Holly Williams on Obesity and Disability

By January 5, 2015Disability, Lifestyle, My story
The author Holly Williams

First of all, health, happiness and best wishes for 2015 to everyone reading my blog. I hope you all had as good festive season as I did, eating, drinking and being merry. I’ve been thinking a lot about diet and weight issues over my Christmas break, partly because like so many people I have overindulged and intend to slim down now January’s here, but mainly because of a news story brought to my attention on the Twitter account of Chailey Heritage Enterprise Centre, the social firm I work for.

According to BBC News, a man in Denmark has successfully sued for wrongful dismissal under the EU’s disability discrimination legislation because he was sacked from his job as a child minder for being too obese. The judge said that although obesity wasn’t itself a disability ‘if a person has a long ­term impairment because of their obesity, they would be protected by disability legislation.’

This got me thinking about a very basis question that I hadn’t thought to ask myself because I assumed the answer was obvious. What do we class as a disability? To me, the definition of disability is wide, but whatever kind of impairment you have all disabled people have one thing in common. Whether through birth, accident or sheer genetic fluke something has happened that has stopped your body and/or brain working to its full capacity. For reasons beyond your control, your physical, mental or emotional state falls below what is seen as ‘normal.’ Like race, sexuality, gender or ethnicity it isn’t a choice you make and you shouldn’t be punished for it in any way. But in the case of obesity, that state has been achieved for the majority of people by direct and continued action, e.g eating too much and exercising too little.

Let me put it another way. Obesity can be caused by having a disability, disability can cause people to be obese but, as the judge in this case said, obesity is not a disability. There are certain instances where individuals cannot control their weight gain. Disabilities such as Down’s Syndrome can make sufferers more prone to storing excess fat while others such as Prader Willi Syndrome find it very hard to control their appetites. Even having physical disability such as mine (Cerebral Palsy) can make it very difficult to exercise and stay fit and healthy. But whatever condition you do or do not have there is nearly always something you or those helping you can do to help maintain a healthy weight. There has always got to be some level of responsibility for your own diet. It’s a simple mathematical equation, eating less plus exercising more equals weight loss.

Look, I don’t want to give the wrong idea about me. I’m not Katie Hopkins (thank God) I’m really not anti-­fat or anti-­obese. I think it’s awful that the government tell people what they should eat and I’m not going to lecture anyone because they’re not a size 10. Large women (and men) can be as beautiful, sexy, clever, successful and motivated as anyone else. If you’re happy to say ‘I like food and hate the gym,’ I say good for you. If you want to lose weight by diet or surgery, I’m behind that too. It’s your body, your life, do with it what you want. All I ask is that people are responsible for their life­ choices and don’t blame them on something that is beyond their control.

I speak from experience. I have battled with my weight for my entire life. As a child, I was painfully underweight and was constantly being rushed into A&E for mysterious bouts of sickness during which I couldn’t even keep down water. Due to this my parents were encouraged to ‘build me up’ by feeding me anything I wanted. This meant by the time I was 18 I had long got over my childhood ill­ health but was still eating like a horse.

My relationship with food now is simple. I love it. I can’t express in words my passion for eating. Anything that’s fat or sugar laden and bad for me. I never leave my plate empty. That is the reason I have spent the past 15 years or so bouncing between a size 10 and a size 18. At my largest all that I could wear were grey jogging bottoms that my Mum told me made me look like a baby elephant from behind. My point is that I know what it’s like to be overweight. It’s true that having a disability that limits my movements makes it harder for me to exercise but I do try to stay as active as I can via cycling and weight training. I also try (and mostly fail) to eat a healthy diet. It would be wrong of me to sit back and blame Cerebral Palsy for me being fat. I eat too much, nothing more to it.

The human being I think is, by nature, a lazy creature. We like the easy route. It is very easy to think up excuses as to why we pile on the pounds. It isn’t our fault. It’s in our genes, we can’t afford to buy fresh, healthy food, we’re too busy, we’re too tired, we overeat to fulfil some psychological hole. I used some of these excuses a hundred times myself. But at the end of the day they are all smoke screens we use to deny the truth. Weight is something we have power over if we want to. If you’re overweight and don’t do anything about it, that’s your choice, I won’t have a go at you. Just have the honesty to admit it.

My problem is that once we link disability with obesity it will just add a very convenient argument to the list of excuses for why people can’t lose weight. It won’t matter that we will be told that obesity is a cause or a symptom and not an impairment in itself, the link will have already been made. If you’re suffering from joint pain, limited mobility, diabetes or depression who can blame you for reaching for another doughnut to make yourself feel a bit better about the problems in your life? Rulings like this aren’t making life easier for people who truly want to lose weight. At the end of the day, the one thing that stops people getting slim and being healthy isn’t too much food, it’s not taking responsibility for yourself. Weight shouldn’t be a disability issue, it should be an issue for everyone to address for themselves, not something that is monitored by the government or EU.

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