By Kelly Moen

Let me start at the beginning.

“You’re fat because you eat too much. You need to eat less and move more.” This is the mantra I have heard my entire life, yet the advice has little to no effect for most people, including me. What the mantra has done is that it has promoted shame, discouragement and has led me to believe obesity is a moral failure.

Fast forward to 2019: I am now a registered clinical counsellor specializing in the mental health aspects of obesity. My life experiences and education have shown me obesity is a complex disease that needs the empirical medical intervention it deserves compared to the global diet affair that is currently promoted.

Recently, I had the honour to speak at the 6th Obesity Canada Summit in Ottawa, where I shared my patient experience living with obesity in Canada, promoting patient-first language and removing the barriers of the social stigma people with obesity experience. It is always a fantastic experience being a part of changing the landscape of how obesity is viewed and an honour to be a part of that change.

However, the following week was going to be a catalyst of change in my life regarding the advocacy work I do and that of Obesity Canada’s Public Engagement Committee (PEC). You see, obesity has become so prevalent globally the world is now experiencing what I would consider a pandemic.

After I left Ottawa, I headed to the 26th European Congress of Obesity (ECO) in Scotland, supported by the European Association for the study of Obesity (EASO). I was invited as a delegate for the PEC.

As the plane took off, I was filled with excitement and awe, as I had never traveled internationally before, but mostly because I was about to represent the PEC at the world’s first Global Patient Representative Group, now known as the European Coalition for People living with Obesity (ECPO).

It was exciting to see old friends from Canada and the U.S., but also thrilling to meet new friends from all over Europe uniting and advocating for change in our healthcare systems. We came together with the understanding that obesity operates as a complex disease, to advocate for the use of people-first language while sharing our personal journeys looking to the medical system for help when the commercial system failed us time and time again. We were standing up for policy change and bringing dignity back to people who are shamed every day with the false notion that obesity is a moral failure. No one should be left alone to figure it out on their own when obesity is considered a complex disease.

When it comes to creating social change or challenging social constructs, I have learned it requires perseverance, hope and determination. Fighting for empirically sound medical treatments when it comes to obesity has been a daunting task. However, when I was in Scotland I was invited to sit in as the patient representative for Obesity Canada at the first global meeting regarding healthcare policy, which is now known as the Obesity Policy Engagement Network (OPEN).

When I sat down and looked around the room, I was bewildered at what I saw and experienced. There were so many countries represented there; Germany, Spain, Brazil and  Australia just to name a few. There were interpreters booths at the back of the room for those who didn’t speak English, and every country rep shared what they were doing to advocate for change in their medical system to help those living with obesity. They shared strategy, they listened intently  and they all cared and wanted to make a difference.

That moment changed my life.

I have worked endlessly to understand the psychology and mental health of obesity. To see the entire world come together to combat bias, advocate for change and push for a revamp in policy in the medical arena has been exhilarating. Most of all, what I am taking away is the experience of a global community-fighting together which puts to rest the ideology of eating less and move more touted by the newest and underpaid celebrity.

The “eat less and move more” approach to obesity management is snake oil in a bottle, a public social construct harmful to our mental health.

However,  together we can do anything. I no longer feel alone in this fight, and I hope you feel the same. We’ve got this!

Kelly Moen is vice chair of Obesity Canada’s Public Engagement Committee