Patty Nece remembers the moment when her lifelong struggle with her weight started to change. A little context first though… Patty is an accomplished attorney with the Department of Labor and recipient of the Obesity Action Coalition’s 2015 Barbara Thompson Award for Advocacy. She is bright and engaging, and she has a successful career, meaningful relationships with family and friends, volunteer work that she’s passionate about—in short, a full life.
Despite all of those successes, though, she says that she felt like a failure because of her weight. She says, “I always felt like my weight was my fault. I became my own worst bully and I would say horrendous things to myself.” Things changed though when she started seeing an obesity medicine physician and, with his help, had an “a-ha” moment that changed her life.
Patty has had obesity since she was a child. “I faced a lifetime of ridicule and teasing,” she says, “not only from peers and the media but also from people in authority. A school nurse said in front of my entire class, ‘You’re fat– you need to lose weight.’ You know, when you’re a kid, all you want to do is fit in.”
She tried everything. As she puts it, “You name a diet and I’ve probably tried it.” With each diet, the pattern was the same– she would lose some weight, but then inevitably, the weight loss would stop and she would often start re-gaining. She says, “I usually ended up at a higher weight than when I started. And I thought that was all my fault for a very long time… for decades, in fact.” Now she says, “I haven’t failed diets… diets have failed me.”
Medical expert Dr. Ken Fujioka says that what scientists and physicians now understand about the science of obesity backs up that statement. “For 15 – 20% of people, diet and exercise alone will work to help them reach a healthier weight. These are people that are usually not that heavy and have what I call better genetics to be thinner. But 80% of patients aren’t going to succeed with diet and exercise alone and that group needs to start looking at other treatment options.”
In the end, after many negative experiences with healthcare professionals who blamed every ailment she had on her weight, it was seeing a physician who was an obesity medicine specialist that enabled Patty’s paradigm shift. As she describes it, “The world changed. He got it. His assumption wasn’t that I was lazy, that I lacked willpower or that I didn’t try to eat right. His assumption was the opposite– that I had tried everything I could think of to manage my weight and just wasn’t successful yet. It was an aha moment for me.”
This physician explained how obesity functions as a disease and the things that weren’t within Patty’s control, and then he worked with her to take care of the things that were within her control. This unique approach “just changed the playing field for me,” Patty says. With her new-found knowledge, Patty has thrown herself into advocacy work with the Obesity Action Coalition, raising awareness of obesity as a chronic disease, and the dangers of weight bias. Here are the four things Patty has learned since that moment, that she wants other people to know too…
One, obesity isn’t something that most people can manage on their own. “A lot of patients think they should be able to do it on their own. I had trouble of getting over the idea that I can do it on my own. There’s a leap you have to make. There is an adjustment to seek out that help. But I think that help is becoming more readily available.” According to Patty, making the leap inside your own head that it’s OK to reach out for medical support is the beginning of a new phase of your journey. One where medical support and treatments can aid and assist the areas (hormones, metabolic adaptation, etc.) where we don’t have a lot of control.
Two, find a doctor who views you as a partner in the process. As Patty puts it, “My obesity medicine specialist and I make decisions together. If something’s not working, we go back to what we call the tool box and look at other options. Is there something we can tweak with what I’m eating? Is there medication? We don’t give up. It’s not one and done.”
Three, blame and shame just doesn’t help. There’s a mistaken belief in our society that blame and shame somehow motivates a person to make changes, and Patty is quick to point out that this is not true. “All blame and shame does is makes you feel bad. That’s it!! It doesn’t encourage eating better, exercising more, or whatever people think it will encourage. It doesn’t work yet somehow our society thinks it does and that needs to change.”
If you’re dealing with a healthcare professional who is blaming you for your weight, Dr. Fujioka suggests finding another physician. He points out that it hasn’t been until the last couple of years that medical schools have incorporated the latest science of obesity / excess weight and therefore, “unfortunately many docs still see it the wrong way.” There is hope, however—attitudes in medicine are changing and there are new and better therapies on the horizon that will make a huge difference for people living with obesity and excess weight.
Four (and most importantly!), your weight is not your fault. Patty says that recognizing that obesity is a chronic disease empowered her and also helped her recognize all the different factors that were impacting her weight, many of which were well beyond your control. She speaks eloquently of the one thing she wants people living with obesity and excess weight to know, “It is not your fault. You are worthy and you are enough. I encourage people to seek out support. Seek out support from medical providers who know how to treat obesity. But you can also find a community of support, of people who are going through the exact same things you’re going through and who get it, who understand.”
To find that community of people who are going through the exact same thing that you are, we recommend checking out the Obesity Action Coalition (for folks in the US) or Obesity Canada (for folks in Canada)—and for daily, ongoing support, our own Facebook Group, Personal Health Revolution!
Seeking out the medical help that’s necessary to manage obesity and excess weight can enable each of us to have our own a-ha moment, and get the specific treatments that are right for us. It may take a leap to try a new approach, but Patty’s story reminds us that it’s worth it. To find a physician who specializes in weight management near you, click here.
To hear more about Patty’s experiences and what she’s learned on her journey with weight, watch our interview with her & medical expert Dr. Ken Fujioka here: