When I was fat, all sorts of people in my life thought it was their job or their responsibility to point out that I was overweight and to suggest that I really should do something about it. The comments ranged from observations about my eating or my size to detailed information about the best diet or exercise routine I should follow. I bore the endless disapproving or pitying looks that came my way as I sat in a coffee shop daring to eat a piece of cake, or when I turned up at the beach draped in a caftan to hide my body, as best I could.
Apparently all the comments, questions and looks were well meant, they were for my own good, they only wanted to help.
I’m only saying this because I care about you….
I’m just worried about your health….
You are so pretty, it’s such a shame…
You really do need to take care of yourself though…
Have you thought of trying Weight Watchers?
Why don’t you take up spinning, it’s great you know….
Should you really be eating that?….
What were they thinking? Did they think for a moment that I didn’t know that I was fat and that I didn’t care? Did they imagine I wasn’t desperately trying to change? Did they stop to think for a second whether their comments would be helpful to me in any way at all? Their thoughtless, patronising platitudes, uninvited advice and thinly veiled judgements pierced me like an arrow.
If only they had been interested enough to ask, they would have found out that I spent the best part of every day thinking about my weight. I obsessed about everything I ate. I tried every diet, I starved myself and pushed myself through the most gruelling exercise regimes. I was an expert at losing weight and equally good at putting it all back on. I hated myself and my body. I told myself that I was pathetic, weak, greedy and disgusting. Their comments simply served to twist the knife, to confirm my worst beliefs about myself and I felt hopeless and lost.
And what did they expect me to respond? No, Really, what did they think their comment or suggestion would elicit in me? Gratitude? Curiosity? Motivation?
All their comments reinforced the feeling of shame that I felt about my body and my weight. And guess what, the more ashamed I felt, the more I ate. I was trapped in a never ending cycle of dieting, depriving myself and then inevitably overeating and piling the pounds back on. All they were doing was adding fuel to the fire that already raged within me and was slowly destroying any shred of self worth I had. They are right, I would tell myself, I am as pathetic and disgusting as they think I am.
And did any of that help? Not one bit. It just ensured that I spiralled deeper and deeper into desperation and hopelessness. It kept me focusing on wanting to lose weight rather than dealing with my relationship with food and my body. It kept me obsessing about the number on the scales instead of the quality of the food I ate. I would have done anything to gain their approval. And that’s what I thought I needed in order to feel good about myself. I kept telling myself that if I only I could lose weight they would respect me, be kind to me and leave me alone!
Here’s the best thing to say to someone you know, who you think is overweight – NOTHING.
If they want to talk about it, they will come to you. If they want advice, they can ask for it. If they need suggestions about diet or exercise (and believe me they could most likely write a book about it!) they have plenty of places to go to find what they need.
So, if you are truly concerned about them and you really do care, hold your comments and your well meant suggestions. Stop making assumptions about what their weight says about them. It is not your job to rescue them or to offer them pity or advice. If you really care, then look beyond their weight and eating habits and treat them with the kindness and respect they deserve.