The Challenges of Going Through Life “Super Morbidly Obese”
I recently had the privilege of attending a talk by Roxane Gay, a nationally known writer, professor and speaker. She authored The New York Times best-selling essay collection, Bad Feminist, and most recently, the memoir Hunger.
She’s a woman who, to use her term, is “super morbidly obese” and lives in an “unruly body.” She’s gone through life with these labels given to her by physicians, culture and nearly everyone around her.
She speaks with a level of authenticity and honesty that is rare. She speaks about her own experience in a way that truly helps one understand how very difficult it is to be significantly overweight, bringing about personal and social pain, and implications of how one reads her life.
This topic is, of course, important in our field, as binge eating disorder is the most common of all the eating disorders and, often, the least discussed in studies.
We know, however, that a significant portion of people who are obese have a binge eating disorder. We also know that this group presents late to treatment, and often carries significant emotional issues that are related to their binge eating disorder. In addition, we know binge eating disorder can be treated through cognitive behavioral therapy.
What Roxane Gay shared with us was her life experience and the fact that going through the world the way she has, has caused her to suffer psychologically without any actual sense of what she should do to fix it. She talked with great precision about all of the advice she’s been given throughout her life: exercise more, eat less, eat more healthy foods. All things, of course, she knows very, very well.
Her experience with the medical field has been a very negative one. She attributes the severity of her physical and emotional problems to her doctors. She believes medical problems are worsened for obese people because physicians make them feel ashamed at visits. Therefore, people who are overweight often don’t want to go see a physician.
So, problems with obesity, diabetes, hypertension and other issues may get less attention in overweight people compared to those who don’t have a large body size and shape. An obese person is susceptible to other illnesses, but sadly is less likely to seek help for them.
As we begin to understand eating disorders and recognize that binge eating disorder exists and, in fact, is more common than we thought, we also need to understand the amount of suffering these clients have experienced.
As a society, we often think of anorexia nervosa when we think of eating disorders. However, it is crucial that we widen our collective perspective to remember that binge eating disorder is a source of tremendous psychological and physical suffering for so many people. Their suffering is all too often overlooked. Increased awareness and understanding are important first steps toward providing effective care to those struggling with this difficult illness.