Would You Tell Your Loved One If They’d Put On Too Much Weight?
While catching up with a girlfriend over the weekend, the topic of weight loss came up. It’s something we’ve always chatted about because we have similar stories: After trying to find our way as adults, we picked up poor eating habits and put on an excessive amount of weight.
She had seen me at my heaviest years ago and was one of the few people I told about my initial plans to take part in the Daniel Fast to turn things around. I was successfully able to get through the 21-day fast, losing 13 pounds and sparking a weight-loss journey that for those of us who’ve ever lost a substantial amount of weight, know is not something that really ends. As for my colleague, she chose against taking part and ended up putting on more weight. More than two years later, she is still trying to figure how to get back to her old self. During our conversation, she made a statement that basically made it seem as though if her close friends had called her out about the weight she was putting on long ago, it would have been the jolt she needed to finally turn things around. She spoke in particular about a male friend whose silence on the issue was puzzling to her.
“I told him, ‘You’ve been around me all these years and seen me put on this weight and didn’t say anything,” she said. “‘What’s that about?'”
Myself and two other girls went through a variety of reasons he probably kept quiet. The easy answer was that weight is a touchy subject. Another good answer was that as a man, he might not have felt as though it was his place to speak up about a woman’s body. But I told her that based on my experience, people usually don’t need to tell you that you’re putting on weight because you already know it. You’re already aware that your clothes aren’t fitting the same. You’re clear on the fact that you get winded easily. You can already see that you look quite different in pictures. And if that’s not enough, a much older relative probably already told you in a tactless way that you’re big.
As I told her, she knew for years that her weight was spiraling out of control. Having someone else tell her and allowing that to be the catalyst to finally do something about it wouldn’t have necessarily been healthy. She might have started losing weight for self-conscious reasons. She might have been uncomfortable around this same person in the future, worried that they would quietly question her dining choices, think her clothing isn’t flattering, and in a nutshell, feel like she’s always being judged by them.
Her friend’s choice not to tell her she’d gained weight didn’t mean that he didn’t care. Because he probably cares more about her feelings, that’s likely why he kept his opinions to himself.
But is there ever a time when you should speak up and let a loved one know they may have gone too far? And by too far, I’m not speaking solely on physical appearance, but instead, on the risk of future health concerns.
My husband has a history of letting people know that they need to cut back. (He’s Nigerian. It’s a thing.) While broaching the topic of this discussion with him over brunch, he explained how he’d recently told his oldest niece that she needed to be more cognizant of what she’d been eating for the sake of her health. He wasn’t afraid to tell one of his very best friends, who is a doctor, that as someone in the medical profession, it’s wasn’t a good look for him to carry a lot of weight. Even I wasn’t immune to such comments from him.
When I would make late-night runs to 7-Eleven for candy and chips at my heaviest, he would question why. When I would go for a second large plate of rice, he would ask, “You’re hungry again?” At the time, the acknowledgment of what I knew were problems irritated the hell out of me. But being called out for something I clearly wasn’t pressed about ended up helping me. It would eventually help to hold me accountable on my weight-loss journey. And as he told me over brunch, his commentary to his niece, friend and to myself all came from a place of love.
There are people in my own life whose troubles with their weight are something that worry me. I don’t want to see them sick down the line or have a less than flourishing quality of life. However, because their weight is something that has been a struggle since adolescence, I know how delicate of a conversation it could be. Therefore, I’m stuck feeling like I should mind my business. But is that enabling them by trying to tip-toe around a serious problem?
If you’re considering broaching the subject with your loved one, Jennifer Kromberg PsyD wrote in a piece for Psychology Today that one of the best ways to go about it is not to focus on talking about the weight but rather on your concerns about their overall health. Once you put that on the table, in a tactful way, don’t force the issue.
At the end of the day, the person you want to address is likely well aware of their situation. With that in mind, if you do decide to speak to them about your worries, do so with respect and thoughtfulness. It’s up to them, when they’re ready, to make the decision to change their situation. Your comments can either positively encourage the individual to make that decision down the line or leave them reeling and feeling anything but the love that should be behind your actions.