The SBS series The Obesity Myth is a program we all should watch.
Those who are blessed with naturally compliant and slim bodies may find it difficult to understand the problems of the brave morbidly obese patients we meet in the weight loss program at Melbourne’s Austin Hospital.
But those of us who have more than a nodding acquaintance with our curves will find that many of the issues and comments in this program resonate strongly.
The myth referenced in the title is the common idea that obesity is caused simply by a lack of willpower and refusal to eat moderately; that it is a product of environment and control.
Both Professor Joe Proietto and head of upper gastrointestinal surgery Mr Ahmad Aly share the view that obesity is not a lifestyle choice, but a disease that requires treatment like any other disease. Both medicos tell us that obesity is a chronic genetic disease.
But exploding the myth doesn’t mean that solving the problem of obesity is any easier.
In the first program, ‘Battling the Biology,’ we meet former taxi driver Leanne, boxer Huss and the clinic’s heaviest patient, 248-kilogram Karen, as they fight their biology to try to reclaim their lives.
Huss opts for the surgical procedure of having much of his stomach removed and a gastric sleeve inserted, meaning he will simply not have the same room for the amount of food he used to consume. We are shown the surgery in minute detail, which is fascinating but does require a strong stomach of our own.
When the stern but kindly and supportive Professor Joe assures Karen that her morbid obesity is not her fault, because it relates to a genetic propensity, the relief that this poor woman feels at not being blamed for her obesity shows us what a psychological burden she has been carrying.
It would be a lovely fairytale to say that Professor Joe waves a magic wand and all is well, but real life isn’t like that.
With her life-threatening condition, Karen is in for a real struggle, and eventually it becomes apparent that weight loss isn’t going to be achieved by just diet and medication—some intense work with a psychologist is needed to address emotional trigger factors from Karen’s past.
What is striking in this series is the continuing warm support and acceptance from the whole medical team at Austin Health, and the fact that they give Huss, Leanne and Karen that vital element, hope— reminding me of the words from the Bible that say, “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation” (Romans chapter 12, verse 12).