First, let me start with a disclaimer. This is not a post about how to respond to someone with a legitimate eating disorder. If you are looking for that information, speak to a mental health professional.
Recently I realized I was gaining weight and I voiced my concern to a friend. I think I said something like, “I’m starting to get fat,” but in a not-so-safe-for-my-blog kind of way. She responded with,
You’re not fat.
“That’s not what I said at all” I thought, but instead I changed the subject. It got me thinking about my reasoning for losing weight and people’s general reactions to it. Even if I hadn’t used the word fat, I get this same response. Every time without fail I hear:
You don’t need to lose weight.
You’re crazy. You look great.
Shut up. No you don’t.
Usually these statements lead into some sort of justification that shames the thought of losing weight when you aren’t “fat.” People don’t realize it, but these responses are harmful. It’s negative and promotes self-doubt, even when your intention is the opposite. Here’s why.
Why I want to lose weight… and it isn’t what you think.
I’ve voiced my concerns about becoming overweight, yes overweight, not fat, on many occasions. Every time the thing that tells me I am legitimately overweight is my back pain. If I’m consistently in more pain than normal, my first thoughts are:
- Am I extremely stressed?
- Did I gain weight?
If the answer to one is yes, the answer to two is also likely yes. I stress eat. Because of the nerve damage to my lower spine, my body is extremely sensitive to extra weight, even if it’s just five or ten pounds. So when I start to try to eat better to lose weight, it’s for my health. Health might not be the reason for every person, but gaining weight doesn’t feel good on anyone even without a back issue.
What happens when you react negatively to my desire to lose weight?
When someone starts to voice their desire to make any sort of positive change and it’s met with negative responses, the likelihood they follow-through drops. Meaning, when I say I need to lose weight and you tell me I don’t with a bit of shame mixed in, it makes me feel bad. Now that I feel bad, it’s harder to eat right and remain consistent around my friends. In turn, that makes it harder to continue eating right when I’m alone. What’s the point if I’m not doing it consistently?
Instead of encouraging a positive body image, you’re shaming my ability to know my own body. “I need to lose weight” met with a slew of reasons not to feel the need makes you feel bad about yourself in an entirely different way. Think about it. It’s the same thing as telling someone you need to stop drinking and they tell you that you don’t. Whatever your reason is for quitting, a negative reaction is discouraging and harmful.
How can you respond instead?
Everyone is different, so this isn’t a one-size-fits-all situation. However, in most cases simple support is the answer. But if you really don’t think someone needs to lose weight, ask them why they think that before you tell them they don’t. Their answer might be similar to mine. I think one of the best responses is:
Why do you think that?
If you’re trying to be supportive and don’t want to question someone’s motives, here’s another way to answer:
How can I help you stay on track?
Anything is better than a negative answer. Because if someone is saying they need to lose weight to fish for a compliment, they’ll stop doing it. If they’re not saying it looking for a compliment, you’ll encourage their drive to live healthier.
Weight loss isn’t a stigma, it’s healthy decision.
Because of the commercialism of weight loss and the trend of positive body image issues, dieting to lose weight is more often looked down on than not. Those without the desire to lose weight, or the need to, often make it feel like a vanity issue. It’s really not at all. Weight is health. Your health can be detrimentally affected by your weight.
Take my case for example, if I don’t lose 10-15 pounds, I will remain in pain and less mobile. If I lose 20-25 pounds right now I just might feel a lot better and be able to do even more. Yet, when voiced, these goals are looked at as absurd or unnecessary. Let’s change that.