Knowing how to talk to someone you love about their weight without shaming or being hurtful is a delicate task. Today's Wellness Wednesday post shares advice for helping others with support and love.
Currently, I'm pretty satisfied with my body. Sure, if I could wave a magic wand, it'd be nice to have Michelle Obama arms and perfectly flat abs, but its nothing I'm losing any sleep over.
It wasn't always that way. According to my genetics, I could eat a pretty crappy diet and stay fairly thin unless I decided to have kids. Still, my weight has fluctuated in a 15-20 lb range since high school, and no, when I was at the lower end of that range, I didn't my most body confidence. Quite the opposite actually.
I think I look healthy. More importantly, I am healthy. I eat enough to fuel my body. Not counting the occasional kitchen disaster or disappointing restaurant meal, I thoroughly enjoy everything I eat. At times I rely on willpower not to eat too many cookies or go out for pizza when I don't feel like cooking, but I rarely feel restricted because sometimes I do eat too many cookies and go out for pizza and truly savor and enjoy it. I move most days, either running, Pure Barre or yoga, mostly because I love the way it makes by body feel and a little bit because I love the way it makes my body look. It's taken a long time, but I'm pretty content with my body.
Because of that, a recent comment about my body really shook me up. I was at an event and made a comment about being cold, because I'm that whiney person who always complains about the temperature. An acquaintance responded, "Well of course you're cold! We've got to put some meat on your bones! Get you eating more than just avocados."
In their defense, this is a completely nice person and I know they weren't purposefully trying to be hurtful. Still, I couldn't stop thinking about the comment. I try to promote balance in my business, but is my body portraying the opposite? Do I appear sickly and unhealthy?
The next day while checking facebook, I noticed this Nicole Arbour girl I'd never heard of before was trending for making a fat shaming video 'encouraging' people to lose weight. I didn't watch it, but I read enough to know it's absolutely awful. My first thoughts on Nicole Arbour were a string of four letter words. I won't repeat it here on this blog, but it loosely translates to this: Nicole Arbour is a mean-hearted, nasty bully, a disgusting excuse for a human being and frankly I feel sorry for her.
Obviously what was said to me and what was said in Nicole Arbour's video came from two totally different hearts. But as both weighed heavily on my mind, I started to realize both stemmed from two problems. First, that many people make assumptions of others eating habits based on their body size. We'll save that for another post. Second, which I want to talk about today, is that most people have no idea how to talk about body size without shaming, stereotyping or being hurtful.
Let's get this out of the way.: 99.9% of the time, you should not talk about someones body size or weight. Period. This is especially true if you do not have a close personal relationship with that person. I don't care if it's complimenting someone on their long legs or telling them they look great after losing weight. If you don't know what's going on in their life, you have no idea what you might trigger. I once had a client who regained the weight she had spent the last three months losing after a colleague told her, "Wow, you look great! We need to get you out of those baggy clothes and into a sexy black dress and set you up on a date!" As someone who had been sexually assaulted, the idea of men finding her attractive was terrifying, and thus she gained the weight back out of fear. Her colleagues comments came from a completely kind and loving place, yet had unexpected consequences.
Now, let's say there is someone in your life, you know them intimately and you are concerned about their weight. If this person is over/underweight despite a healthy balanced lifestyle, don't say anything, and more importantly, don't be concerned. But if it's someone who has been overweight for a long time and you can see how it's affecting their health or they've lost/gained a lot of weight in a short period of time. In that case, I think it's okay to talk to them about their weight. Only catch, the conversation can't be about their weight.
Huh? So how are you supposed to talk to someone about their weight if you can't talk about their weight?
Unhealthy weight gain or loss doesn't stem from simply poor diet or lack of physical activity. That may be the cause, but there's always something else at the root of it. If you know someone intimately enough to be talking about their weight, then you know that is. Whether it's depression after losing a loved one, a friend feeling overwhelmed as a new parent, a sibling partying too hard at college or a child struggling with anxiety and low body image, make the conversation about that, not their weight. Knowing someone is there to support them during a difficult time is exponentially more likely to motivate change than attempting to shame or guilt someone into change.
That's not to say the topic of weight is off limits. But if it does come up, discuss it sensitively. Most likely, they know their weight has changed and will bring it up before you do. I've seen many people, usually spouses, attempt to guilt someone into weight loss by bringing up their concern for their health. Sometimes this works, but usually it leaves the other feeling guilty and worthless. If bringing up concerns for their health, correlate the concerns to their lifestyle, not pounds.
Be kind. Listen more than you talk. Offer support and advice, but don't feel like you have to have all of the answers. Show that you care. And whatever you do, don't repeat anything that's come out of Nicole Arbour's mouth.