I have never really talked about this, but I think it is a really important topic that does not get addressed.
Let me start by sharing that I have been so, so, so fortunate in my life that those around me, and ESPECIALLY, my mother (thanks momma ❤️) never harped on me about my weight. I, against the usual freshmen 15, actually lost 20 pounds my freshmen year of college. From my first moment of weight loss, I yo-yoed. I entered college at 220 pounds, got down to 200 at the end of freshmen year and then joined and quit and rejoined Weight Watchers probably 2-3 times throughout my college career until I ballooned up to my highest of 264.2 pounds before moving home after graduation. My mom invited me (NOT force me) to join Weight Watchers with her and this has been the successful time (and looking back I’m wondering if that was more for me than for her) and we would talk about the health issues that ran in our family and how Weight would affect them. That’s how I got to where I am now, seven years later. But she never, ever talked down to me or “fat shamed” me, which I think is a big part of why I was successful when I was ready to be.
Weight can be such a delicate topic. For me, there are two sides of it. What I look like, and how my weight will affect my longevity of life. When discussing someone’s weight, it can be a matter of losing weight will make them “look better”, or it can mean that if they don’t get it together, their health and life can be at risk.
I have had two people, for lack of a better word, shame me for my weight struggles. These two people, who were well intended in their words at various points in my adult life, were not willing to listen to my struggles around food. As an athlete, I’ve become hyper aware of how what I eat affects my performance, and as someone who has done extensive research in nutrition for my own personal knowledge, I know what is healthy, what is less healthy, and that portion control and eating til satisfaction with moderate indulgences is the way to get to a number you like and stay there. I felt belittled on these two different instances. Once, by someone who I felt judged by for confessing a binge I once went on at a holiday meal, and one for the fact that I had gained weight back and that I wasn’t focusing enough on my root causes that could have kept me at my lowest weight. I write this and don’t mean to attack these two people, they were trying to help, but it wasn’t and isn’t the support I need.
For some people who may be in a similar mindset as me, losing weight isn’t just about eating less and moving more. It becomes a change in your identity. I feel this to be especially true for people who have been heavy their entire life, or for people who have 50+ pounds to lose. It becomes unlearning bad behaviors. It means addressing your coping mechanisms and figuring out how to live without the unhealthy ones and change them with more positive ones. Let me say it again. They may not just need a lesson on calories. They may need more than that.
When I was in college I spent a lot of time with food as a friend. People would go out, and if I was lonely, I would get food and hide in my room. I was ashamed of my size, but I was stuck in a never ending cycle. The more I hated myself, the more I ate and the more I ate, the more I obsessed with my disgusting belly size and, well… you get it. The cycle continued. So the thought of just eating less and moving more wasn’t necessarily applicable in this situation. I needed to address some deep, dark areas of my life in order to not only lose weight, but keep it off.
If there is someone in your life whose weight you are concerned about, whether it be a friend, family member, colleague, child, etc. I want to share some of the following insight as someone who has been on the other side.
Lead by example. If there is someone in your life who is working on their health, or is a major part of your meal structure and you want to encourage them to change their habits be part of the process. Don’t sit across from someone who is trying to succeed with eating chicken and Brussels sprouts while you are eating deep dish pizza while they need the support. My husband and I are finally at a point where I can eat a salad while he eats a burrito, but it took years to get there. Encourage your companion to try something new by doing it with them. Go on evening walks together, go to the grocery store together, ask how their food day went. Try a new recipe together. Be in it with them.
Please don’t berate them. Please talk to them with an open heart. Express your concerns if you can find an appropriate avenue to do so, but don’t force anyone to feel uncomfortable. The harder you push someone to see it your way, the harder they may shy away from you, which defeats the purpose of expressing your concerns.
Share past experience or knowledge with them. If you have a family history of health issues, or if you have struggled with weight, it is ok to share that and be open about it. It may help that loved one see why you want to talk to them about their weight. If your reasons are not ones of vanity and looks, and come from another place, vocalize that to them. Tell them you are concerned about the heart problems that runs in the family. Share with them the pain you had from carrying extra weight and how it hurt your back. By my mom reminding me of the PCOS that runs in my family and that my family has a history of diabetes, and how getting to a healthier weight could help stabilize my PCOS and eliminate me getting diabetes, it was a real positive reason to focus on my weight loss goals.
But after you bring it up, move on. If you express to someone something like, “I just wanted to talk with you about your health. I know you’ve been struggling with your weight and want to support you. We have some health concerns that run in our family, which is why I bring it up, and want to be there to help ease the struggle so you’re not faced with complications from weight.” Say what you have to say AND THEN MOVE ON. Like I previously said, do not continue to bring it up. The more you bring it up, the farther you may drive someone away.
Know that even if what you say resonates with your loved one right away, that it could take years for them to be ready to make a change. I always knew I needed to lose weight but it wasn’t as easy as changing calories in and calories out. Food is my drug. I regained some of my weight this past winter because I would binge eat spoonfuls of peanut butter at my desk to cope with my emotions while I debated leaving my job. I know that that’s not necessary but food has always been there for me and it was there when I needed it. Imagine that times 1000 for people just starting out. For people who are working to get in the right mindset to lose weight, it’s not just about weighing less. Your whole identity may change. I went from being the fat, funny friend that I had been my entire life, to finding a new identity. To becoming a runner and losing my “excuse” that when things didn’t go my way in life, that my size was not the thing to blame. The way one fits into their world may be different and that can take some time to wrap their mind around. For people who have adapted to a lifestyle of drive thrus, big gulps and take out (guilty), it is a hard shift to completely change that in one fell swoop. For people who are sedentary, the thought of being active may take a while to adjust to. Be patient with your loved one. If they are ready to lose weight, they will start the journey when they’re mentally ready to.
Just be there to support them if they have welcomed and invited the support. Make offers to walk together, cook together, go to Weight Watchers together. Be someone that loved one knows they can go to with questions, fears and doubts. Don’t judge them. Be open, love them as they start their journey. Accept that they will fall and struggle. They will beat themselves up. Be there to remind them they’re doing a great job. Every little step in the right direction counts. They will need that. I still need that.
Everyone is on a different journey. Be mindful that everyone has a different way that they will receive your concern and what works for one person won’t be the same way to convey the message to the other. Just be kind and come from a place of caring. Please don’t overstep your boundaries. Read for signals if someone feels uncomfortable about anything in discussion and allow them space if they need a moment to regroup, or need to step away from the conversation or situation.
That’s what I recommend to you. Hope this helps. ❤️❤️❤️❤️❤️