Advice from the Trenches: Fat not fun

Dear C and Dr. B:

My friend Adam is a really wonderful guy. He is always cooking for other people and he makes incredible food. He even won a cooking competition on a local TV channel. The problem is that he is about 100 lbs overweight and refuses to do anything about it but eat even more.

I have a hard time with this. I know what the extra weight is doing to his health – he has already had two heart episodes, and he has diabetes. His doctor told him he had to lose weight and Adam fired the doctor and found one who wouldn’t lecture him.


He actually gets angry if anyone tries to talk to him about it, or expresses concern. Everyone who loves him, and there are many, either has to accept his slow form of suicide, or just stay away.

I have been staying away, because for me, watching someone eat themselves to death is like watching someone drink or smoke themselves to death. It upsets me so much I can’t watch.

But I really care about him and don’t want him to die! Isn’t there anything I can do?

-Not Eve

Dr. B says:

Probably not. You can be honest and express what you said here, but ultimately it is his life to do what he wants with it, and it’s up to him to choose how he wants to do it. Food is his life and his possible death. But if it is his love, who are you to try to limit it?  

Many people who are hyper-focused die of their passion. If it was race car driving instead of eating would you still feel the same way?  He has free will and is an adult, he has been informed and he is choosing this as his life and death. 

What in any of this is about you? 

C says:

I get it, Eve. It is awful to watch people we care about hurt themselves.

I had a mother who chain smoked 3 packs a day. From the 3rd grade on, after the school nurse showed us films about what smoking does to your lungs, my mother’s smoking upset me so much that it ruined my life at home. Because I was just a kid, all I could do was watch – and try to avoid the second hand smoke that constantly filled the house. In winter it was especially hard because I couldn’t leave the windows open for long. 

Mom finally quit after having a stroke at age 54. But the slow suicide didn’t stop there. She’d always been overweight, but after she quit smoking, she started eating herself to death. A heart attack finally took her out before she hit 60. She bore a disturbing resemblance to Jabba The Hut by the time she died.

Yes, people who are hyper-focused can die from their passion, but in my opinion, that excuse is only valid if they are pursuing excellence. Those who are focused on substance abuse do not deserve any honors for their actions, and I place your friend Adam firmly in that category. Many of the best cooks in the world keep themselves in excellent shape. Obesity is not a prerequisite for culinary skill. It’s one of the worst health risks there are – many studies show it is more dangerous than smoking.

I guess that, according to modern therapy, accepting other people as they are and just focusing on our own needs is the well-adjusted thing to do – but I find that attitude to be profoundly depressing. I believe that we are all flawed beings on planet Earth and we all have the possibility to evolve – and none of us can do it without help. No one can do the work for another, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care. Concern for others’ well-being is not making it “all about you.” Not all of us can simply watch those we love carry out self destructive behavior, while we take care of our own needs.

But if Adam has made his whole life about food, then there is nothing you can do to help him. It has to be his choice. All you can do is stop watching.

I still think it’s beautiful that you care; I hope that someday your friend will care about himself as much as you do.

– Cathren Housley 

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