Is James Gandolfini’s Weight Bigger than His Career

Was I the only one shaking my head as the media shamed James Gandolfini for his weight and eating habits? Not 24 hours after his death, in between reports of celebrities talking about what a great friend, parent, and actor he was, the non-stop coverage of his weight started and it didn’t slow down. Just hours after he was confirmed dead, a legendary journalist was talking about him not being “one to push back from the table.” This coming from someone who had his first heart attack at 53, just two years beyond the massive heart attack that took Gandolfini, 51, to the grave. So what gives? Why has the media gone “mean girl” on a Hollywood star? Apparently his weight was bigger than his career.

The “Burly” Actor

The man who played Tony Soprano in HBO’s hit mob show wasn’t your typical actor in the size department, but by all other accounts he was a typical Hollywood star. One who had his share of ups and downs in his personal and professional career as well as some addiction issues with drugs and alcohol. But he seemed to be past that point in his life at the time of his death. So why in the midst of talking about possible past drug habits did the writers of a major newspaper article go so far as to blame his last meal for his death? And, what does his on-set behavior have to do with his being “burly” as the writers so eloquently added to describe the actor in a paragraph about his behavior on the job. Seriously, if he were skinny, would the media be saying all of this? If he were skinny, would we tolerate it? Chances are slim to none. We usually go for the conspiracy theories when a celebrity dies, or the waiting on the toxicology reports for Hollywood stars’ sudden death, but I guess because Mr. Gandolfini didn’t have a six-pack, apparently his meal killed him?

Heart Disease Doesn’t Discriminate

While they hire doctors to talk about the risk of obesity and its effects, no one wants to state the obvious, so I will. Heart disease is still the number one killer of men and women in this country. It is true that obesity is a problem, but it’s the risk of certain chronic diseases that make obesity a life-threatening problem. You can’t die primarily from being overweight, but heart disease will kill you. It is true that if you have heart disease, a heavy meal can cause increased narrowing in the arteries, but again, that’s if you have heart disease and, being overweight or eating one heavy meal isn’t a requirement for a massive heart attack. Exercising won’t save you from heart disease either. While it does improve your cardiovascular health and lowers your risk for heart disease, exercise alone isn’t a cure-all. Former President Bill Clinton has a history of heart problems despite reports of him running 3 miles every day.

Shaming Doesn’t Solve the Problem

All the references to his weight, how he ate, and whether it all contributed to his massive heart attack were off-putting for a number of reasons, but the most important is this: shame doesn’t change people’s behavior. If you think for one second that talking about this brilliant actor’s last meal is going to stop somebody from drinking pina coladas or ordering fried prawns, you’re mistaken. The weight discrimination has to stop. We can’t expect to change how people eat by shaming them for their food choices. Research shows that fixating on weight may promote disordered eating, while focusing on healthy eating habits supports healthier choices. Isn’t it time then for us to stop the weight stigma and focus on how to get to positive behavior? If we don’t, we may stay behind the obesity epidemic.

I Used to Be the “Fat Kid”

The reason why all of this means something to me, is because I used to be the “fat kid.” Working with contestants on the The Biggest Loser was a defining moment for me because I knew what the contestants were going through. I’d felt the pain of being marginalized and ostracized for my weight. I knew that the change to choose health and fitness came from within. So, because he can’t speak up for himself, I felt it better not to sit and watch a man’s life contributions be overshadowed by his size. With an infant daughter, and a teenage son left behind, what will all this coverage about his weight leave them to think of their Dad? I hope they or anyone else doesn’t internalize these fear-of-food tactics that don’t cause lasting change. That’s why addressing the total person is my mission. To find that place within that is fulfilling, that is driven, that is motivated to be the best you can be. It seems that James Gandolfini had that drive. In his personal, social, and professional life he showed dedication to greatness, to doing what’s right, to helping the less fortunate, and to being a good friend. All of these things are an important part of being healthy.

Bottom Line

The Emmy-winning actor isn’t dead because he ate a big meal, he’s dead because of undiagnosed heart disease that unfortunately wasn’t detected earlier. Aren’t we more responsible as a country than to watch someone be picked apart for one of the necessary and enjoyable parts of life: sitting down for a meal with family. As he is laid to rest today, I hope we’ll reconsider how we deal with weight in this country. When we as Americans can be civil in our dealings with overweight and obese people, like we should be at a family meal, we will be able to be inclusive and inviting. By addressing the needs, expectations, and emotions involved in being obese and overweight with the love and acceptance that a family member would give, we may actually help people choose healthier behaviors. As his family, friends, and fans prepare for his memorial, think about what you can do to put your hang ups about weight to rest.

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