So we’ve just gotten through the holidays and in the US, at least, that sometimes means the showing of old home movies, vacation videos, childhood photos and the like. Holiday trips down memory lane. Thank goodness for eggnog, amirite? Because when many of us see those old photos we don’t think of our younger selves as children trying to figure things out. We don’t forgive ourselves for not knowing things we had no way to know at the time. We are super harsh and critical of our younger selves. And, for many of us, old loops of negative self-talk can begin again. And old movies or photos are not the only triggers.
Recently, someone I love told me I was fat. Well, what he actually said was that I “need to get one of those things you wear to count your steps.” Depending on the dictionary you use, that translates either to “Jesus! You’re a cow!” or “Damn, girl! You have let yourself go.” Some translations go even further to add a phrase about worthlessness. Like I said, it depends on the dictionary you use.
To quote Ray Schleine in the movie Uptown Girls: “News fuh-lash.”
Thanks to my joints, I am literally painfully aware of how fat I am. I am acutely aware of how much weight I have gained and I am fully aware of how I look. That comment did not help.
So, a little advice from me to you when you find yourself thinking you should “get real” with a friend or loved one about how fat they are – don’t. Just don’t. They know it. And if you just can’t help yourself, let me tell you what is likely to happen: you ask if your loved one really wants that extra cookie or piece of fudge. “You know what?” they say. “You’re right. I don’t need that and I don’t even want it.” Then while you’re off somewhere patting yourself on the back, they have stolen back to the table and taken not just the one piece of fudge they were going to take earlier, they take the whole container which they proceed to eat in the bathroom, the laundry room, or in their darkened bedroom. They are eating it to prove you right when you implied that they have no self-control and are to be pitied. They are proving you right and punishing themselves for it. You didn’t stop anything. You just increased their level of shame.
When I heard that I needed to get a step counter (one of which I have, by the way, I just wasn’t wearing it), I wasn’t prompted to go for a walk. All of those old, negative recordings in my mind started blaring and I grabbed the animal crackers Santa left in my stocking and I took them to a quiet place and ate them in secret. Then I took my hurt out on other people and was ugly to people I love, which while understandable, was inexcusable. Enter more guilt and queue up the chocolate moose Peeps.
I manage the office for one of the most well-respected fitness authorities in the country and while she never says anything about my physical state, I am acutely aware of it, particularly at the office. When I arrive at work, I always hope that no one wants to speak to me right away since my office is on the second floor and I am winded after a single flight of stairs. So, no. Regardless of how much you love me, you don’t need to tell me that I’m fat. I know.
Now, that’s not to say that I would be unreceptive to other ways of phrasing that concern and I believe that many overweight people would also be open to hearing the concern of loved ones if it was delivered without a side order of judgment. Good options might include:
- I’m concerned about your health. I love you and I want us to be old lady friends together. How can I support your efforts to be healthier?
- I’m concerned about MY health. I’m going to start walking every day, but it would really help me to have an accountability partner. Would you walk with me?
Notice that both of these approaches are in the first person singular – I – not in the first person plural – we. Don’t seek protection in numbers for this conversation. Be brave and be compassionate. Accept their answer – whatever it is – and continue to treat them with love and acceptance. If they tell you to go suck an egg, then leave it alone. It’s their life, their choice. And you can’t make people want what you want them to want. If they are open to your overture, then follow through. If they need a phone call a day to help, then make it. If you said you were going to walk, then walk.
I don’t know a single overweight or obese person who is completely comfortable in their skin. I’m sure they exist. I just don’t know any of them. Most of us hate how we feel. We hate how we look. We really hate shopping for clothes. And we hate that we don’t seem to have the power to control ourselves enough to change the situation. Most of us try and we fail. Then we try again and we fail again. And rather than every failure strengthening our resolve, it reinforces that negative loop that we are failures, that we can’t do anything right.
It’s the new year and new decade – time for all those resolutions we rarely keep. I am making only these resolutions this year and I mentioned them yesterday:
- Always acknowledge my blessings.
- Seek not only knowledge but also wisdom.
- Be honest, but show compassion – to others and to myself, as well.
- Love people (including myself) the way I claim to.
- And watch a second season of Henry Cavill in anything.