When Obesity Is a Side Effect of Chronic Illness


In 2014, I was diagnosed with severe, adult onset of asthma. Initially, I was very ill and couldn’t walk for 10 minutes at a time. I spent most of my time sitting and just trying to get through each day.

I am now on the maximum treatment for my asthma. I frequently have to take prednisone. It is a wonderful drug, in that it does help with the broncho spasms and gets me back to having properly working lungs. But it also has side effects. Over the time I have been an asthmatic, the prednisone dosage I have needed has risen. I have had many, many visits to the hospital and several hospital admissions.

My life has totally changed and I know anyone who has acquired a chronic illness totally gets this! One of the worst side effects for me though is that I am now obese. And, I don’t like being obese.

Obesity! This is such a loaded word. Society places so much value on looking young, slim and fabulous; being obese is not desirable at all. Media constantly bombards us here in Australia on the “obesity epidemic” and how this leads to “dire illnesses.” We are constantly being told that obesity is a lifestyle issue and due to choices each person makes. Well, that just isn’t always the case and I feel troubled by this rhetoric. It just makes it harder to deal with when it is a side effect of medication.

I feel that the finger is being pointed at me and many others who have this side effect to deal with, and all of the following are assumed: gluttony, lack of control, lack of willpower, unhealthy eating, unhealthy lifestyle, overindulgence, lack of exercise, poor body image.

It seems that our culture sees someone who is fat and immediately jumps into the blame mode.

Recently, I was in intensive care and I overheard a doctor describing me as a “68-year-old, obese woman with severe respiratory distress.” What stood out was the use of the word “obese.” I wished I hadn’t heard him. I am so much more than a “68-year-old obese woman.”

But, he was correct. I am obese. I have been obese for three years. I wasn’t obese before I became ill.

Asthma medication has caused two major side effects for me:

1. Weight gain/obesity

I have managed to lose a bit of the weight I have gained, but there is a long, long way to go.

2. Type 2 diabetes

I wouldn’t wish diabetes on my worst enemy. It is a debilitating and deadly disease. Because mine is medication induced, I must use medication to control it. It cannot be controlled just with exercise and diet.

So labeling me as obese is, and was, correct. But I have to remember beyond that label.

I do not overeat.

I do not exercise as much as I would like because physically, I cannot.

I haven’t caused the obesity by my choices or my actions.

There are many chronic illnesses that cause obesity directly or indirectly. All the negativity associated with obesity just adds to the already difficult task of learning to live with chronic illness.

I have sort of come to terms with this aspect of being chronically ill. I don’t like being obese. I laugh and joke about having thin clothes, medium clothes and huge clothes in my wardrobe. Whenever I lose some of that weight, I treat myself to having my hair colored plum pink! I do this to try to help myself feel OK about my physical image. And maybe, if you see me on the street, you will remember my plum hair and not my obese body! But, it is hard.

So yes, I am obese because I am ill. I am not just “a 68-year-old obese lady” – I am a 68-year-old lady whose chronic illness has led to obesity and other complications. Obesity is just another part of my chronic illness, and so too is the type 2 diabetes.

How do others deal with the undesirable side effects of chronic illness?

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Thinkstock photo via LadyWriter55.

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