10 Things You Should Never Say to an Overweight Person
Aug. 31, 2017
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The prevalence of obesity in adults has doubled worldwide since 1980, meaning, more likely than not, you know someone who has had their weight discussed, commented on or criticized. Yet as obesity has increased, the prevalence of eating disorders has also seen rampant growth in the past two decades, according to the National Eating Disorder Association. When commenting about a person’s external appearance, it’s imperative to be sensitive, especially when it pertains to weight, shape and food choices. You may think you’re helping, but you could be doing more harm than good. If you’re speaking with someone who is overweight -- or really, anyone who is sensitive about their appearance (in other words, everyone) -- bite your tongue when it comes to these utterances.
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“When are you going to start dieting?”
This question implies that you do not accept the person at the weight and shape they are currently, which can be shaming to the individual and perpetuates weight stigma. This question may do more harm than good because research published in American Psychologist indicates that dieting itself seems to not be an effective method to decrease body mass over the long term. Plus, dieting can be a risk factor for eating disorders, according to a Psychological Bulletin review.
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“If you would just quit being so lazy maybe you wouldn’t be overweight.”
This personally blames the individual for carrying more weight. Even close family members do not know what an individual’s life looks like day in and day out. There are an endless number of reasons this individual could be carrying more weight than you deem necessary, including medical conditions beyond their control.
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“Are you sure you should be eating that?”
This is the voice of the Food Police, as Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch call it, in their book, “Intuitive Eating.” This criticizes the individual’s food choice, assuming that you know better than they do what is best for their bodies. According to the intuitive eating theory, each person may be the expert on how foods taste and feel and how fit they are for their bodies. Even if they do not, it is not your place to judge their intake -- it could have a negative impact on their well-being. Your body is not the same as theirs, and you do not need to play the bad-cop role.
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“Have you heard of [insert diet trend here]? You should try it!”
Most trendy diets work for a short period of time because they significantly cut or alter the food you eat throughout the day. As suggested previously, diets tend to not work long term. The restrictions associated with dieting tend to lead an individual to overeat or binge eat in a binge-diet cycle. Even if it is not the diet itself placing the restriction, the avoidance of dealing with the root of the overeating or binge eating by adhering to a restrictive diet will cause the coping behaviors to come back eventually, usually with greater force than before.
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“If you just set your mind to it you could be thin.”
The weight of an individual is not simply about decision. There may be medical, social or financial reasons that someone weighs what they do. They could desire to be thinner all they want and never achieve it. Some people are already at the weight that is most natural and healthy for their bodies, even if they are overweight.
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“Have you tried exercising? My gym has this great special.”
This is another judgmental question, assuming that you know the individual’s exercise routine (or lack thereof). The best exercise is the kind that a person does because he enjoys it and it feels great, not one done out of obligation and shame. If he chooses it out of his own enjoyment and desire, he is more likely to stay motivated to continue doing it.
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“You’ll never find a partner unless you lose that weight.”
While it can seem as though physical attractiveness is related to weight, not everyone prefers someone who is thin as a partner. We all have much more to offer than what the numbers on a scale tells us. Reducing someone to their physical appearance is going to do nothing positive for their health. If anything, it could hinder it due to feelings of failure that can be perceived as discrimination and prejudice, which can then lead to other negative health behaviors, according to American Journal of Public Health.
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“At least you have boobs and a butt!”
Comparison is the thief of joy. As soon as we start to compare our bodies to someone else’s, we stop honoring our bodies for how amazing and unique they are. Body-checking is associated with poor body image and eating disorders, so stop the negative body talk and comparison. Instead, start speaking gratefully about your body -- and encourage others to do the same.
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“Don’t you want to feel healthy?”
Most people want to be healthy, and their decision to be healthy is personal. Being overweight does not mean that an individual can’t be healthy, which is the message that the Health At Every Size movement is helping to spread. One can be technically overweight, says an article in the American Journal of Public Health, while also being healthier than even a thinner counterpart.
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“I couldn’t eat that, it would go straight to my hips.”
Comparing your body’s needs and another individual’s food choices is unhelpful. It places rightness and wrongness on food choices when they are not that black and white. What might be right for one person might not be for another. Additionally, stating that the food will go straight to your hips is a reductionist view of nutrition.
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What Would YOU Say?
What are some sensitive ways to talk about someone's weight? What have you said or been told in the past that resonated with you? Tell us in the comments below!
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