Special report: Fat shaming and fighting it in RVA

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RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Ryn Bruce is dancing her heart out.  She is practicing choreography for an exercise video for the new JustStart program, but there were many times over the years when she was ready to throw in the towel.

“Eventually you get tired,” she says.  “You get sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

Bruce has struggled with her weight for years but not for a lack of trying.  She tried one diet and exercise plan after another but faced cruel consequences.

“I’ve tried a lot of gyms in a lot of different cities,” Bruce remembers.  “I’ve been in gyms where I’ve been filmed before.  I’ve been made to feel less of a person by staff at gyms in Richmond before.  I’ve been snickered at by staff at gyms here, so yeah, it’s very difficult.”

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Shannon Adee has had similar experiences.

“One time I had a person oink at me as they walked past,” Adee says.  “I’ve been videotaped.  Pictures, for sure.”

Adee, who thrived in dance classes as a child, has tried everything as an adult to slim down.  One of her biggest obstacles is proven in studies like this: so-called ‘fat shaming’ does not encourage weight loss.  Instead, it often feeds the obesity epidemic.

Over the summer, model Dani Mathers snapped a photo of an overweight, nude woman in the locker room of a Los Angeles gym and posted it on social media.  She is now facing criminal charges in connection to that incident, which put fat shaming in the national spotlight.

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“Weight bias, weight stigma exist pervasively in our society today,” explains Dr. Jeffrey Sicat.  “It’s just one thing that someone has to say that can totally take someone off their path.”

Dr. Sicat, who is an Endocrinologist with Virginia Weight and Wellness, often hears accounts of discrimination from his patients, and he says weight is more complicated than what meets the eye.  Hormones, medications, depression and amount of sleep can pack on the pounds.

“There’s no single answer because everyone is such an individual because these things affect people in different manners,” says Dr. Sicat.

The Centers for Disease Control says a whopping 70% of adults in America are overweight. Thirty-seven percent of adults in America are obese.

A Gallup poll ranked Richmond the second most obese city in the United States in recent years.  Despite how prevalent weight issues are, research still finds these individuals are often “perceived as lazy, unsuccessful and weak-willed.”

“Kinda marginalizing the population as they are x, they are y, they’re this way, they’re that way, and that’s something I would love to be able to change,” says Seo Kelleher, the founder of JustStart.

She launched the online program to give women and men with more than one hundred pounds to lose resources and support.  As a personal trainer, Kelleher has worked with very heavy clients and personally witnessed someone insult a woman who was overweight.

“You don’t know what you don’t know, so once you start opening your eyes and looking at it, there’s definitely a prejudice, discrimination,” Kelleher says.

Adds Adee, “I think there’s a misconception we’re just fat slobs, and we’re not.”

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Adee is determined to put on her blinders and not sweat the shaming.  She is now grateful to be part of a support system of people who understand it is about shutting out the noise and focusing on the end goal.

“You really do just have to change your thinking,” Bruce says.  “A year later, I’m 125 pounds smaller, so it can work.”

Kelleher explains JustStart does not just focus on losing the weight but taking the first step to find answers about what issues may be causing it.

JustStart comes from what can you start today that feels true to you that can change your life.”

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