Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Obesity and Being Undereducated or Poor?

Statistics show that obesity is often associated with lower incomes and less education. How can we make sense of that statement?

As humans, we need basically three conditions to make sure that we feel reasonably well and our needs are not substituted with feel-good-food or by emotional eating.

1. We need to understand what is going on in our own lives

2. We need to ability to shape and influence our own lives

3. We need to be able to feel that whatever happens around us makes sense and that we have found our place in our families and in society

These three key points are the foundation of what keeps us healthy, and, ultimately, at a normal weight.

Are these three components often lacking with poorer and less educated people?

Yes, as they no longer feel that they can shape anything to their desire due to the lack of funds or the lack of being needed or the feeling of not being able to make a difference. Even managers in corporations seem to break down, fall ill or end up with depressions when their creative freedom to shape events is somehow curtailed.

Most people who ended up at the edge of society due to unemployment or poverty rarely feel that they are needed anymore; they rarely feel that they are able to make a difference in anybody's life anymore. They also might have lost the sense of understanding on how to change their situations and what their life's purpose might be, even though as child they, like everybody else, were hopeful that they would find a place in this life in which they would be able to bring meaning to their and other people's lives. Lacking this kind of fulfillment is as if constantly living with some sort of craving and desire for something that cannot be satisfied or reached.

And this unfulfilled desire leads directly to overeating?

Especially for those who have learned as early as childhood that problems can be substituted with candy; children who fall down or cry get something sweet to ease the pain. Especially parents of poorer and lesser educated backgrounds are prime examples of customers who keep buying chocolate bars and other junk foods; they keep buying this stuff even though they actually have very little money available. But this audience is of course also very susceptible to advertising because they have had so many problems early on in their lives and have learned that they cannot really solve their problems, but rather only satisfy - and substitute - their desire for change and a better life.

So can this be considered a social problem?

Yes, in some ways these people are holding up a mirror in front of society and show where things are headed when people no longer care for one another; when people end up being labeled and stereotyped and are no longer given the room or the opportunity to make a real difference in theirs and other people's lives. From this point of view, then, being unemployed is not so much a problem because of the lack of funds, but it becomes a huge problem because of the lack of meaning; because one can no longer contribute to society in a meaningful way.

Is this the reason weight loss classes on healthy eating don't work so well?

To decide how to behave in certain life situations is based one's life experiences up until now. Anyone who has learned that sweet and fatty foods will help satisfy their desires has developed an attitude like "If I am a little fat, what does it not matter?" or "The main thing to me is that it tastes good." These attitudes are not purely cognitive, (i.e. we're not always thinking about it), but stem from experience and conditioning. And every experience is distinguished by something that gets under one's skin; something that is linked with a powerful feeling or emotion. Both components, the emotional and the cognitive link combined, will eventually lead to a conviction that a particular behavior is good for us, even if it is overeating bad foods.

So lecturing alone won't help?

Exactly, because this approach won't reach the emotional components. You cannot change an attitude by convincing people because you only reach the cognitive component; and you can not achieve change by punishing or hugging them all the time because you only reach the emotional components that way.

So what will help?

You should invite such people to encourage and inspire a new and different experience with themselves. For example, moving their bodies so that they can feel and get in touch and experience their own bodies again; or in relationships with other people, where they realize that they can actually talk with others without feeling bad or ashamed and where they feel that they can talk about problems and solutions as well. And, of course, in relationship to their role in this world and in society, where they realize that they are able to partake in shaping it and making a difference. For these steps to work, nutritional counseling alone is far from being enough. It sometimes it takes the help of a psychotherapists or a life coach.

Some might ask: Why won't big people achieve this by themselves? They only need to get their act together.

This is the talk of the educated middle class, which itself had enough opportunity to take responsibility for their own lives and have thus learned that they can make it. But for those who are are used to not being able to succeed in anything and those who didn't have any positive experience in changing themselves and those who were ridiculed at their whole life - how can they possibly have an experience of taking on self-responsibility? For these people the cognitive and emotional reasoning is so strongly developed and intertwined that breaking through and letting go of their substitute behavior of overeating is rather difficult.

So we need a new approach towards helping people lose weight?

What we need is another relationship culture at home, at school, at work and in our communities. If our living together becomes so empowered that everybody can find their place in society and recognizes themselves as valuable to other people, we wouldn't have many obesity problems. I am firmly convinced of this.

Rainer A. Rohde is passionate about life coaching. His approach to coaching is as unique as his personality and he has helped many individuals to achieve more than they ever thought possible.

Want to find out more about coaching or learn if coaching might be helpful for you? Go to

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