Losing Weight: What Not To Say

This is the first of a series of posts on weight loss.

My friend posted something on Facebook about how she’d lost 100 lbs.  Crap.  I knew she was losing weight but I didn’t say anything.  I see her every week, but all of the sudden, it was 100 lbs later and still I hadn’t said anything–it seemed too late by then!  What was I to say?  I didn’t want to say something that is actually hurtful when I was trying to be encouraging.  Is it bad to encourage someone when losing weight, because would that come across as implying that they had needed to?  This is just a small glimpse into my complicated brain.

Right now our culture makes a big deal about body-shaming, so it is hard to know how to talk about the body and how to encourage healthiness while also encouraging satisfaction with how God made you.  What is the right way to talk to someone who’s lost a lot of weight?  Or barely any weight at all?  Or is dealing with baby weight?

Here’s where I am coming from:  about 10-15 years ago I struggled to be happy with what I weighed.  I was healthy and athletic, but not happy.  People would make comments from time to time like, “You look great!” and follow up with “Have you lost weight?” and I was all thrown off.  Did that mean that the 5 lb fluctuation that I cycled through was actually noticeable and people only thought I looked great when I was on the low end of that fluctuation?  I learned quickly to not say anything to anyone about their weight, because I knew what those comments did to my mental state as someone who struggled with my body image.

But am I right to never say anything?   It felt awkward and wrong to have never said something to encourage my friend who had worked  hard to lose over 100 lbs!  I decided it’s time to write about it, because I can’t be the only one who struggles with what to say or not say in these situations.  I want my friends to feel loved and encouraged when it comes to healthy living, not judged or ignored.  I also want to encourage healthy dialogue on this subject and help people to understand when their comments might be hurtful and best kept to themselves.
Here are some thoughts on when to say something and when not to:
1) What is their age? If the person you are talking to is young…say school-aged or college, be so very careful when saying anything about weight. This time of life is so hard and these young people are so impressionable. Ultimately, their body is their own and they will have to figure out how to make choices that are healthy. Young girls will gain weight!  It is a healthy part of how God made the body to prepare for birthing babies one day.  Sometimes, their thought process is not rational or mature when it comes to weight and body image, and their bodies are changing rapidly–tread lightly in conversations with young people that revolve around weight and body.
2) What is their status? Is it someone who was obese and has finally entered the healthy range? That is exciting!! Congratulate them on it.  Those I talked to in this category always were encouraged by kind comments and recognition.  Is it someone who is already healthy and is losing more weight? Maybe it’s not your business to comment, or maybe it is. Just think before you speak.
3) How well do you know this person? Are you close or do you only see them on Facebook and don’t really have much of a relationship with them? This is a big factor. According to the people I talked to, it hurt when someone would ask hard, personal questions and there really was not much of a relationship that was already established. If it’s someone you are close to, I think it is healthy to be able to talk about the big things that are going on in each other’s lives, but please be sensitive.

4) Did they just have a baby?  We all know that pregnant women gain weight.  It is natural and should be acceptable.  The rate at which they lose weight after the baby is born varies from person to person.  Please be sensitive in comments about weight to pregnant moms or new moms.  I once had an older man say to me that I was “getting fat” while I was pregnant.  I gave him a pass because he was in his eighties, but if you are reading this, you don’t get a pass.  Here is an interesting read on weight gain during pregnancy.
5) What are your intentions? I think this is the biggest, most important thing to consider before saying anything. Examine your heart. Are you jealous? Are you critical? Are you happy for them? Are you kind? If you find bitterness or jealously behind your words, it’s best to not say anything (and maybe consider working through your own issues first). If you have a genuine concern that is rooted in love, then speak gently.  If you are happy for the person and care about their well-being, that sentiment will likely shine through in your words.

It was an honor to talk with a few people who have recently lost weight.  Over the next few weeks I will post thoughts, insights, and wisdom on weight loss from their perspective.

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