“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” This is a rephrasing of a quote from author Ian Maclaren. Read it again. And again. How many of us can say we truly approach life with such generosity? I know I can’t. At least not in most aspects of my life. It seems borderline science fiction to imagine a world where kindness and empathy always come before criticism.
Kate Sample recently left her job as an OB-GYN to start her own independent obesity medicine clinic: Kind Circle Weight Loss, opening this spring. The stigma surrounding obesity is so prevalent in this country that the platforms to demonize those suffering from it include the ones we turn to for morning entertainment and news. As the extension of a long line of counter campaigns, Kate’s professional mission is to help the public at large better understand the disease.
“There’s so much discrimination against people who are obese,” says Kate. “Obesity is so poorly understood that a lot of times in medicine, we stick to the incorrect understanding of it from decades ago, which is really a sort of blaming and shaming approach where we assume negative things about people who are obese which are not really founded at all by the data. Kind of the old adage in medicine was calories in, calories out. You need to eat better and exercise more to lose weight. And really, there are so many determinates of obesity that go beyond that, that it’s really just been unfair and inadequate to leave people with just that piece of advice.”
To scratch the surface, life has become more sedentary for a lot of people. Then there are those with genetic predispositions to obesity. One societal element that’s become more and more prevalent is the availably and affordability of healthy foods. My neighbors get assistance with food, and I’ve seen what’s in those boxes; if it’s not canned or frozen, it’s usually in pretty bad shape. Then there are foods designed on a chemical level to make you crave another bite without actually filling you up. The environmental, psychological, and physiological aspects of the disease are so easily ignored because, unlike alcoholism and other similar diseases, there is no disguising obesity.
Kate points out that “there’s research now about physicians discriminating against patients who are obese. Of course, the same things that are a part of our systemic biases filter into our medical system.” Because Kate sees it as her job to put understanding ahead of judgement, she sees there’s a larger degree of victim blaming going on than a lot of us acknowledge. “Patients have often tried to do everything right; the treatment has failed—not the individual.”
Kind Circle Weight Loss focuses on the behavioral therapy side of obesity treatment. It’s something that even with medications or surgery still needs to be addressed. In fact, Kate says, “Surgery may require the most behavioral change, not the least.” It’s not a quick fix.
Essentially, a lot of misinformation packaged in very consumable ways ends up creating gaps in healthcare. Kate’s career has focused on addressing those gaps. For instance, she’s the vice president of Share the Health, a gynecology clinic offering free care. “It really addresses this gap in healthcare for women who don’t have insurance in [the Madison area]. If you are able to get a screening test at a community center, like Planned Parenthood or Access, and that screening test requires a follow-up, there is sometimes nowhere affordable to get that follow-up.”
There really isn’t an issue in society that doesn’t affect everyone, but sometimes it takes a keen eye or pointed conversation to uncover a need that’s been swept under the rug. Kate believes “[well-being] is something we have to choose to keep moving toward both individually and as a community. What I try to do, how I try to find purpose, is to match what I know and what I have to offer to what need there is in my community.”
What’s really incredible is the domino effect created when improving the lives of one group of people in need. In some cases, another professional might be inspired to offer their services in a way that immediately benefits those around them. In others, those who’ve been helped find themselves more able to contribute to issues that are important to them or engage in the local job market and economy thanks to being able to live their best lives.
Kate has shared in the benefits of a neighborhood that recognizes the importance of fostering connection. Her extended family is very geographically separated, but her neighbors readily take on the role. “My neighborhood has taught me a ton about what it means to be a family,” says Kate. “We are interconnected in the same way I strive to be professionally. My kids get to be little brothers to bigger kids, and older siblings to younger kids. They think of their former babysitter on our block as a big sister. We help our elderly neighbors in ways we can, and they act as almost-grandparents to our kids.
“Being an OB/Gyn is such a privilege. You are gifted with these opportunities to realize how many joys and sorrows we all share and how truly worthy of compassion everyone you meet is, how deserving of kindness. My involvement in both Share the Health and Kind Circle Weight Loss is born out of that recognition. Every kindness matters. Helping people matters. Addressing discrimination matters.”
The world is already hard enough for each and every one of us. I think Kate’s perspective accepts that fact and then challenges us to work beyond it. Our actions aren’t performed in a vacuum, and if we spend our lives helping others fight their battles, perhaps we’ll find allies fighting our own.
Kyle Jacobson is a writer and senior copy editor for Madison Essentials.