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Sunday 16 June 2019
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Fat-shaming and healthy lifestyles


I’VE BEEN reflecting on my own struggles with obesity amid the firestorm of controversy ignited by former health minister Dr Fuad Khan. Obviously, there’s no such thing as well-intentioned fat-shaming. For many years I was on the receiving end of that species of trademark Trini tactlessness.

What Khan said was sharply condemned, and rightly so. He has since seen the offence caused by his remarks and offered an apology, albeit belatedly and probably to little effect.

It should be noted that Khan’s insensitivity and insult, although an extreme example, isn’t exclusive to him. It’s almost a point of pride that people in this country say what they think and feel, even when such expressions do nothing but cause hurt and only add to global warming.

Yet “well-meaning” people often announce to overweight people that they “get rell fat” as if it were an exclusive scoop, some inside information hitherto unknown to the rotund recipient. This imbroglio has, however, opened an important discussion about fat-shaming and body positivity, as well as raised more important issues of healthy lifestyles.

A life of long hours in the media, irregular eating and poor diet made me into quite the portly gentleman. While it seemed to have built slowly, I woke up one morning to discover I was thrice the man I once was. A size 33 waist became size 40. One hundred and eighty pounds ballooned to, at my peak, probably around 260 pounds.

Both friends and complete strangers suddenly found their calling in life: letting me know I’d gotten fat. “Buh Pallo, whey you going wit all dat size!” What was worse is that as a then public figure people felt comfortable letting their hair and opinions down around me.

It’s odd that I’ve always been accused of being unapproachable, yet I was always being approached with gems like this: “But Pallo, you come like ah mampie now!” When at a restaurant, people would stare at me as if I was eating a live baby.

A mechanic I once visited reacted to my appearance so strongly he seemed visibly upset by my fatness. When I told him I thought he was exaggerating, he disappeared momentarily and returned with a large mirror.

Here’s another good one: during a visit to an acupuncturist who was a recently landed Chinese woman, she looked at me like she was looking around the side of a house and said, “You no need needle. You need lose some weight.” No need for papers; she was officially a citizen.

I’ve had people online joke about my weight, and I use the word “joke” loosely as Trinis aren’t particularly funny. People offline would help themselves to patting my belly. Those fools don’t know how close they came to a severe public mauling.

However, it wasn’t the sustained Trini picong that motivated me to get my weight under control. There were too many stories of friends and former work colleagues killed by heart attacks, diabetes and other lifestyle diseases associated with not just obesity, but poor diet.

Beyond vanity considerations was my overriding fear of chronic ill health that drains people of all resources, both financial and emotional, before putting them in the dirt anyway.

It also bothered me that I was spending so much money enriching owners of fast food chains only to eventually be forced, like swine through a cattle chute, into the extortionate private healthcare industry.

I grew tired of the false starts that only fomented frustration and drove me back into the convenient, greasy grasp of the colonel and the presidency of the char siu kai fan club.

Focused more on healthy lifestyle than weight loss, I made drastic changes too detailed to explore here. After two years the weight was gone. More importantly, I feel healthier and able to do more than I was when carrying around another person.

I’ve kept it off, but it’s an eternal struggle. That’s because a healthy lifestyle isn’t a project, it’s a lifelong commitment. Body positivity is important, self-acceptance is crucial regardless of your size. There is no denying the link, however, between poor diet and obesity and chronic disease.

As there are countless groups online offering support for plus-sized individuals, so too are there groups offering helpful advice and actionable tips for people who want to lose weight in a healthy manner. For people struggling with weight issues, focus first on healthy lifestyles. Whether big or small, what matters most is health and happiness.

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