Ester Marsh column: Don’t judge because of size

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 16, 2016

I have been in the fitness industry for almost 34 years and have been exercising since I was born. I am the third child of four — I have an older brother and sister and a younger sister. I had two siblings to chase after since there is a four-year difference between my older sister and me. My mom said I was standing at 6 months and was running at 9 months. Super bowlegged, fast and agile, my nickname was “Cheeta,” the chimpanzee friend of Tarzan. That name didn’t stick too long since my mom didn’t like it.

I grew up in a bakery in the Netherlands. People ask how I can stay in shape being a baker’s daughter. We were, and still are, a very active family, exercising most days of the week. My mom made sure we had healthy, balanced meals every day. I was fortunate to have sit-down dinners most days of the week with my family and, yes, we had dessert every day! As we all know, our society has gotten bigger and bigger due to the foods we eat, the portions they serve and the inactivity of people. When you look back in time at the “overweight” people 40, 30 or even just 20 years ago, they are actually very “normal” size in today’s society. Bigger sizes are sometimes in the genes. Some people have a family history of being “big boned” and very stocky, and other times medical issues or certain medications make people gain unwanted weight.

Most of the time, however, the problem is eating too many calories and not burning enough of them. And the sad part is that many people do not realize this. They even feel they eat very healthy, but when we start counting the calories, they are in shock how many calories they consumed. To throw gas on this fire, the activity level of people has almost come to a halt. And it all starts when they are young and most impressionable. Look in our schools — everything is technology based. Students can do their work with the click of a mouse. Physical education has become secondary and our kids don’t move like we did when we were young, unless they regularly participate in a sport or physical activity. And it shows — our children are becoming heavier and unhealthier each year.

Eating healthy and accordingly to your body type and activity level is the hardest thing for anyone, yet society judges when they see big people. “They just sit around and eat,” “I can’t believe how they let themselves get that big,” “why don’t they do anything about it?” are some common comments. It’s easy to judge, but unhealthy foods are cheaper than eating healthy, and you typically have to pay if you want to exercise, so it is very understandable that our society is getting bigger. As I mentioned above, it starts when you are young.

If you don’t play a sport or don’t go to the Y or a park, chances are you will be behind a computer, iPad, phone or TV instead of doing something physical. Throw in cheaper and unhealthier foods, and this is a recipe for an unhealthy lifestyle. Even when someone wants to try to eat better and exercise, their budget won’t allow it. So don’t judge — the ones I know who struggle or have struggled don’t like to be the center of unwanted attention. The snickers and hurtful remarks they deal with every day are painful. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, eating healthy and living an active lifestyle is difficult for anyone. Everyone has their own “demons” — yours might not be food and inactivity, but we all have our own struggles.

My personal struggle was with bulimia when I was in my late teens and early twenties. I was trying to make my weight class and did whatever it took. It spiraled me into a very bad eating and over-exercising lifestyle for some years, so I definitely understand the mindset of someone who is struggling with being overweight. Most of the time, we support alcoholics who stop drinking or people who were addicted to drugs when they get sober. As long as they stay away from alcohol and drugs, they have the biggest chance of beating that addiction. Now, turn that to a food addiction — obesity, bulimia, anorexia — you can’t tell them stay away from food. You have to eat to live and eat healthy to be in good physical shape. Yet we would not tell a recovering alcoholic, “just one drink a day is OK.”

So the next time you want to judge someone because of their size, I hope you remember that everyone has their trials and tribulations. Some of them just won’t show it on the outside.

A special shout out to all the people who have come into my life and have lost weight, continue a healthy lifestyle, finished their first 5K, triathlon or have signed up for one — my hat is off to you and I will always have your back.

Ester H Marsh, Associate Executive Director JF Hurley family YMCA