I, for the first time in public, told someone my weight before surgery. When she said her friend was around that weight, I tried to politely inform the woman that the things she said to her friend could actually hurt her, even though she thought she was helping. As I was driving home, I realized that a lot of skinny people think that they are helping their friends, but are doing more damage by what they say and do. I am not saying these things to hurt you or make you feel guilty, I just want you to understand a little how the mind of an overweight person works so that you can truly support them.
So here are some things that have been said to me in one form or another, and I am sure other overweight people, and what they really hear.
1. Is that on your diet? or Do you really need that?
It may feel like you are being supportive by reminding your friend about their diet, but unless they have specifically asked you to be an accountability partner, don't ask! If you have never had a problem with food then you can't understand the emotional ties food has on us. When you ask that question, what we hear is "Look at you failing again, you can't do it. Might as well give up." It feeds into the cycle of failure where our weight is concerned. Where we may have eaten that one thing (because we emotionally needed to at the time), and then moved on in the diet plan, now we feel as if we might as well give up.
2. Just stop eating so much.
It sounds so simple to anyone who has never had a weight problem. I would literally starve myself throughout the day so that my peers did not see what I was eating, and then eat at night in the privacy of my home. Being overweight is an addiction like any other addiction. We get chemical highs and lows from food and attach food to emotions and events in life. Think of it like this--we know in our minds ice cream is not healthy, just like a drug addict knows that their drug of choice is not good for them, but the high they get from the drug (ice cream), or the release of pain from the drug is too much to turn away from. It takes a change of mind, body, and soul to break the addiction. To simplify it in such a way makes us feel like we are stupid; like duh, why didn't I think of that?
This is another one of those "duh" statements. It oversimplifies the process of losing weight. People see shows like The Biggest Loser and think, “well, they are exercising and losing weight. It must be easy. You just aren't determined enough.” Listen, those people are under constant medical care. Nutritionists fill their kitchens and watch what they eat, and you honestly don't know what those people go through because of the miracle of editing.
When I started the process to have surgery, I was 408 pounds. I don't think I have shared that before. I would have loved to exercise more, but I was at the point where I cringed at the thought of walking up my steps to go to bed at night. I could barely walk around the grocery store. The pain was unbearable at times. I hid it well, but pain was a constant companion of mine. I would have been useless to my children days after if I went to jazzercise or even hit the treadmill for thirty minutes. One day, just for the heck of it, tie some weights on your arms, legs, and around your middle. Now walk around all day and see how you feel; imagine every day that way. That is what your overweight friend feels. They may not say anything to you, but you can bet that they are crying alone and begging God just to take the pain away. Please don't insult them by telling them just to exercise more.
Now you are saying "Jenn, my friend does have a beautiful face!" What do we hear when you say that? Basically, everything below my neck is ugly and disgusting. What we hear is that “if you were thin you would be beautiful.” That is exactly what runs through our minds, and while we are at it, don't tell us what great personalities we have. That is just fat girl code for "Wow! even your face is nasty!" I know you are just trying to be uplifting and complement your friend, but it’s just is not perceived that way.
Now that I shared what not to say, in a future post I will share how you can be supportive of your overweight friend so that they will respond in an affirming way.