Thinking It's All Your Fault?

That’s what they’re thinking, isn’t it? And likely you believe it too. Whether you’re fat or thin, healthy or unhealthy, fit or not, we need to place blame. It’s too hard for us to accept what’s not in our hands to control. We blame your weight on your eating and your diseases—even when there may be no link; we unfairly blame the parents for their child’s eating disorder; and we yearn to believe that it was your actions that caused your disease. Here are just a few examples of this I’ve recently encountered:

  • "You’re too fat and of course you must eat poorly. And you’re lazy, too. Shouldn’t you be moving that 350 plus pound body around better—faster, longer, more gracefully? Your knee problems, your reflux, your high blood pressure—they’re all caused by you, don’t you think?" It doesn’t matter that you were an overweight baby and a chunky child—cute then, but not for the adult you. No, it bothers us to see people outside the “perfect” range. 
  • The first question they ask is “Was he a smoker?” And the answer is no. Not a smoker nor a drinker yet my father died from primary lung cancer which spread to his liver. And no, there were not even asbestos or environmental factors. And my relative’s recent diagnosis of stomach cancer—rarely seen in the US but common in Japan—where they tend to be slimmer, I might add—was not caused by her weight nor her diet—those pickled, fermented and smoked foods associated with this cancer are not in her repertoire of foods regularly consumed.
  • I was sent many an internet, urban legend article on diet soda and multiple sclerosis after my diagnosis of MS. They were well-intentioned senders. They just wanted to find the answer, to find a cure. Never mind that the best research facilities still don’t have a cure, and that I can count on one finger how often I drank a diet beverage over the past months. But they thought they were being helpful. Wouldn’t it be great if I had caused my MS, and then I can equally easily undo it?
  • It’s the families, isn’t it? You know, that cause the anorexia? Wasn’t her mother always dieting? What about the home environment? Didn’t her sister also have an eating disorder?

Randomness is difficult to accept. If there’s no cause and effect, it means we can’t do anything to protect ourselves from all the bad things that may befall us. It means we have no control over the future of our health, of our survival, and of the risk to those that we care about. It leaves us feeling way too vulnerable.

We want to place blame. If her cancer was caused by her weight or her gastric bypass surgery, then it won’t happen to me. If his cancer was due to smoking or asbestos, then I am safe. Cut out the diet sodas and I’ll be free from risk of neurological disorders. If mothers cause anorexia, then I can change how I parent and prevent my child from getting it.

If only life were this simple. An eating disorder is complex, and can’t easily be caused from environmental influences. It likely involves a genetic predisposition, some triggering event, and environmental support to maintain it. Yet that doesn’t mean that parents are helpless. They may help prevent an eating disorder in a high risk individual by keeping eating on track and preventing the dieting that all too often results in an eating disorder. And they can certainly actively support their child’s recovery!

My MS and the ALS of a dear relative will not be cured with nutrition or weight change. But we can take control of our stress and maintain the health of the functioning bodies we do have. We can eat well to feel well—and yes, that includes cupcakes in addition to whole grains!

As for the myth that your weight is responsible for all evils? Reread this old post!

All hope is not lost. Even conditions we didn’t cause, we have a role in repairing. Yes, even the cancer. Getting the best treatment team and following the recommendations of your medical team is key. Reducing stress and keeping a positive attitude are critical remedies as well.

So when the conversation goes down that path of placing blame, politely educate the naïve inquisitor. And when you’re thinking it’s all your fault, think again.

On my list of "to dos"!
But don’t free yourself from the responsibility of taking action, of taking control of your health in all the ways that you can. And whether you have a terminal illness or a progressive condition or are 100% healthy, start living like you don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Because the truth is—you don’t. 

Thanks for reading. As always, I’d love you to share this if you liked it. Now there’s some action you can take!

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