Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Should Obesity Really Be Classified As A Disease?

The American Medical Association Thinks So. Me? I'm Not So Sure...

Gregg McBride
Source: Gregg McBride

Believe it or not, it's now been a couple of years since the American Medical Association (our nation’s largest physicians’ organization) decided to recognize obesity as a disease—one that requires a range of medical treatments as well as prevention. For years before, obesity experts had worked to accomplish this (noting that obesity deserves the kind of medical attention and insurance coverage that other diseases are afforded). “Previously the AMA and others have referred to obesity as a major public health problem,” wrote reporter Nanci Hellmich in her article for USA Today at the time the new classification was made.

For someone who continually tried to seek medical attention (through insurance) while trying to lose excess weight (and was often denied it), this news continues to be a double-edged sword. One would hope that now that the medical community recognizes obesity as a medical ailment, insurance companies are stepping up to the plate and covering programs that can help people lose the excess weight.

But I also worry that, as sometimes can be the case in the medical and insurance communities, these “treatments” are potentially consisting of for-profit prescription drugs and invasive surgeries—when I believe that the real cure for obesity is in our heads.

I spent many years giving my eating addiction more power than it deserved. I believed my need to eat (and, as a result, becoming morbidly obese at an early age) was beyond my control. In other words, I thought of myself as powerless. But at the end of the day, in my most humble opinion, our declaring ourselves as powerless over our food addictions is not necessarily the sanest path to overcoming these challenges.

As human beings, we cannot cut out and avoid food (no matter what some juicing or fasting enthusiasts might tell us). Instead, we have to think of food (and drink) in a new, healthier and more moderate way. I’ve always believed that the hardcore dieting mentality (“I can have this, but can’t have that”) is what really gets us into trouble. None of us got fat by eating one cookie. Or even two. But eating the whole bag of cookies (on top of a quart of ice cream while washing it all down with a diet soda)? Yeah, that might be one of the causes (but I digress).

Fact is, I did not get fat (right around first grade) because I had a disease. It’s because I was making poor eating choices. Environmental reasons (abusive parents, learning unhealthy eating habits, etc.) aside, it wasn’t until I took control and decided I was more powerful than food, more powerful than drink and more powerful than my addiction, that I made some positive, permanent changes—and dropped over 250 pounds by eating less and exercising more (along with drinking lots of water and getting necessary amounts of sleep). It’s a simple formula—one that doesn’t include being powerless or blaming our obesity on having a disease that we have no control over.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m not knocking medical supervision. In fact, when changing one’s eating and exercise habits, you absolutely should do it under a doctor’s supervision in order to protect your heart (and other internal organs) as well as your joints and bones. The more informed you are (and the safer your weight loss journey), the better your chances for permanent success. After all, the end goal is better health and a happier life. Being a supermodel (which, by the way, you are) is just an added bonus!

But the thought of doctors now potentially being more willing (able?) to prescribe pills, surgeries and other “tricks” to take off the excess weight makes me want to run for the nearest bag of cookies. Instead, I’ll remind myself that I’m stronger and more powerful than any addiction. Perhaps this is why I’ve kept off those excess 250-plus pounds for well over a decade.

So no matter how our community (and individual) obesity problem is classified these days, let’s not forget that that the real cure comes from inside ourselves. And that’s actually the best news to come out of all of this. Whether you know it or not, you not only already have what it takes to drop all of your excess weight. You’ve had the power all along.

More from Gregg McBride
More from Psychology Today