Last weekend there was an article published in the Herald Sun, titled “Obesity Conference Told Surgery Better Than Exercise for Obese“, which detailed information and proposals discussed at the National Obesity Conference. The article talked about the suggestion by Professor John Dixon, that severe obesity be classed as a chronic medical condition, requiring drugs and surgery to be treated effectively. He goes on to promote bariatric or lap-band surgery as the best treatment for this “disease” and urges the government to provide this surgery as a service in more public hospitals.
I find this approach to obesity very alarming, as I wrote about here, in regards to the proposal of free lap-band surgery for obese teens in Australia. However I do agree with Professor Dixon on a couple of points. One is that we shouldn’t blame severe obesity on “sloth and gluttony”, and two, that we should view it as a “medical condition”. I agree with both of those points, however we differ in our understanding of what constitutes this as a “medical condition”, as I will explain in more detail below. In Professor Dixon’s view, obesity is an illness in and of itself – a weight regulation system that has become out of control. And of course, needs surgery or strong drugs to correct, as those in the medical professional will always defer to as their treatments of choice.
I see obesity in a very different way, and view it as a complex disorder, involving many factors on both the physical and the emotional levels. To call it a “disease” is dismissing the connected influences that have led to a person becoming obese. By calling it a disease or a singular medical condition, gives away any accountability on the part of the patient for creating this condition in their body. In today’s society a “disease” is understood as something that you have no control over – it is something you catch, or something that strikes you down randomly because it is “in your genes” or through just plain bad luck. So to term obesity as a disease, changes the way people view it, and we will end up with an attitude of reduced responsibility or accountability for an individual’s state of obesity, a mind-set we definitely don’t need to promote.
Where I believe we need to view obesity as a “medical condition” is in the way that there are likely underlying causes for the obesity that do need treatment – although naturopathic, not medical treatment, is the answer. For example, many people suffering with obesity may have an underlying and undiagnosed thyroid condition, they may have adrenal fatigue, they may have insulin resistance, they might have some type of environmental toxicity or poisoning, they may have any number of disorders affecting their metabolism. So there are going to be one or more imbalances that need treating – but the obesity itself is a symptom of these imbalances – not a disease in its own right.
Even if the obesity is purely due to someone overeating the wrong types of food, that is not something that needs drugs and surgery to treat. For change to be long-term and effective, the causes for the overeating need to be discovered and addressed. Whether there are emotional traumas from the past which lead to comfort eating, patterns of eating nutrient deficient food leading to continual hunger, addictions to processed foods or some other childhood pattern playing out – this is where work on the emotional level needs to be done, in conjunction with treating the physical imbalances. This is where the healing journey begins, and it is the process of self-discovery and insights, that lead to healing.
Not only are “drugs and surgery” not the answer, neither is “diet and exercise”. This myth is perpetuated in the media at every turn, but the simplistic advise to “eat less and exercise more” is doing a huge disservice to the thousands of obese people who have genuine metabolic issues. Metabolic issues that make losing weight very, very difficult. Advising these people to restrict their food intake and increase their exercise, could in fact, be very dangerous advice.
As with any true healing, the answer doesn’t lie in any one magic bullet. It is a multi-faceted journey of discovery, that encompasses not only the quality of food being eaten (organic whole foods), but also includes water, sunshine, exercise, healing emotional wounds and traumas, detoxification, meditation, realtionships, social and support networks, career, finances, success, love, laughter, fun and play. It is a review of all the different aspects of life, and gaining expert advice on healing areas of imbalance (physical and emotional) that will lead to a complete healing and a resolution of the symptom called “obesity”.
What do you think? Is obesity a disease that needs drugs and surgery to treat it successfully? Or do you believe in a more holistic approach? Is a restrictive diet and exercise really the answer, or do you think there is more to it than that? What is your experience or understanding of obesity?