decorational arrow Living with obesity   decorational arrow Self-care   decorational arrow Covid-19 | 8 min. read

Living with obesity – a training camp for the 2020 lockdown

I have been living with obesity for 35 years. Since I was a teenager, actually. Believe it or not but that puts me in a unique position to speak about social distancing and social isolation. That’s what this blog post is about.

Staying away from a lot of social events was my way to cope with my obesity. I would be afraid of people’s thoughts of me. Though I was familiar with the usual weight-loss advice (“Eat less, move more”), still I did not manage to control my weight. And my failure to stick to the advice made me feel less intelligent.

This dismal self-image was confirmed constantly by voices I came across in print media, radio and TV. My response was to stay at home or turn around in the door – often at the very last moment – when I was due at some reception or event. Little did I know I was training for lockdown 2020.

Social isolation to avoid shame

By the time I was at my heaviest (175 kg/385lb), social distancing had almost become my second nature. I just did not know that was the phrase to describe what I was doing.

I went shopping when no one else did.

I stayed away from social events like parties, housewarmings etc.

I avoided crowded areas.

I was not avoiding a pandemic or some disease. I was avoiding situations where people would stare at me, where they would whisper about “the fat man”, where there might not be enough space for me to sit, because of small or weak chairs etc.

Embarrassment. Shame. That’s what I was avoiding, and self-isolation was my method. If you are self-isolating like me, take a moment to remember that you are not alone.

Man standing in a grocery store looking at frozen groceries.

“Embarrassment. Shame. That’s what I was avoiding, and self-isolation was my method.”

-Bjarne Lynderup

A weight management intervention from friends

I was lucky that people forced me to receive help when I was about to give up on everything. I know that not everyone can count on interventions from friends, but at least everyone can be helped to see that keeping away from other people is not going to help.

If you want to break the cycle of isolations and take control of your weight managementand social distancing then the lockdown 2020 is a perfect opportunity. Right now, everyone around you knows what social distancing means. Why not tell your friends and family about your life with social distancing?

A small step in a positive direction

Tell them what you have done to avoid situations where you thought you were at risk of being pointed at. Tell them what that has meant for you. Tell them about your carefully disguised fear and sadness.

There is a great chance that they will actually listen to you, understand you and support you. And, more importantly, help you.

Young men sitting on a bench hanging out.

“It can be extremely liberating to finally get out there. To stop watching life passing you by because of your condition.”

-Bjarne Lynderup

Don’t underestimate the sense of freedom

It can be extremely liberating to finally get out there, join other people, spend time among them and show them who you are. To stop watching life passing you by because of your condition.

First of all, you are not alone. Far from it. Some 650 million people are right now living with obesity. And I bet all of them would jump at a chance to change that fact right now.

Managing weight

In order to take control of your weight management, get your friends and family involved. Do it now while lockdown is still a reality. Begin by telling them how you have been isolating yourself.

Don’t be too proud to tell them that you need them, specifically to help you with your weight management. But add that it has to be on your conditions. Use Skype, Zoom, Messenger, Facetime or some other virtual channel.

And then try to make small changes to your life right now.

You gotta change a little before you can change a lot

Achieving even small changes can be a powerful indication of what’s to come. That you can do this. And that this is only the beginning!

If you are not used to eating breakfast, then practice eating breakfast. If you are not used to going for walks, then practice walking. If you are not used to walking the stairs, then find some stairs and get at it.

How much and how far you walk does not matter at this stage.

How to think about weight management advice

With those first steps you have taken a big decision about your life. It is those first step that will be the foundation for a healthier life.

And you know what? I know that there is a lot more to weight management than “eat less and exercise more”. I know there’s a lot more to obesity than excess fat. Acceptance and understanding are central to promoting mental health – and maintaining it.

But still you need to exercise, and you need to eat healthy if you want to change your life.

Personal trainers can help, too

And don’t rule out asking for weight management help. I was lucky that I got a personal trainer who not only helped me gain the confidence I needed to go to the gym, but also helped me understand something very important: Weight loss is never a quick fix. It’s a change of life.

At my first session with him, I remember thinking I should probably just start doing a lot of exercises. His first comment was surprising: “Take it easy and slow. We need to rebuild your body.”

Exercises should be based on who you are

Therefore, try to find experts that can help you put together exercises that work for you and fit your level. And remember, you have entered your new life and today you will be healthier than yesterday.

Along with this change in mindset, I received help improving my diet. In order to feel energised and motivated, I realised I’d have to eat better and more varied food.

I learned to eat breakfast. Because I hadn’t done this before, it was a real gamechanger for me. Suddenly, I felt more awake throughout the day.

You may need help filtering the noise

I strongly recommend reaching out and getting help if you’re not sure how to go about eating healthy. It is totally OK to do that, especially when you consider the onslaught of messaging we’re exposed to merely by living in a consumer society.

You know I am right, but you are also reading this and perhaps thinking that this will not do it for you.

Two men standing outside, laughing.

“Taking control is possible – especially if you have the help of friends and family.”

-Bjarne Lynderup

Saying no to emotional eating

But you know what, I know that. Oh boy, do I know that.

I know all about my bad habits of “eating my emotions”, for instance. Stressful day at work? I’d solve it by watching an action movie while eating two bags of chips with dip.

A bad meeting? I’d fix that with a pitstop at McDonald’s. And so on and so forth. I know a lot of people who are using food to deal with their problems.

I needed to work with that, and after losing 50kg (110lb) I still am.

I had to accept that for me food brings comfort and relaxation.

I had to admit that food is not an ideal way of comforting yourself.

Asking the difficult questions

If possible, you should talk with a professional about why you have the eating habits you have and how you can change them. What you can do right now is to prepare your days.

Let me explain: Find out when you are especially prone to emotional eating. What situations tend to be triggers? Now, look for ways to avoid those situations.

Also, look for ways to make healthier foods available in moments when emotional eating seem the easy way out. Prepare healthy snacks that you can grab when you need to; keep water in the refrigerator instead of soft drinks with sugar.

Asking for medical help

Taking control is possible – especially if you have the help of friends and family. And do turn to your healthcare provider for medical help, too.

I know that a lot of us have had bad experiences telling healthcare professionals about our weight management challenges. But keep searching regardless, because you deserve it.

Healthcare professional talking with a man.

“You can find compassionate healthcare providers who understand how complex obesity is and know it can be treated.”

-Bjarne Lynderup

Get medical help online if needed. Do not give up. Keep looking. You can find compassionate healthcare providers who understand how complex obesity is and know it can be treated.

By the way, if right now you are concerned about any health issue, don’t hesitate. Ask for medical help even if it has to be online medical help.

In the case of COVID-19, obesity does not make you more likely to get COVID-19, but it may put you at risk of more severe complications if you do get it. Again, do not hesitate to ask for medical help.

You too can manage your weight

Obesity is a chronic disease. Like any other chronic disease, living with obesity therefore means managing symptoms on a continual basis.

This includes weight management: eating healthier than you did before, exercising more than you did before and working with yourself on yourself at all times.

Like I did, you can start – why not today?

2020 is our year. We are 650 million people living with obesity. But we are not helpless. We have the tools with which to change our lives. We just have to reach out for them…