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What to say when others say too much about your diet

Posted Aug 10 2010 8:40pm
Losing weight and keeping it off is difficult, frustrating and sometimes agonizingly slow. And it is a process, like growing out one’s hair after a bad haircut. People differ in whether they want their personal public to acknowledge their weight-loss efforts or act indifferent. It is up to those of us who know them to be sensitive to their wishes. For example, someone who is well known in the town where we spend some time in the summer put himself on his own diet. After dropping more than 100 pounds, he is now, by his own admission, about 40 pounds from his goal. He welcomes the congratulations that come his way from people who have not seen him since the previous summer and the support of those who have watched his weight-loss progress over the year. In contrast, another individual in the same town whose weight loss was initiated because of some serious medical problems has made it very clear that she wants no one to comment on her changing appearance. And so no one does.
Unfortunately, most people are not so lucky in being able to control the looks and comments they receive about their weight. People feel that it is all right to talk to a friend, colleague, relative or even casual acquaintance about weight. Remarks are made, often insultingly, about someone’s obesity or maliciously about their latest diet failure. People who would never remark on another person’s bad clothes’ choice or unflattering hair color will feel it is perfectly okay to talk about someone’s weight.
It happened to Dave, the husband of a friend, just last week. He had been increasing his exercise over the past year and converted some extra pounds into muscle and lost the rest. Dave ran into a guy in the supermarket whom he had not seen for several months. The friend immediately noticed the weight loss and asked if Dave had been sick. When he was told how the weight loss had come about, the acquaintance then had the gall to say that Dave would look better with fatter cheeks.
Was this a case of simple rudeness or some unconscious desire to sabotage Dave’s achievement of acquiring a lean and fit body? (I know Dave; his face looks much better with thin cheeks.)
Strategies for handling unwelcome and often hurtful remarks about one’s weight are often not totally effective or may be impossible to carry out—like in the middle of a 25-person family celebration. Still, dieters, and those who are supporting their efforts, may want to consider some of the following suggestions1. When you start a diet, tell people whom you see frequently that you are doing so and ask them to refrain from commenting on your progress or its absence.
2. Choose a few close friends or family members with whom you feel comfortable talking about your diet and on whom you can rely on for support. This is useful when in a gathering where others are either watching what you are eating or pushing you to eat more or less.
3. People will still comment on your weight loss or give you “the look” when it is obvious that you have gained back some weight. Be proactive and make some remark about them first as in “I see you are still going to that same bad hair salon” or “Have you found a job yet?”
4. Rehearse how you will respond when eating with colleagues, relatives or friends who may or may not know that you are on a diet. You have the choice of talking about your food plan or simply saying that you are being careful about your cholesterol, fats, alcohol, etc. You have no obligation to explain how or why you are eating.
5. Don’t let your weight determine who you are. Your intelligence, personality and character should not be altered by what the scale says. It is often hard to prevent your current weight from affecting the way others relate to you and all of us, dieters and non-dieters alike, have an obligation to stop doing this.
6. Remember that almost everyone who is noticing your weight has also struggled or given up struggling with the same issues. It is possible that what they say out loud to you is really a commentary about how they feel about themselves. This is particularly true when you are successful and the other person is not. You can invite the other for a skim milk latte and a talk about diets—but only if you feel like it. But you may find that both of you are helping each other.
7. Eventually when your weight has stabilized and you are content with your thinner body, use your experience to help others treat those who are dieting or need to diet with dignity and courtesy.
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