I remember when I was a teenager, in the early 90s, watching a documentary about a select group of obese people who were in the process of trying to undergo weightloss surgery. It was fascinating because it was assessed on a clinical level — not quite like the spectacle it is on TLC. If someone were to have fallen, someone would have stopped and intervened. During this era, less than 12% of the population was considered obese. Hospital facilities were not yet equipt with over-sized beds, scales, etc. They had to make special arrangements, and there were only a few obesity specialists in the country.

Not a lot of people were classified as obese and I don’t believe the term morbidly obese had been coined as of yet. This had been on HBO or one of the other major cable networks, covering the lives of a handful of people who were all in dire need of an intervention and desperately wanted to have surgery. I felt the approach of how the researchers and doctors attempted to understand both what the over-weight patients AND their families were dealing with.

In one case, one 400+ woman was essentially bedridden. She would beg her children to bring her food. She told interviewers she ate very little and couldn’t understand why she was stuck in this body that had betrayed her. Unfortunately, she was depressed and very much in denial about how much she was actually bingeing. Her children sobbed as they expressed how conflicted they were, feeling forced to enable her. They would try to do what the doctors would advise, bringing her restricted portions of approved foods, only to be met with verbal hostility and threats. She would then demand they bring her copious amounts of burgers, pancakes, etc…This poor woman didn’t want to be in this body but was struggling in denial. After a couple of months of keeping to a more strict diet, she was ‘healthy’ enough to undergo the several surgeries intended to shrink her stomach and remove some of the excess fat and skin from her frame.

This was meant to be a jump start to incentivize the patients into continuing with their weight loss.

In another, a young man in his 20s was in a similar state. After his father had passed away suddenly he and his mother were left behind — the depression took a serious toll on their relationship. Mom spoiled and indulged her son to the point where he too was bedridden and immobile. She catered to his every need for bathing and feeding him. At times, he would become aggressive if his mother denied him certain foods or tried to lessen the amount. She blamed herself. When the doctors intervened, he was removed from the home (through a hole the fire department created leading from his bedroom to the outdoors) and he was taken to the hospital where he was treated for his eating disorder, depression, etc…He too eventually had several surgeries to significantly reduce his frame once he was healthy enough to do so.

Since the 90s, most states have seen the number of obesity cases triple, as well as cases of adult-onset of diabetes and other relatively preventable metabolic disorders. More and more children are found to be obese and developing diabetes when decades ago it was unheard of statistically. On average, 30+% of adults in each state are considered obese. Of course, the backbone of the debate has been how the food industry has put us on this course — the low fat or no-fat diet craze of the late 80s early 90s, removing fat from foods, replacing it with 100+ different variations of sugar, cheap fillers of food-like substances, misleading or misinformation in terms of food labeling, portion size confusion, radical changes in the food pyramid based on lobbyists’ interests instead of science, etc… What blows my mind, is upwards of 80+% of the food in your average grocery is laced with added sugar. Explain to me why salad dressing or ketchup needs added sugar? There have been talks to add even more sugar to things like milk … milk for goodness sake. Why? We have cheese on the shelf that isn’t even cheese. It is pasteurized processed cheese product. Per the FDA, they legally cannot call it cheese because of what it is comprised of. In terms of misinformation, yeesh. I like to use Stevia. I am very specific about the brand because not all of them are the same. For example, Stevia, which costs a small fortune but has been found (depending on the study) not to have an impact on blood sugar. So when this became the new IT thing, there were suddenly shelves of the stuff made by different brands. Sad to say, not all of them were on the up and up. One brand I was most disappointed with for their misleading of the consumer was Trader Joes. I love TJs, but when I made the mistake of getting their stevia sweetener once, I felt tricked. The colorful branding on the box outright said Stevia. On the ingredient list though, the first thing is rice maltodextrin. It is one of a hundred cheap filler sugar substitutes on the market. The problem with this is it generates 3x the impact of regular sugar on blood sugar when consumed. Worse than regular table sugar. Wow. While the product was predominantly RM, TJs still had the gall to put Stevia in big bold letters on the front of the box.

I agree with you though about how some of these shows sensationalize unfortunate situations: hoarding, strange addictions, morbid obesity. I don’t usually watch these sorts of shows now because of how they are presented. I remember reality shows taking themes like being an ugly duckling and turning average looking women into “swans”… remember that show? They would undergo crazy workout and diet regimens, along with various reconstructive, surgical augmentations to their face and body. I was so disgusted by how that was sensationalized. The message was not positive.

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