Dr. Arya M. Sharma, Chair of Obesity Research and Management at the University of Alberta observed that people who are obese deal with the five stages of grief in the exact same way as someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one would, or someone diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Since obesity is a chronic disease, it should be understandable that these five stages also apply to obesity. This helps us understand how serious the denial and depression related to obesity is.
According to Kubler-Ross, the five stages of grief is a natural process of grieving, which starts from denial, moves on to anger and other stages before finally reaching acceptance. The same five stages apply to virtually every serious life event.
The Five Stages
To move forward and resolve the problem – for obese people to actually lose weight – it is important that they recognise what stage they are at. The denial and anger stage are not the best time to discuss diet plans. Nor is the depression or bargaining stage the best time to bring up the topic of lifelong exercise regimes or bariatric surgery. Only after true acceptance comes hope and a positive change that sets the foundation of healthy living.
These stages are not perfectly sequential, any two stages may overlap and even if one moves forward, its natural to sometimes regress. Some people may never move beyond denial or anger while some stay stuck forever in depression or bargaining. Even those, who have accepted their situation may occasionally give up and regress unless they keep looking for ways to keep themselves motivated.
Are you a little over your healthy weight or are fast-approaching obesity? A normal response in this denial stage is :
“I don’t weigh myself because I don’t want to know.”
“I don’t listen to advice because it doesn’t apply to me.”
“I don’t see a doctor because I don’t want to hear that I have a problem.”
Obese people are aware they are overweight – most don’t deny that. Many obese people at the denial stage refuse to acknowledge that it is a chronic disease with serious consequences. You may find that they use Pseudo-acceptance as their defence mechanism.
“So what if I am fat! I know I am fat – You don’t tell me I have a problem or that I need to do anything about it. Just leave me alone!”
Many people battling the bulge often find themselves consumed by anger. Anger is their predominant emotion in such a stage. They may feel angry with everyone and everything.
Anger at myself – “Why can’t I stop eating?!”
Anger at my body – “I am so angry at my body for being so fat!”
Anger at the people around me – “I don’t need your pity or your advice.”
Anger at life in general – Why me?
It is the anger that fuels the denial. Here’s a news article on an obese woman who sued her doctor for advising weight loss.
“My weight makes me so depressed, tired, unmotivated, emotional. Above all it has affected my day to day life. I hate looking in the mirror and I hate going out.”
“I am so tired of starting one diet after another only to gain back whatever weight I managed to lose.”
A sense of loss, sadness, despair, anxiety and fear of what is to come take turns to make the person’s life a misery. Psychological consequences of being overweight or obese can include lowered self-esteem and anxiety, and more serious disorders such as depression and eating disorders such as binge eating, bulimia and anorexia.
As an overweight person, the bargaining stage starts when you have acknowledged you have a problem. You try to find easy solutions and come up with even more excuses.
“If I had the money to buy a treadmill, I can exercise at home.”
“But I can’t afford a babysitter, where can I find the time and money?”
“I really don’t have the time to go a gym.”
“I can’t give up gluten/coffee/alcohol – there has to be another way!”
“I’m sure this weight loss pill will work.”
It’s only after a person has acknowledged and accepted the reality and seriousness of their situation that they are able to take concrete action to move forward positively.
As far as weight loss attempts are concerned, the overweight person accepts that crash diets and magic weight loss pills don’t work. People suffering from chronic obesity are at this stage willing to reach out for the medical attention they need and undergo surgeries if that’s what it takes to save their lives. For not so serious cases, they become more willing to adapt their lifestyles towards a healthier one that includes diet and exercises
“I will not eat fried food or sweets and I am doing to drink more water.”
“I will walk for 45 minutes everyday.”
“I am cleaning out my pantry and I’m stocking my fridge with ingredients for the planned weekly menu.”
Realistic weight loss solutions and a concrete action plan can be developed only after an overweight person reaches the acceptance stage. Acceptance does not simply mean accepting ‘this is how it is”- it means accepting the fact that you need to now deal with this problem the best way you can.