‘It is not your fault’: Breaking the chains of self-stigmatisation in obesity

A recurring pattern that never fails to strike a cord with the patients dealing with obesity is a pattern of self-blame, disappointment and a never-ending cycle of internalised stigma. Health experts reveal that nearly every patient with obesity who walks into consultation room starts their story with words of self-reproach: “It is all my fault”.

‘It is not your fault’: Breaking the chains of self-stigmatisation in obesity (Photo by SHVETS production on Pexels)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker, Bariatric and Laparoscopic Surgeon at MetaHeal – Laparoscopic and Bariatric Surgery Center in Mumbai and Saifee and Apollo Spectra and Namaha Hospitals in Mumbai, shared, “The weight of these words isn’t just about the physical pounds; it’s about the emotional burden carried by individuals who continuously blame themselves for their weight gain. It’s a narrative that encompasses failed attempts at dieting, missed gym sessions, and the relentless chaos of a busy lifestyle. The self-stigmatisation runs deep, leading to feeling inadequate or responsible for their condition. What often goes unspoken is the silent suffering behind these confessions—the frustration, the sense of failure, and the deep-seated belief that they lack the willpower or discipline to make a lasting change.”

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Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker added, “In a world where health is often simplified into black and white, there exists a complex and overlooked truth behind the struggles of individuals grappling with obesity—a truth of self-stigmatisation, blame and a lack of understanding that obesity, like any other disease, often transcends personal control. The relentless cycle of self-stigmatisation causes them to bear burdens heavier than their physical weight—burdens of guilt, shame and self-reproach for something that is far beyond their complete control. The reality, however, is far more intricate. Obesity, a complex and chronic disease, often remains misunderstood and oversimplified. The individuals affected by it find themselves in a constant battle, where self-blame becomes their unwelcome companion. They carry the weight of society’s perceptions, internalising the notion that their struggle with weight is solely their fault.”

Self-stigmatisation is a barrier to seeking timely treatment

Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker revealed, “Obesity, like heart disease, high blood pressure or diabetes, is a medical condition that requires a multifaceted approach to treatment. It’s not just about calories in and out; it’s about genetic predispositions, hormonal imbalances, socioeconomic factors and psychological elements that intertwine to create this health challenge. The weight of self-stigmatisation often prevents individuals from seeking the necessary medical help they desperately need. The fear of judgment, the internalised shame and the belief that they’re solely to blame can act as formidable barriers, hindering access to crucial medical interventions.”

According to her, this self-imposed isolation from seeking medical care can lead to serious consequences. She said, “Obesity, if left untreated, can result in many health complications—increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, liver disease, breathing problems, joint issues, and psychological distress, among others. The belief that they should be able to overcome this alone often perpetuates a cycle of worsening health and increased risk, adding layers of complexity to their struggle.”

Seeking medical help for obesity is not a sign of weakness

Dr Aparna Govil Bhasker advised, “It’s crucial to recognise that seeking medical help for obesity isn’t a sign of weakness but a step towards empowerment. Just as one seeks medical treatment for any other chronic condition, addressing obesity requires a holistic approach—medical guidance, nutritional support, psychological counseling and often, bariatric surgical intervention. As a society, it’s necessary to break the shackles of stigma surrounding obesity. We must foster an environment where individuals feel empowered to seek medical care without fear of judgment or self-blame. We need to recognize that obesity is a disease that demands compassionate, comprehensive care beyond the limitations of self-control.”

She concluded, “To those battling the silent war of self-stigmatisation, it’s essential to know that seeking help is a courageous step towards reclaiming health and well-being. You are not alone and your struggle is not a solitary journey—it’s a journey where seeking support is a sign of strength and resilience. Let’s foster an environment of understanding and empathy. Obesity, like any disease, requires a community of support and professional medical guidance. It’s time to empower individuals to step forward and seek the comprehensive care they deserve, ensuring that their journey toward health is met with compassion and understanding, free from the chains of self-stigmatisation.”

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