Sarah Le Brocq

The Reality of Living with Obesity

Today we are grateful to Sarah Le Brocq for offering her personal story of the reality of living with obesity. Originally appearing in Lancet’s eClinicalMedicine here under a Creative Commons license, we thank Le Brocq for making it possible for us to share it on ConscienHealth.

I grew up on a little Island in the English Channel, nestled between the south coast of England and France, called Jersey. It was a wonderful place to grow up and I had a fabulous childhood. I went through puberty early as a child, which made me feel different to the other children, and I didn’t like it. I went to an all-girls’ secondary school, which amplified how different in terms of development my body was compared with the other girls.

This is when I started fixating on my weight. I remember attending a slimming group with my mum in my early teens, and I had tried my first very low-calorie diet by the age of 16 years. After years of yo-yo dieting (i.e., weight cycling), the desire to find the answer to weight loss grew stronger. By the time I left university at 22, I was a UK size 20.

Trial and Error

I then spent my 20’s experimenting with various weight loss plans, losing a bit of weight, but always regaining it and generally putting on more weight than I had lost. I had reached out for medical support and was offered diet counseling, without obtaining effective results. Just before I turned 30, the opportunity to take part in a weight loss television show arose. The program was looking for people who wanted to lose at least 60 kg, so I applied and I was chosen to take part. This provided me with a personal trainer for 2 hours a day, 5 days a week, and a new diet.

I was filmed for around 9 months and I lost 55 kg. From doing very little exercise, I went on to completing an Olympic distance triathlon at the end of the show. I felt fitter and I had developed a routine for exercise, but I still didn’t like the way I looked. Despite the fact that many of the restrictions I had faced as a bigger-bodied person had gone away, such as not being out of breath walking up and down stairs, the stigma I experienced for years around my condition, together with the feeling of blame and not being “good enough,” were still vivid and pushed me to aim for losing more weight.

Misplaced Blame

Over the next couple of years, I continued to exercise regularly and follow diet plans, however, I started regaining weight. This made me feel like a failure and affected my mental health. With my scientific background, I questioned the simplistic idea that I was just eating too much and not exercising enough, so I started looking into research on obesity and the science behind it.

I discovered studies reporting over a hundred different factors contribute to why someone might live with obesity. They range from societal, environmental, physical, biological, and psychological factors. This was an important realization for me; I had spent over 30 years of my life thinking that I was the reason that I lived with obesity, and that my lack of willpower was to blame. I understood that the blame I felt was due to the “eat less, move more” narrative that society promotes as the solution for obesity, and the messages from health-care providers telling me I had to do something different.

Gaining Perspective

I suddenly realized that it wasn’t my fault, and so many factors were out of my control. This realization and understanding of obesity has given me a passion to ensure that more people living with obesity are aware of this understanding and stop blaming themselves for their condition.

Since 2013, I have been volunteering with an obesity charity, initially as an ambassador, sharing my story, before becoming a trustee on the board in 2016. In 2022, I founded and launched a new obesity organisation in the UK. I connected with medical doctors in the field who support the notion that obesity is a chronic disease. So I am working on obesity stigma and how this affects patients’ wellbeing. Currently I sit on the strategic council for the All Party Parliamentary Group on Obesity, and I get called upon as a spokesperson in the media for obesity-related topics. I presented at the most recent Diabetes UK Professional Conference in March 2022, and I spoke at the World Health Assembly event at WHO in Geneva in May 2022.

Our Voices Bring Change

My voice is being heard at high levels in the UK, and I am beginning to see small changes in policy. Patients’ perspectives are also being included in more working groups, such as the new obesity audit being led by NHS England. More people in the general population and in health care are acknowledging that obesity is a chronic relapsing condition. In this direction, the European Commission issued a brief in March 2021. This brief identified obesity as a chronic relapsing disease. We still have a long way to go, but I am confident that we will see a shift in attitudes and understanding.

I truly believe that we will look back in 15–20 years’ time and be horrified at how we behaved toward people living with obesity.

Sarah Le Brocq, photograph © Sarah Lebrocq

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September 13, 2022

2 Responses to “The Reality of Living with Obesity”

  1. September 13, 2022 at 12:23 pm, Allen Browne said:

    Wonderful piece with many pearls. Thanks to Ted and Ms Le Brocq!

  2. September 14, 2022 at 10:04 am, Maureen Mosti said:

    Great message!

    When we as patients understand that is NOT OUR FAULT, we are ready to ask for help and receive treatment for a chronic disease that has affected our physical and mental health for many years.

    It is not about will power, it is not eat less and move more, it is not about motivation, it is not lack of self-love. It is a chronic disease, and we are entitled to get the best treatment available.

    Thank you for sharing!