Why does it often take a personal experience, of the same sort, to have genuine empathy for others who have similar troubles? Like the couple that can’t conceive children but certainly understands the emotions others feel in their situation. Or, the crime victim who completely understands the pain and suffering that another victim feels. But, with the weight-challenged (e.g people dealing with being overweight), much of society has little sympathy. Including me–until recently.
I’m a man in my fifties, who had been blessed with a high metabolism, and good genes, plus a love of exercise, so it was no particular challenge for me to maintain my young adult weight of 175 lbs., all my life. Then, something changed. My doctors and I are not sure if there’s been a specific cause, though the superficial evidence points to my metabolism having been affected by a head injury I suffered almost two years ago.
Shortly after that accident, even though I was still able to do some exercise, I began to gain weight. Rapidly. Within a couple of months I was topping 190 pounds and heading towards 200! My svelte 34-inch waistline “svelted” to 36, and is now hovering around 38! My wife says I’m delusional and it’s closer to 40 inches. I won’t even go on the scale anymore.
For a while, I joked about it and my boys were also having fun, poking my substantial beer-belly. But as the months passed and my usual routine of a lousy diet but lots of exercise, was failing to help me lose the weight, I started reflecting on what had happened to me.
Friends said it was just a matter of getting older. I disagreed, as most people’s metabolism and weight gain do not change overnight, like turning on a light switch. It had to be related to my head injury. Somehow, the injury may have adjusted what some believe is our genetic “set-point” for weight. That was a theory my internist suggested, though he was clear it was just a theory.
Of course, the cause of my weight gain was ultimately irrelevant. I may want to blame the accident and therefore defer my own responsibility, but I’m stuck with this bowling ball sized stomach and there’s no one that can “fix it” but me. Now, I may have to take the advice that I so often offered others about their weight issues. Change you diet. Stop eating so many carbs. Don’t eat after dinner and don’t eat a late dinner, drink lots of water, don’t snack, eat smaller portions, etc.
The bigger lesson, however, is that I now had much more empathy for others who can’t lose weight, whereas before, I was sort of disdainful. The irony is that I have two boys who have totally different metabolisms and body types. One is thin as a rail and literally didn’t have enough body fat for a minor surgery that required liposuction to secure the fat. The surgeon said, afterward, he couldn’t find enough fat to fully complete the surgery!
My other son has often been advised by his pediatrician, at every annual physical, that it wouldn’t hurt for him to lose a little weight as he’s pushing the boundaries of acceptable weight for his size and age-group, plus he’s developed way too high a level of cholesterol for his age.
Both boys hardly exercise and their diets are almost identical. In fact, the skinnier boy eats worse than his slightly weight-challenged brother. As they say about most things they don’t like, “It’s not fair.”
While it may not “be fair,” God and/or genetics gives us our good and bad qualities, looks, traits, and health issues. It’s our choice how to use those assets and liabilities.
For me, it’s been a lesson in humility. It’s a lesson that I am imparting to my boys with more personal belief and fervor than I’ve done before. I’ve often taught them to be empathetic to others and, as the song says, “Walk a Mile In My Shoes” (before you judge me).
So, my readers, I am making a pledge to do two things. One, to genuinely have compassion for others that are struggling with their weight or anything that may be their “Achilles Heel.” And, second, I vow to lose this bowling ball that I’m carrying around, so my wife will stop gently ribbing me about my pants not fitting anymore.
That’s her gentle, but really honest and true reaction to my weight gain. We’re a second marriage and I presented and “sold” her a fit and thin man, not Homer Simpson. So, while there would probably not be much sympathy for me if the situation were reversed and I was ribbing her, I agree with her “concern,” plus it’s extra motivation for me. And, anytime she’s commenting about my newly grown mid-section, to be clear, it’s said with a smile.
Next time you pass homeless men or women, see those very obese people struggling to get in or out of their car, or observe others with obvious handicaps– Walk a mile in my shoes –before you make any judgments about them.