pants?!\” another asked, causing raucous laughter to echo from the crowd.

Nearby, a news reporter spoke into a camera: \”People are questioning her fitness for surgeon general, as she obviously is overweight.  The president had initially hoped the popular TV doctor would take the job, but fell back on Dr. Benjamin as a substitute.  Clearly a president, who himself is a closet cigarette smoker, doesn\’t see the fact that she is overweight as a disqualifying factor.  These people, and many others around the country, disagree with that assessment.\”

———————–

Forty years ago, people would also have cried out about this nomination.  They would have said that a woman shouldn\’t be in charge of the nation\’s health, or that a black person doesn\’t have the wherewithal to manage such a big task.  Times have changed, as her nomination shows – nobody is talking about these facts that have nothing to do with her ability to do this job.    We have truly progressed.

Sort of.

This objection, of course, is that her weight shows that either she doesn\’t understand what is causing her obesity, or that she doesn\’t have the moral fortitude to successfully fight it.  Either way, she\’s disqualified for the job.  Right?  It\’s a sign of weakness to be overweight, and we certainly don\’t need someone with a personal weakness to be in a leadership position!

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It is clear that some view the overweight (which, by the way, constitute 2/3 of our adult population) as being emotionally weak and somehow inferior to everyone else.  After all, study after study has shown that the way to beat obesity is simple: eat less and exercise more.  It\’s simple; and those who don\’t do it are weak, lazy, dumb, or just plain pathetic.

It angers me to hear these suggestions.  Racist and sexist people put down others because of the fact that they are different than themselves.  But the moral judgment against the overweight and obese is not meant to be a judgment against something inherent in the other person; it is a judgment against their character, their choices, and their weaknesses.  The implication is that they are somehow either smarter, stronger, or just plain better than the overweight.  The implication is that the other is weak and they are not.

There is a word for this attitude: hypocrisy.  A bigot is a person who hates those who are different; a hypocrite is one that hates others for something they themself have, but choose to ignore.  Both mistakenly act as if they have the moral high-ground.  Both disqualify themself from any argument based on morality.

Healthcare exists because of human weakness.  We all are weak in various ways, and we all will eventually die when one of our weaknesses overcomes us.  Obesity exists because of human weakness – either the genetic or biological miscalibration of the person\’s metabolism, or the inability of that person to act in ways that are in their own best interest.

I have to say that I probably fall in the latter category, as my lack of desire to exercise and my exuberant desire to eat rich foods make it so I have struggled with my weight for years.  Somehow the prescription: eat less and exercise more, is not very helpful for me.  Yes, it is simple; but it is not easy.  Having others explain it to me at this point is not only unhelpful, it is insulting.  Of course I know that my weight is a problem!  Of course I know I should exercise more and avoid that cookie dough in the refrigerator!

To successfully fight the battle against obesity in our country, we have to stop the condescending finger-pointing and instead ask the question: why is it that we humans don\’t always act in our self-interest?  Why do smokers smoke?  Why do alcoholics drink?  Why don\’t people take their medications, eat enough vegetables, or go for walks instead of watching The Biggest Loser on TV?  This seeming self-destruct switch is, to some degree or another, present (in my opinion) in everyone.  It is the same drama with different actors and props.  We all sell our birthright for some soup at times.  We all go the route of easy self-indulgence rather than personal discipline.

Does that mean we are all weak?  Yes, in fact, it does.  My admission of my weakness has actually made it easier to have frank discussions with patients about their own personal struggles – be they weight, smoking, or other self-destructive behaviors.  They listen to me because I don\’t insult them with statements of the obvious.  If it was easy to lose weight, don\’t you think we\’d have a little less than 2/3 of the population being obese?  Does 2/3 of the people remain overweight because they want to be that way?  No, the problem is not that simple; and suggesting otherwise won\’t do much to deal with our national problem.

Dr. Benjamin has impressive credentials.  She is a practicing primary care physician who cares for the poor.  She\’s not some subspecialist TV personality; she\’s a doctor who has spent a lot of time face to face with the neediest people in our system.  She doesn\’t just know about the poor and needy, she knows them.  She\’s one of us; and her weight does nothing to lessen that – for me it actually makes her more relevant, not less.

So put down your stones, people.  We are all weak.  Having someone who understands the real struggle of the overweight may actually give us a better chance to successfully fight it.  And if some of you still hold stones, let me rephrase a famous statement: The person without personal weakness can throw the first stone.

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24 thoughts on “Stone Throwing”

  1. Dear Dr. Rob,You’re great. I wish I lived where you are so you could be my doctor.

  2. Dear Dr. Rob,You’re great. I wish I lived where you are so you could be my doctor.

  3. I am judged by my weight constantly, especially when I fly. Sometimes I want to wear something big and bold which says, “I may be big but so’s my IQ” or “I truly do have a disease” or….well, you get my drift. I’ve observed once folks know me, they often seem to forget I’m large. Case-in-point: they’ll make fun of other large folks and then get very embarrassed when I point out they were making fun of me, too, with their comments.
    Dr. Benjamin is a nice looking lady. I’d bet she’s a smart lady, too. I have no clue about her politics, and I hope she has none. I hope she simply wants to do right by patients. If that’s the case, then she has the qualifications. Period.

  4. I am judged by my weight constantly, especially when I fly. Sometimes I want to wear something big and bold which says, “I may be big but so’s my IQ” or “I truly do have a disease” or….well, you get my drift. I’ve observed once folks know me, they often seem to forget I’m large. Case-in-point: they’ll make fun of other large folks and then get very embarrassed when I point out they were making fun of me, too, with their comments.
    Dr. Benjamin is a nice looking lady. I’d bet she’s a smart lady, too. I have no clue about her politics, and I hope she has none. I hope she simply wants to do right by patients. If that’s the case, then she has the qualifications. Period.

  5. Dr. Rob,
    Great post! In my culture she is merely “zaftig”, which is a positive term. Rock on, Dr. Benjamin!

  6. Dr. Rob,
    Great post! In my culture she is merely “zaftig”, which is a positive term. Rock on, Dr. Benjamin!

  7. Jayne Heetderks

    If we in the Medical and Health Professions are personally frustrated with our own weight, our patients cannot look to us for the answers. In the past, I taught people how to eat and I know that my teaching was flawed. I should have been listening to those who have victory and serenity in their eating habits. Today, I am humbly learning to think differently and I am using spiritual and social supports. I have found the simple but painful way to recovery and my whole life has changed in the last 14 months. My role models are other food addicts who have little health knowledge in the sense of book learning, but have many years of day by day recovery.
    Our national health leader might make poor decisions if she were over-weight because obesity changed my thinking and attitudes (and now my thinking and attitudes changes my weight.) Is it not my expectation that national leaders will be perfect and no one person will have all the answers. That is why solutions come from community and it takes a village. I hope that we could find one compassionate and inspiring MD who is ready to show and tell us truths of all kinds that can give us hope for a reversal of the obesity epidemic.

  8. Jayne Heetderks

    If we in the Medical and Health Professions are personally frustrated with our own weight, our patients cannot look to us for the answers. In the past, I taught people how to eat and I know that my teaching was flawed. I should have been listening to those who have victory and serenity in their eating habits. Today, I am humbly learning to think differently and I am using spiritual and social supports. I have found the simple but painful way to recovery and my whole life has changed in the last 14 months. My role models are other food addicts who have little health knowledge in the sense of book learning, but have many years of day by day recovery.
    Our national health leader might make poor decisions if she were over-weight because obesity changed my thinking and attitudes (and now my thinking and attitudes changes my weight.) Is it not my expectation that national leaders will be perfect and no one person will have all the answers. That is why solutions come from community and it takes a village. I hope that we could find one compassionate and inspiring MD who is ready to show and tell us truths of all kinds that can give us hope for a reversal of the obesity epidemic.

  9. The point of this post is that viewing this as an obesity epidemic is a narrow view. It is really a human weakness epidemic that is showing in the form of obesity. In Russia, where food is less bountiful and Vodka is plentiful, the big problem is alcoholism. Every person in my office has one problem or another in this way (I have several), and so to disqualify someone on the basis of human weakness is to disqualify everyone.
    The substance of your teaching on how to lose weight (eat less, exercise more) is unchanged. The method of change (admit your problem and find support) is, however, different. Again, the problem is not the information, it is the flawed nature of people as a whole. You could never have gotten support from people who did not struggle with their weight; you found support from “other food addicts” who empathize with your struggle. This is my point exactly.

  10. The point of this post is that viewing this as an obesity epidemic is a narrow view. It is really a human weakness epidemic that is showing in the form of obesity. In Russia, where food is less bountiful and Vodka is plentiful, the big problem is alcoholism. Every person in my office has one problem or another in this way (I have several), and so to disqualify someone on the basis of human weakness is to disqualify everyone.
    The substance of your teaching on how to lose weight (eat less, exercise more) is unchanged. The method of change (admit your problem and find support) is, however, different. Again, the problem is not the information, it is the flawed nature of people as a whole. You could never have gotten support from people who did not struggle with their weight; you found support from “other food addicts” who empathize with your struggle. This is my point exactly.

  11. Amen. A well thought out answer. We are so quick to throw stones at other people without stopping to look at ourselves first. People aren’t qualified for a job based on appearance, wardrobe, race, sex or some other lofty standard.

  12. Amen. A well thought out answer. We are so quick to throw stones at other people without stopping to look at ourselves first. People aren’t qualified for a job based on appearance, wardrobe, race, sex or some other lofty standard.

  13. Jayne Heetderks

    great hearing back….I agree that we humans are all flawed and obesity is no reason to devalue any person- because we all have inherent value and dignity. And we all have something of worth/gifts to bring to the table.We have a lot we agree on here!

    I have not found that any/every food addict can show me how to find health just because they have been there and are empathetic. I tried many other support groups and products and people did not lose weight and keep it off, nor find sanity around food. Doctors and Nutritionists steered me wrong with the low fat and portion guides that focused on eat less and move more. We all want to be healthy and we act as we do because of our fears and weakness. I had to see hope in someone’s life before I could see hope in my own.

    The solution that worked for me goes right to the spiritual/social problems of the addict- and every human. Meeting our deeper need to find hope in stories, to accept disciplines and mentors, to depend on higher powers not our own, and to change our stinkin thinkin and our insane way of life. The food plan I use is plain unprocessed food- weighed and measured. I exercise less and move more just enjoying life.

    Only persons who have found their own long term recovery could show me the path they took that leads out of overeating and obesity. Now, I am trying to pass this path of hope to anyone who suffers and wants to get healthy.

  14. Jayne Heetderks

    great hearing back….I agree that we humans are all flawed and obesity is no reason to devalue any person- because we all have inherent value and dignity. And we all have something of worth/gifts to bring to the table.We have a lot we agree on here!

    I have not found that any/every food addict can show me how to find health just because they have been there and are empathetic. I tried many other support groups and products and people did not lose weight and keep it off, nor find sanity around food. Doctors and Nutritionists steered me wrong with the low fat and portion guides that focused on eat less and move more. We all want to be healthy and we act as we do because of our fears and weakness. I had to see hope in someone’s life before I could see hope in my own.

    The solution that worked for me goes right to the spiritual/social problems of the addict- and every human. Meeting our deeper need to find hope in stories, to accept disciplines and mentors, to depend on higher powers not our own, and to change our stinkin thinkin and our insane way of life. The food plan I use is plain unprocessed food- weighed and measured. I exercise less and move more just enjoying life.

    Only persons who have found their own long term recovery could show me the path they took that leads out of overeating and obesity. Now, I am trying to pass this path of hope to anyone who suffers and wants to get healthy.

  15. My favorite quote here is “We all sell our birthright for some soup at times.”But I think that for many of us, we are as “unfat” as anyone could reasonably expect us to be. I am currently about 40 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight, and most people would still see me as fat — even though I maintained that golden “10% weight loss” that is supposed to incur benefits for about 9 years now.
    I think Dr. Benjamin looks like someone who has a genetic propensity to gain weight and is fit and healthy. Considering what she’s said about her family history, I have no doubt she works hard to avoid gaining weight.
    There’s nothing lazy or undisciplined about Dr. Benjamin. Those who are unable to contain their hate and judgement of others, who are eager to find a scapegoat for their rising health costs or who use words about a person’s fatness to mask prejudices about race, gender, class or geography are the ones who lack discipline, in my eyes.

  16. My favorite quote here is “We all sell our birthright for some soup at times.”But I think that for many of us, we are as “unfat” as anyone could reasonably expect us to be. I am currently about 40 pounds lighter than my heaviest weight, and most people would still see me as fat — even though I maintained that golden “10% weight loss” that is supposed to incur benefits for about 9 years now.
    I think Dr. Benjamin looks like someone who has a genetic propensity to gain weight and is fit and healthy. Considering what she’s said about her family history, I have no doubt she works hard to avoid gaining weight.
    There’s nothing lazy or undisciplined about Dr. Benjamin. Those who are unable to contain their hate and judgement of others, who are eager to find a scapegoat for their rising health costs or who use words about a person’s fatness to mask prejudices about race, gender, class or geography are the ones who lack discipline, in my eyes.

  17. I went from 279lbs to 155lbs (I’m 5’1) and technically I am still “obese” because I am 30lbs away from a “healthy” weight. I am busty (36F) and have a decidedly hourglass shape. It was NOT easy for me to drop the weight, and it at times feels quite painful to have people still look at me like a greedy fat person. While I have always been chubby, the combination of prednisone and Paxil plumped me up like a thankgiving turkey quickly. Within 11 months I went from 158lbs to 270lbs. Prior to that I had been 155ish +/- 5lbs for all of my adult life (I’m 39).
    Seeing someone as accomplished as Dr. Benjamin provides a great deal of comfort to me. I don’t have to lose that 30lbs to be healthy. Eating well 90% of the time (hey, I’m not perfect) getting some heart pounding cardio 4 to 5 times a week and destressing my life is good enough.

    I like how I look and feel now and what my body can do. I have better things to do with my time than worry about being chubby and I suspect Dr. Benjamin does as well.

    Great post!

  18. I went from 279lbs to 155lbs (I’m 5’1) and technically I am still “obese” because I am 30lbs away from a “healthy” weight. I am busty (36F) and have a decidedly hourglass shape. It was NOT easy for me to drop the weight, and it at times feels quite painful to have people still look at me like a greedy fat person. While I have always been chubby, the combination of prednisone and Paxil plumped me up like a thankgiving turkey quickly. Within 11 months I went from 158lbs to 270lbs. Prior to that I had been 155ish +/- 5lbs for all of my adult life (I’m 39).
    Seeing someone as accomplished as Dr. Benjamin provides a great deal of comfort to me. I don’t have to lose that 30lbs to be healthy. Eating well 90% of the time (hey, I’m not perfect) getting some heart pounding cardio 4 to 5 times a week and destressing my life is good enough.

    I like how I look and feel now and what my body can do. I have better things to do with my time than worry about being chubby and I suspect Dr. Benjamin does as well.

    Great post!

  19. I have been blessed to encounter and come to know many who have overcome alcoholism. I have attended a few AA meetings as a guest. I have learned that overcoming addictions is a spiritual and communal journey. One thing I like about alcoholics in AA is that they never admit to having succeeded but that they are always striving against their disease–Hello, I’m Joe, and I’m an alcoholic. Seems we could all learn a few lessons from them as they are so much like us.

  20. I have been blessed to encounter and come to know many who have overcome alcoholism. I have attended a few AA meetings as a guest. I have learned that overcoming addictions is a spiritual and communal journey. One thing I like about alcoholics in AA is that they never admit to having succeeded but that they are always striving against their disease–Hello, I’m Joe, and I’m an alcoholic. Seems we could all learn a few lessons from them as they are so much like us.

  21. For goodness sake! Dr. Benjamin is obviously disciplined – she’s a doctor!! And one who practices amongst the poor – an heroic choice in this day and age, I think. I’m overweight myself and have struggled for most of my adult life with my weight, due to a genetic propensity to obesity, yet I’m considered to be of superior IQ and managed to accomplish what I’d wanted to do with my life for the most part. And all the while struggling with the weight. I became a critical care nurse (35 yrs. practice) and married an ER doc ( who is in great shape and health) and have a most wonderful daughter also pursuing Nursing as a career. In my younger days I had an hourglass figure, considered pretty voluptious *sigh* but once middle age struck so did RA and diabetes in my early 30’s (when I was still voluptious!). All the various meds I was put on after that have succeeded in helping me pile on weight that is nearly impossible to lose , although I’ve managed to lose 85 lbs over the course of 2 yrs. I eat whole foods and a fairly Mediterranean type at that. I haven’t felt deprived necessarily because I occ. eat some rich foods at celebrations, etc. We don’t keep much unhealthy stuff around the house except when we throw a get together with a crowd. My wt. loss has been slow and steady, and I’m a patient gal. As far as the dear Doctor goes, I think she’s highly qualified for the job because of her intelligence, training, and experience in the trenches – that’s all one needs to suit the job. To hell with those who only look at the exterior. They are too shallow to take seriously anyway. The “Beautiful People”? only beautiful (in their own eyes) but nothing on the inside, I say.

  22. For goodness sake! Dr. Benjamin is obviously disciplined – she’s a doctor!! And one who practices amongst the poor – an heroic choice in this day and age, I think. I’m overweight myself and have struggled for most of my adult life with my weight, due to a genetic propensity to obesity, yet I’m considered to be of superior IQ and managed to accomplish what I’d wanted to do with my life for the most part. And all the while struggling with the weight. I became a critical care nurse (35 yrs. practice) and married an ER doc ( who is in great shape and health) and have a most wonderful daughter also pursuing Nursing as a career. In my younger days I had an hourglass figure, considered pretty voluptious *sigh* but once middle age struck so did RA and diabetes in my early 30’s (when I was still voluptious!). All the various meds I was put on after that have succeeded in helping me pile on weight that is nearly impossible to lose , although I’ve managed to lose 85 lbs over the course of 2 yrs. I eat whole foods and a fairly Mediterranean type at that. I haven’t felt deprived necessarily because I occ. eat some rich foods at celebrations, etc. We don’t keep much unhealthy stuff around the house except when we throw a get together with a crowd. My wt. loss has been slow and steady, and I’m a patient gal. As far as the dear Doctor goes, I think she’s highly qualified for the job because of her intelligence, training, and experience in the trenches – that’s all one needs to suit the job. To hell with those who only look at the exterior. They are too shallow to take seriously anyway. The “Beautiful People”? only beautiful (in their own eyes) but nothing on the inside, I say.

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