“You can’t relate to me because you don’t have a weight problem.” If you are a dietitian working in weight management, you have probably heard this before. If you are a person working with a dietitian, you have probably said this before (at least in your head). I always struggle with the best response to this statement. What am I supposed to say?
- “No, I can’t relate to you which makes me a terrible dietitian.”
- “Well, you don’t know anything about my weight history.”
- “Actually, I also work hard to maintain my weight.”
Don’t worry. I’ve never said any of these things. I just acknowledge the statement and try to move forward in a more productive way.
And then it came to me recently while walking home from a dentist appointment reflecting on my crummy teeth. Let me give you some history. As I child, I had yellow tooth stains from penicillin, buck teeth, and abnormally large gums making for a smile that led to lots of teasing. After bleaching and gum removal, my smile was somewhat improved. Unfortunately, after 2+ years of braces, the stains reemerged accompanied by bright white calcification. In my early 20’s, a mysterious dark stain appeared on my gums above my front teeth. It has never disappeared. And then the cavities…. I have had so many fillings that my teeth weakened leading to my first root canal at age 25. By age 28, I had 3 crowns, one of which has cracked twice in 3 years. Did I mention I grind my teeth?
Every time I visit the dentist, I am complimented on my amazing hygiene. “We can tell you do a great job with brushing and flossing! But… unfortunately there’s another cavity.” It turns out that some people have genetically bad teeth and are prone to these types of issues. Lucky me. For how hard I work at maintaining my teeth (prescription-strength fluoride toothpaste, daily flossing, anti-cavity mouth wash, etc.) and the amount of money I’ve spent on procedures (can we get dental insurance reform?), I deserve a celebrity smile. But it’s not in the genes. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Obesity is a multifactorial disease and one of the factors is genetic. Many people who struggle with their weight have a genetic disposition that makes it easier for them to gain weight and harder to lose weight. How frustrating! It means you can bust you butt exercising and have a near-perfect diet but you still might not reach the weight of a person without this genetic factor. If you want to become a multi-millionaire, join a research lab discovering these genetic components and create a drug or therapy targeting them.
Walking home from that dentist appointment, after learning that my crown had cracked again, I was so discouraged. But then I thought about the state my teeth would be in if I didn’t try so hard. I probably would have had a full set of dentures at age 30. I know I will struggle with my awful mouth for the rest of my life but giving up on hygiene will only make the problems worse.
It’s not fair that you might be prone to obesity. It’s not fair that you will have to work hard the rest of your life to maintain a weight that isn’t your ideal. But what if you gave up? Where would your weight be now? What kinds of health problems would you have? You can’t control your genes (until you develop that drug!) but you can control your response.
And not just the behavioral response such as exercising regularly and eating healthfully, but also your mental response. Maybe you are stuck with some crummy genes in terms of weight but what genes are you grateful for? Is it your eye color, hair texture, skin complexion, or shape of your nose? Is it your ability to sing, play instruments, think analytically, or crunch numbers in your head? Is it your senses of sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch? Refocus those negative thoughts into something positive before they start impacting your behaviors.
It’s frustrating to have a genetic factor impacting your health but nearly everyone is dealing with one of these challenges in some form. Accept it for what it is, continue your hard work to manage it the best you can, and when you are feeling down, count your blessings. There are always more of those than challenges.