How To Talk About Weight Loss
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1/3 of adults (approx. 35%) in the United States are obese. That's about 78.6 million people.
Using the CDC BMI calculator, I apparently fall into the obese category. I typed in my weight and my height and it politely explained that I am obese and at higher risk for chronic conditions as well as informing me that my normal weight should be between 101 and 136 pounds. I wasn't surprised. I've been told countless times that I was too big, that I should lose weight.
Despite my doctor saying I'm in good condition and could benefit from losing a few pounds, there are some who insist that until I am model-thin, I cannot possibly be healthy. Some have subtly hinted at dieting or gym memberships while others bluntly blurted out "are you really going to eat that?" as I dug into a meal. It has never been a comfortable conversation.
Weight and health can be extremely personal and sensitive topics. Even with the best of intentions, commenting on someone's weight may not be received kindly. For some, it is hurtful, another remind that they are too big and therefore unacceptable. For some, it may seem that you are using your 'concern' to shame them for their size. For some, remarking on their weight and health is offensive as one can never truly gauge a person's health by their physical appearance alone.
So how do we talk to the ones we love about weight, weight loss, and health?
If they weren't fat, would you still be worried?
We tend to get caught up in society's standards of what is beautiful and what healthy supposedly looks like. Thin is good, fat is bad. A slim figure is equated with being healthy and a plump, larger figure is equated with 'letting one's self go' and scarfing down trash. When gearing up to confront a loved one about their weight, leave your assumptions at the door and think about whether or not you would be this concerned if they were thin?
If your concerns are based on certain problematic behavior, habits, or family medical history, then proceed. But if all your concerns would disappear if they were thin, these are your appearance-based assumptions and it is possible that you want them to lose weight because it makes you uncomfortable. It is probably best if you did not bring it up.
The worst thing you can do is approach your loved one about this sensitive topic with judgment and shaming. It is extremely damaging to self-esteem and will most likely prompt them to alienate you. I've been told on numerous occasions that it would be easier for me to find a boyfriend if I lost weight, that I would be able to move around faster if I carried less weight. As you can imagine, my reaction was far from a grateful. As well-meaning as they are, shaming statements like that are counter-productive and hurtful.
Open up the subject gently with genuine concern and support. Do not make your loved one feel like they are being reprimanded. They did nothing wrong.
Focus on health
Make the conversation less about weight and more about health. It's quite easy to blame every little problem on weight. I remember complaining about my aching feet after a day of walking and being told "Eh, you need to lose weight". Back ache? You need lose some weight. Injured knee hurting? Must be all that fat weighing down on it. I was so tired of hearing about my weight but not about my health.
Sure, I could lose 50 pounds by eating only Doritos for the next 6 months. I would be in my 'normal' weight bracket but that doesn't mean I'm healthy. Keep the focus of the conversation on health: eating healthy, getting exercise, drinking enough water, feeling good about themselves, etc. Remember that mental health is just as important as physical health. Stress, depression, and using food as a coping mechanism can also be the reason for weight gain and shouldn't be taken lightly.
Cheerleader > Coach
Whenever there's a basketball game on, everyone suddenly transforms into sports experts, commentators, referees, and coaches. It's not very different for diets, working out, or losing weight. People morph into dieticians, babbling on and on about vitamins, minerals, the body's acidic balance, etc. That one gym rat friend you have takes it upon themselves to be the personal trainer while another becomes your 'guardian angel', hovering over your meal, calling you out for eating "bad" food, and pointing out calories, carbs, and all the terribleness of dessert. Nobody likes the food police.
Instead of pointing out failures and drawing attention to unmet goals, celebrate small victories. If your loved one is taking even the tiniest steps to improve their health, recognize their efforts.
Mind your business
It won't be easy to approach the topic and it definitely won't be easy accepting that despite all your concern and love, they may choose to disregard your advice but the end of the day, their health and their weight are none of your business. If they make it clear that they do not wish to discuss it, do not force the subject. No matter how concerned you are, they alone make the decisions for their body and well-being.
How to talk to friends and loved ones about health and weight by Golda Poretsky
How to talk to a loved one about weight by Jennifer Kromberg