Portrait of obesity in Zim

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Weight stigma results in obese individuals being subjected to unfair and harmful treatment in nearly all domains of life

Chipo Sabeta
It is crucial that the way Zimbabweans view obesity becomes non-stigmatic.

While there are still cases that pop up here and there, it is generally no longer socially acceptable — for example — to stigmatise people on the basis of sex, ethnic origin, and mental health.

But there is still a long way to go in shaping the way our society views obesity.

Some of the most common stereotypes of obese individuals include the belief that obese people are lazy, sedentary, and that they overeat.

Broad-based commitment is now needed to shift the narrative around overweight bodies and obesity.

Many Zimbabweans think obesity is caused solely by controllable lifestyle behaviours, however, this is contrary to scientific evidence.

Some cases have been shown to be hereditary while others are medically induced. For instance, it is not easy for an asthmatic patient to hit the gym, run or exercise consistently enough to always maintain a healthy weight.

Social experts say when we think of prejudice and discrimination, most people tend to think of overt attacks, harassment, or discriminatory behaviour.

However, blatant examples of prejudice do still occur among fat people and many people confess to have been stigmatised and yet experiences shape their daily lives.

In certain situations like primary or high school, children can be unknowingly cruel, and overweight youngsters are thus more likely to bear the brunt of taunts and teasing in such environments.

It was found that obese pupils were the most likely to struggle with low social esteem. There is also very little in-group favouritism among overweight kids.

For the fear of being called “fat” some kids have refused to go to school, while others have under-performed.

Generally, the pervasive hostile environment that marginalised people find themselves in serves as a source of constant physical and psychological stress. Some become suicidal.

Fat people are harassed in the streets or given inferior service in a shop, in a plane, bus among other public places.

Weight stigma results in obese individuals being subjected to unfair and harmful treatment in nearly all domains of life.

While stigma is discouraged, a sales and marketing and property developer, Sheila Mukize, shared with this publication how she was born big and growing up, how she subsisted on fast foods and “anything she could microwave”.

She used her pain to become what she is today.

Mukize continued to hit the drive-through nearly five times and at 37 her sole comfort was eating but she managed to transform herself from an obese 153kg to 78kg to-date.

“I was in denial and avoided scales, cameras, and mirrors,” she said.

But she couldn’t avoid the standard BP check band which failed to fit on her hand.

“I decided that because I was going through a sucky situation, I would eat whatever I wanted,” she admits.

Her biggest weaknesses was sadza and beef stew.

“I would wake up and cook sadza, eat it again in the afternoon and evening. I can’t believe I can now go for months without it. I used to be super-sized on everything. My portion was always bigger than everyone else’s.”

Sheila squeezed into the short skirts and were always tight.

“I didn’t feel comfortable or pretty,” she said.

“I would be called chubby. When I realised that’s how people saw me, I knew I had to change,” she said.

“I wanted to transform my life more than I wanted a hamburger.”

Then, she couldn’t fit in clothes and had problems with sizes.

“I used to fight with tailors because there were no sizes for me in boutiques. Super-sizes were expensive for me. I used to love chocolates, bubble gums and fast foods. But that’s wrong you can work that unnecessary fat out.

“I decided to go on a weight loss journey because of my blood pressure. I decided to get my BP checked and it was so high, (more than that of my mom). The doctor decided I should go on treatment right away. He gave me the reasons why my BP was that high and  one of them was my weight. That day was my turning point,” she revealed.

Sheila emptied her pantry and fridge, tossing all chips, frozen pizza and other junk into the garbage. Instead of eating out, she started cooking healthier versions of her favourite restaurant foods, boosted her veggie intake and measured food portions.

“It was an eye-opener to see the difference between what I would normally eat and what the serving size was,” Sheila said.

“Clean eating and training dirty was and is still my motto. By six months I had lost 50kg. I added strength workouts, cut out soda and processed foods and before I knew it I was out of 3 digits. 95kg was my target.”

But she wasn’t finished. To date she weighs 78kg with no health complications at all.

 

 

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