What Do You Wish People Knew About Being Overweight?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
If you've never been overweight, it's impossible to know what day-to-day life is really like. And it's easy to assume that an obese person has made poor choices that led to their situation—they must eat a lot of unhealthy food and never exercise, right? And beyond the more obvious issues, like low self-esteem and ill-fitting clothes, a slimmer person likely has no concept of the daily challenges of obesity.

If you're the one who's overweight or obese, it can sometimes be a very lonely feeling, as well. It may feel like you're living under a microscope, surrounded by thin people who are judging everything from the food on your plate to your clothing choices. They may not understand why you don't want to engage in certain activities, or why a simple phrase or sideways glance can be so upsetting.  
SparkPeople coach Jen Mueller points out the importance of maintaining a positive mindset, even through the most challenging parts of a weight-loss journey. "I see so many people beating themselves up about gaining weight, whether it’s five pounds from a vacation or 100 pounds over the past 10 years," she says. "Although it’s good to learn from mistakes of the past, it’s important to remember that you have total control over what happens from this moment forward. If you let others' judgements about your decisions or appearance determine your own self-worth, it’s difficult to see the power you have inside to change. You have that power; we all do. You are so much more than a number on the scale, so don’t let that define the person you are or the life you lead."

Real People’s Experiences with Being Overweight

To help bridge what can seem like a very large gap, we asked a few people to share real-world experiences from their weight-loss journeys. Our hope is that these anecdotes will help illustrate what it's really like to live as an overweight person while encouraging others to be more sensitive to their struggle.
"Even sleeping is a challenge. You have to find ways to get comfortable—you can't sleep this way because you can't breathe, can't sleep that way because your chest pushes up on your throat and blocks it. I had to sit up half the night because of the sleep apnea, the hurting back, the edema…" GPALMER29
"I have had someone—a complete stranger—assume that I'm pregnant when I was not. That's pretty embarrassing and humiliating. Unless you emphatically know someone is pregnant, do not comment! Don't even ask!" Rebecca Scheerer, Cincinnati, Ohio
"I was in McDonald's once—for the first time in over five years—and while I was perusing the menu, the manager behind me said in Spanish (with me being Italian, I was able to pick up some of the words) to the girl behind the register, 'Take this fat lady's order.' I haven't gone inside a McDonald's since. I do the drive-thru because there is no one there to address your weight." BEVIEG41
“There's so much people don't understand....from going to amusement parks and worrying about fitting in the roller coaster seats to the looks you get just walking around. I remember going on a business trip many years ago when I was at my heaviest. It was a sales presentation and I was the subject matter expert. Our salesperson, who had never met me in person before that day, said (in no uncertain terms) that I didn't present well physically and wouldn't be asked to go on more sales presentations no matter how great of a job I did.” GAILIEBEE69
“It seems like being around people, your jokes revolve around your size [...] I would joke about myself all the time, about my size, to make people laugh. I was the ‘fat, funny guy,’ and it was actually depressing. I put on a good front and a happy face, but inside it was a heavy burden.” GPALMER29
"I'd see the looks. I was afraid to eat in front of people. It was isolating. A person who is overweight […] should not be shamed or ridiculed or endure snickers and whispers. If you don't feel comfortable snickering toward a person in a wheelchair, you should not feel comfortable doing the same toward someone overweight, no matter their size." Cathy*, Cincinnati, Ohio
"I think that it's tough to know that some people assume I'm totally unhealthy. I really eat pretty well (although I do have a wicked sweet tooth), but I also have a thyroid disorder and I think it makes it tough for me to lose and keep weight off. I typically have to stay under 1,100 calories a day to lose or maintain. I would give—I don't know what—to figure out how to be thin, enjoy food and maintain a more ideal weight without so much work and counting every calorie that goes in. It's exhausting, both physically and mentally, for me." Rebecca Scheerer, Cincinnati, Ohio
"The most disturbing [reality] for me has been feeling unhealthy. Before I started working out again, my heart felt weak and strained, which was an alarming wake-up call that I could not keep putting off taking my health seriously." Wellness expert Gabrielle Loehr
"When buying clothes, you have to go to the big and tall stores [...] and you walk up to the counter with size 64 pants and deal with a retailer who is average size, and you get that look, everybody knows the one [...] it's the one that says, ‘Man, could you get any bigger?'" GPALMER29
"I hate how your stomach skin flops down in front of you and you get this icky moisture, which chafes in the hot weather and smells if you don't keep up with it. Not pretty." GABY1948
"I have girlfriends of many sizes. The thinner ones love to shop. When you're overweight, that is not fun. I enjoy it a little more now, but am still apprehensive. I wear a size 12 now and still find myself gravitating toward the plus-size clothes, as I cannot believe/accept the smaller me." Cathy*, Cincinnati, Ohio
"At work, I'd look around for a sturdy chair and one not too close to others. I always went to staff meetings early so I'd get a chair appropriate for me. I never broke a chair, but my sister who was a little heavier than I did. At restaurants, booths usually didn't work for me. Even if I could squeeze in, I felt squashed and trapped. Sometimes we'd wait longer for a table." SLENDERELLA61
"Just taking a shower was a challenge. I washed off in the sink most of the time because I couldn't move around inside the shower. Even driving was a chore [...] when you have this massive [stomach] in your way, it was difficult to steer a vehicle." GPALMER29 

"[When I weighed] over 300 pounds 30 or 40 years ago, an orthopedic doctor told me that if I did not lose weight, I would lose my weight-bearing joints and be in pain. Here I am at 69 years old with a knee replacement and another one needed. I have also been diagnosed with sciatica. I didn't do what I needed to do until four years ago when I lost 240 pounds. [My advice is to] lose weight before damage is done in so many areas of your body." SINGINGLADY_JLN

"Inexpensive clothing for the short and overweight woman is still virtually non-existent. It is hard to be overweight and feel attractive." SUNNYCALIGIRL
"When I was thin, overweight women often seemed angry with me, as though my thinness was directly responsible for their weight. Now, I have noticed that I am not taken as seriously as I was when I was thin, and that thin women look at me as though I am their motivation to work out, which is both hurtful and misplaced. My brain works just as well as it did before I gained weight, and life is not a beauty contest. There is no prize for being the thinnest." Wellness expert Gabrielle Loehr
“When eating out [at a restaurant], trying to sit in a booth that's made for small people, knowing you have to find a table with pull-out chairs [...] and people are looking at you like, ‘We better hurry up and get up to the buffet before they do!” GPALMER29

"Being overweight [when flying on a plane] means you have to ask the stewardess for the extended seat belt. Some are discreet and some love to announce it." BEVIEG41
“When I was in fifth grade, we moved to a new school and I was terribly embarrassed about my size. I was teased, called ‘moo cow’ and ‘marshmallow.’ I refused to run in [gym class] because I didn't want anyone to see my fat jiggle. Besides being overweight, I was awkward. Would I have been more graceful if I had been a normal weight? Maybe. I tended to walk into things like counters and I tripped a lot. A gym teacher told my father that I was a ‘motor moron.’ I heard it. It hurt.” SLENDERELLA61

If you've ever struggled with being overweight or obese, what experiences might be surprising to people who have never faced this challenge?

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JJSMOM52 9/3/2019
Being fat has kept me in a prison. I'm afraid to go out. I'm afraid to be seen eating. I'm afraid to interact with anyone. Report
BIKERCHICK14 9/3/2019
The coach quoted does NOT take into account the trauma response when she says we have total control from this point forward. When the "fight, flight, or freeze" response is triggered, executive functioning goes off line and a person is in survival mode. Rational thought, goals, good intentions, willpower - not accessible until the crisis passes. The number one thing that is not understood by non-obese people is that in many cases, excess weight is a symptom of undiagnosed and untreated trauma. If the trauma response keeps derailing weight loss efforts, the primary focus needs to be on trauma recovery. Develop a trauma recovery skill set and then weight loss is easy. Report
SUNSET09 9/3/2019
We are visual people, whether it's race, gender or your size and to does matter to those who are not overweight. When I was younger, my Mom would threaten me by saying she was going to have to start shopping at the fat people stores for me. I was 177 pounds max and larger than my two other sisters. I lost the 77 pounds over eh summer, just not eating seconds, or eating late. When I started to gain a few pounds, "people" was commenting on how skinny I was. You have to be comfortable in the skin that you're in, if you're not willing to change it. I couldn't understand why larger people had to pay more for their seats on the plane until I sat next to someone who's weight came over into my seat and the seats are small as it is. Some have been denied knee surgery as the weigh would just make it worst, as I worked in benefits. It's an issue for everyone and I've been on both sides of the fence, SparkFriends. Report
NORE1969 7/20/2019
My own family makes me feel the worst about my weight. My daughter works out in fear of letting what happened to me happen to her. My son is into body building and is flat out disgusted with me being overweight. If I visit my mom and she offers something to eat and I decline, she askes me if I am dieting. No thank you, Mom, I just ate at home or we have plans or I'm just not hungry. Report
I_GLAS 7/19/2019
I empathise, especially with the hypothyroid comment. I control what I eat (often below 1300 cals and no sweets) and tend to exercise frequently, but because of my bum thyroid, the weight does not come off. There is an implicit assumption that we are lazy. The opposite is true. Report
ROBINRS 7/19/2019
A group of my friends like to go out for "ladies night". Usually to a restaurant which is usually lots of good fun and conversation. But lately it has been to movies. The seats at the theater they go to are too small and close together for me to sit in. I doubt that the others are even aware of the problem. I was speaking with another of our group who doesn't go either. When I told her my issue she agreed. I wonder how many others have excluded themselves for this same reason. Now I have to get the confidence to be honest about the situation and suggest we go to a theater half an hour further away. Will they accept the suggestion so this other lady and I can be included? It will be tough to be honest and put myself out there. Report
JUSTMEOK66 7/19/2019
Encouraging article. Thank you! ! No one however young, old, or in between should ever be judged on their physical appearance, whether overweight, underweight, whatever is the case. If we can be "stepping stones" for each other instead of "stumbling blocks", we can all go higher in attaining our goals of life, whether losing, gaining, or maintaining. I can relate to folks saying they don't realize their size until I see a photo. My husband makes me feel so beautiful, that I feel that I am! ! He is a "stepping stone " towards success in my weightloss goals. My health is a large motivation as well. So, hey folks, however large or small you are, you are "beautiful " or "handsome "!!! : ))) Report
SUSANSKI 7/19/2019
Awesome article; though the idea of it could be considered depressing, it's actually uplifting to me. It was wise to have it written for the rest of us to read. A few things: In my fourth grade class my teacher wrote on a report card of one of my classmates, "Needs to lose weight". This girl was NOT fat, just a larger frame and MAYBE 10 lbs over, not more. That teacher was not there the next year. :) Secondly, I don't have to go out and about in public regularly, as I am a focus-on-home mom. Sometimes I don't even REALIZE my extra-weight...until I see the photos. THEN it's a big bummer. What effects me the most is seeing my face. When I smile, my teeth look so tiny, my jaws (Jowels?) look massive, and my eyes disappear. Irritates me, because when I look in the mirror, I don't see what the photo shows. :( Also, when I was in highschool and was around 117 and 120, I felt FAT THEN, because others , who I thought looked larger than myself, actually weighed less. It didn't help that one of my sisters was severely underweight. Now all of the surviving sisters are just about my size anyway, so there's no 'looking down on each other.' Three of us suffer with hypo-thyroidism. My parents were on diets rather frequently. One year they tried a 'soup diet'. My mom tried to get me interested. When I didn't show interest, (because I don't like fad-diets) she asked, "Are you HAPPY with the weight you are now?" I suppose it was a pretty good way of asking. It was better than what my mother-in-law, whom I love dearly, said, "You used to be so PRETTY!" !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OWWWWwwwwwWWWW! Report
DAWNGW 7/19/2019
Depressing article. Report
ALIA20769 7/19/2019
I was around 220 years ago when I had to see a doctor for a sinus infection. Of course they insisted on weighing me. When the doctor came into the room she didn't even talk to me about the sinus infection. She started right in on how I was going to die if I didn't lose weight. I already knew I needed to lose weight. I had been exercising and dieting but nothing was working. She gave me the basic pamphlets on eating my fruits and veggies and whole grains and lowfat. Eventually she begrudgingly tossed me a prescription for some antibiotics. I sat in my car afterward and cried. Later in life I realized I can't lose weight on fruits and veggies. My body works better with more protein and healthy fat. I'm not skinny now, but I maintain a reasonable size 12. I'm still scared to go to the doctors because I just don't want to deal with their attitude. Report
LYNNVANASSE1 7/19/2019
What I don't get is how medical professionals can be so insensitive. I needed to have a small surgery to remove some skin cancer - they were out of the larger gowns and just told me to wear the smaller one which I couldn't even get my arm into. I told them this was unacceptable - it was a normal larger gown I needed not a special order one unbelieveably when they looked around within the system (and it was a big hospital system) they still didn't find one and I had to go into the surgery with a gown that I couldn't even get my arms in because - I was "keeping the surgeon waiting" and I "would have to come back a different day for the surgery" if I did not use the small gown.
My ortho Doctor told me I needed to loose 100 lbs to get a surgery I needed but he also said I know you will never lose the weight so you may as well just plan on becoming an invalid in 3-5 years. That was in early June - it is now July 19th - I am down 30 lbs so far - I will prove him wrong - I will be the right weight for surgery by next Spring (2020) (BMI 30) Thanks for allowing us to vent because in any other forum - people would typically respond to this post with something implying overweight people deserve to be treated badly because it's their "fault" that they are that way (without knowing anything about why they may be overweight). Report
ROBBIEY 7/19/2019
good article Report
7STIGGYMT 7/19/2019
When I was really over weight, I hated buying clothes, so I had very few clothes. Being short and fat is difficult. After losing 80 pounds, I now find it hard to find pants and jeans that is meant for a woman's body, rather than a teenage girl body. I hate it when I bend over and my pants almost fall down. Now, short and tiny is difficult too when it comes to buying clothes. I'm not a teenager. Report
LAWLI56 7/19/2019
I get annoyed when people try to press food on me that I don't want, then make comments about my size or assume that I'm lazy - no I have a disability and much of my weight is due to that and my medication which makes it difficult to lose. Report
-POOKIE- 7/19/2019
People are so cruel. Fat doesn't define us. Report
VHAYES04 7/19/2019
I’m not lazy because I’m overweight! That’s what I’d like people to know. Report
PICKIE98 7/19/2019
As a child, I do not ever remember my sisters calling me anything but "Fats".I was normal size at the time, but they were very thin.... Report
PAMBROWN62 7/19/2019
I understand many of these stories, and can relate to the struggles. I have lost a lot of weight but I still head for the plus size section of the store out of habit. I guess because I loved myself at any size I never thought about the struggles. Until my weight became a health problem I did not work to do anything about it. Now it is my top priority to get to a healthy weight and maintain it. Report
TISTYEN 6/13/2019
I agree about the problem finding inexpensive clothes if you are short and overweight. It's even harder when you factor in having to find something that's appropriate for the office and for someone over 20! Everything's either too long, too narrow, or dry-clean only (which can quickly add up to more than the replacement cost of the outfit).

My doctor finally referred me to a weight-loss clinic this year, and I decided to call them after I got back from my trade show. On one of my flights, the seat belt was so short, I was afraid I would need to ask for an extender (which I did NOT want to embarrass myself by doing!). I managed to get the seat belt fastened, but I'm determined to get below 200 before I fly again in January. Report
MUDDYFOOTS 5/26/2019
Being called "two-ton Tessie" by my grandfather when I was a normal-weight kid... I'm not sure I've ever got past that. Report
DRAGONFLY631 4/20/2019
Great article. I sure can identify Report
CYNTHIAF1976 3/31/2019
I’ll never forget my grade school girlfriend’s little brother “You know you are fat” (over 50years ago) Report
KACEYSW 2/28/2019
Really needed this validation today! Report
Thank you Report
The biggest pain for me was being treated as if I was stupid. It was annoying to have people react to something I said as if it were unexpected. Being a smart woman is hard enough, being treated as if you weren't just because of your size is harder. Report
JANSAUR 2/19/2019
Thanks for writing this article I don't feel so alone! Report
FANCYQTR 2/18/2019
People can be so cruel with their remarks. I had one woman tell me "G.. you're ugly." Another time a friend and I were out eating just regular meal at a restaurant and a couple in there commented that we shouldn't eat like pigs like we were. Meanwhile, they each had a full meal plus a chef's salad rather than a meal and side salad. I also have the problem of getting my sinus drainage worse after eating and often start choking because of it. Then I hear how disgusting I am because of the bulimia. I hadn't thrown up since I was college age until when I got stomach virus when going through chemo at age 55 and it was never from bulimia. I have also been called stupid and unable to do the work at jobs even though I was the one doing all the work. Report
SHOAPIE 2/18/2019
Thank you. Report
HOLLYM48 2/18/2019
Great information! Report
Great article! Report
FITWITHIN 2/18/2019
I can relate to several of the stories that I read in this article. It is very heart breaking, because so many people do realize the internal pain. Report
MAWMAWJ2 2/17/2019
Very relatable, real article. I've come a long way from the morbidly obese person I was seven months ago, but I don't think I'll ever forget how completely isolating it felt to be the biggest person in the room, store, restaurant...everywhere I went. Restaurants were the most humiliating to me. I can totally relate to dreading having to squeeze myself into the booths and feeling ashamed to order from the buffet because of what I assumed everyone was thinking. Flying on an airplane as an obese person is a whole new humiliating experience too when you're an obese person. Squeezing into those tiny seats while trying not to 'over crowd' the people next to you is beyond humiliating. And sadly, I was also the funny lady with the self deprecating fat jokes. I've found since I've lost weight that I also laid the groundwork for others to joke at my expense. I no longer make those jokes but still feel the pain of hearing them. Not by strangers, but by one specific person who is very close to me. Thinking back I realize that this person had been making them all along, but I was too, so maybe it didn't resonate as much. Or perhaps I chose to view it as harmless. There is a lot more pain than just the physical aspects of being overweight. I think this article did an awesome job of letting the rest of us know that we're not alone. That there are others who 'get it'. Thank you so much for posting. Report
KITTYHAWK1949 2/17/2019
I was lucky as not over weight in teens. I really don't pay a lot of attention to others I don't know and most of my loved ones don't say or do hurtful things about my weight. thanks for article Report
PIANOKEYS88 2/17/2019
I gained weight for a year with some different medications. When I didn't need thwm,my doctor, the one who perscribed the pills said you have gotten awful heavy in the last year. Havent been to a doctor ever sense. Report
GETULLY 2/17/2019
This is a really good article. I get it more in the sideways looks so I ignore and walk even more upright. Report
SPINACHROCKS1 12/22/2018
You are a treasure! Thank you for your revealing impacting blog. I am sure you've touched many hearts!!!
NELLJONES 11/27/2018
I don't expect people who have never been overweight to understand the way I do, anymore than I can understand what it's like to be in battle. Report
Being obese and putting off or hating going to the doctors and the look you get from the medical profession. I have had thyroid cancer and I have epilepsy that has put me in bouts of depression. Talk about weight gain. The stomach flap someone mentioned, so real. Report
These are powerful quotations, more so because I know many of the speakers through SparkPeople. They have transformed their lives; you'd never know if you met them now they'd had these experiences. Thanks for sharing your stories with us!
Am so glad to read these comments. I only wish those who have never had to struggle with being overweight could read them and really try to understand what
life is like being overweight. From being embarrassed, hurt feelings, constantly
being judged, being the outsider and many more. Do they really think we would
chose to be overweight or if it were just a case of "just eating less and exercising
more" most of us wouldn't be overweight. Its just not that simple. To those who
don't understand what this like - don't judge us until you've walked in our shoes.

KB Report
Being 5'1" and overweight is a terrible challenge. You can be fat and tall and there are pants that fit you. But I have to order EVERY pair of pants I wear because the stores don't stock larger sizes in petite!!! Report
Being short and overweight was like a bonus for those who felt the need to be mean! Report
"It seems like being around people, your jokes revolve around your size [...] I would joke about myself all the time, about my size, to make people laugh. I was the ‘fat, funny guy,’ The premise of the show Mike and Molly. I always felt sorry for Mike. It wasn't funny to pick on his weight. Report
SLENDERELLA, I hope your dad gave that supposed teacher person a talking to. That is unacceptable. I think even 40 years ago, it would have been unacceptable. Report
So many truths stated here.
I have always, when meeting someone for first especially, looked people straight in the eyes. However, when my weight became over 300 paounds I quickly noticed that almost everyone,except Report
Part of losing weight for me, was taking control of my view of my body. I appreciate what my body has done and put up with for me.
I also decided to not be embarrassed by other people's prejudices. If someone stares at me, I calmly stare back till they stop. If I don't think a chair is sturdy enough I say something. I even asked a skinny fellow younger student to give up his chair because it was the only one that would reasonably accommodate me. I was not quiet or shy about it. He looked like he was going to say something but looked at the class and changed his mind. This attitude has helped me stop emotional eating. It helps me exercise in public. I carry myself different and people treat me better. Report
I DID make a lot of unhealthy choices to hit my all time high of 228. I ate too much because I included extras in the form of junk food. I did not commit to regular exercise. The first time Coach Nicole had me get down on the floor to exercise, back in 2009, I thought I would die. I pray I will be able to make better choices as I continue this lifestyle change, thanks to all of my SP colleagues out there and Chris Downie. Report
Great information. I learned something new today. Report
A new way of looking at the problem Report
I like this article because the contributors tell their real experiences. I think the worst for me was having people laugh out loud at me in a restaurant when I finished my son's burger. Still hurts today. Hurt him too because he heard the insults & laughter. Report