For most people, “overweight” and “obese” are not scientific terms, but are loaded words that trigger anxiety and frustration. Like gender and ethnicity, weight is an essential part of every person’s self-image, and when pounds go haywire, the result is distress. Our culture is, to put it mildly, preoccupied with weight. Weight gain is always noticed and generally perceived as an important change – in an adult, usually for the worse. Bathroom scales are almost as common as bathrooms; millions of people weigh themselves daily as part of their morning routine.
In our culture, the ideal human body is lean and trim with a taut abdomen – an image depicted everywhere and a model to which few conform. Some surveys show that as many as 90 percent of Americans believe they weigh too much – indeed, two-fifths of Americans are following some weight-loss program at any given moment – and even small children worry about diets.
Lurking in the back of our minds is the notion that fat is the visible evidence of self-indulgence and a weak will. According to the National Institutes of Health, of all the health risks of being overweight or obese, probably none has a more adverse effect than the psychological suffering. Fortunately, medical discoveries of the past few years have begun to offer new ways of thinking about overweight and obesity.