“You will die if you don’t loose the weight…”

The other day, I was talking to someone whom I respect a lot, and, since he’s very keen on exercising, I’d asked for some help figuring out what sort of exercise to do to help strengthen my body for a particular type of movement. What followed was pretty much any curvy girl’s nightmare.

I started getting a lecture on why I *had* to loose weight, as if I wasn’t aware of risks already, and I hadn’t been told that much by my doctor. I also started getting a lot of “tough love”, including demands that I stopped “making excuses for myself”. Apparently it doesn’t matter that I’ve lost weight during the last couple of years, or that I’ve gone down 4 sizes, or anything; what mattered was that this friend saw his opening to express his concerns, and went in, with all the subtlety of a battering ram. Anything I brought up, including medical conditions that make some things difficult -like planning a diet, or yes, loosing the weight faster- was dismissed as being “picky” or “excuses”, and in the end, it was all burnt down to not being strong-willed enough.  Because obviously being strong-willed can cure years of real metabolic problems, it seems.

And all I could do was sit there, on the other end of the screen, in tears and disbelief. Because, touched as I was by his concern, it meant that with a single stroke he’d rendered, at least in his mind, EVERY SINGLE DROP OF SWEAT that I’d done so far in terms of exercising worthless. Every kilo I’ve shed, every size I’ve dropped, was unimportant. Every reading I’ve done on studies (proper medical studies) about why my body behaves the way it does, and what I could do 0r not to adjust it was dismissed as an “excuse” and every week experimenting trying to find my optimum was also dismissed. I felt so unempowered by someone who, while well meaning, seemed to really believe he had the moral superiority to do so by the simple issue of his having been dealt different cards when the gene pool was handing them out (the exercise, the good diet, the gathering of information on nutrition? I do those too). And you know what? It felt awful. Even more because things that I see as fundamental for my well being (like my family, my pets and yes, even my dancing) were also classified as “hobbies” during this tirade and therefore tainted with the idea that they are somehow superfluous in what should be my quest for thinness. Because I’ll obviously be better off thin than happy (yeah, that was sarcasm).

After several minutes of this, I had to remind him that I had only asked for some advice on particular exercises, and that while I understood that his tirade was well-meaning, it was also extremely unwelcome. He dropped it, in a huffing manner, and he hasn’t talked to me since. Later on, when I calmed down, I realised that of course everything is only as worthless as I consider it to be. This hadn’t been malicious, just ill-informed, but sadly it is something that quite often happens when you’re overweight, not just from well-meaning family and friends, but also well-meaning strangers. From those that approach you when doing groceries with “you shouldn’t be eating that” without even knowing why you’re buying what you’re buying -or for whom-, to the stranger that approaches you with the exact same phrase when having lunch. And yes, it’s happened to me; I was eating a chicken breast with salad without dressing, I’d love to know what they consider healthy food if that wasn’t. Or the family that says the same, regardless of the contents or portion sizes on your plates.

Your weight is seen as giving anybody carte blanche to pass judgement on you.
Regardless of their own lack of knowledge of your situation or limitations.

It is, I guess, a bit like that nurse that told hubby he should think about exercising because he was “overweight” after just measuring his height and weight, without noticing that he had a flat stomach and rather bulky shoulders and arms; she was quite embarrassed when she found out that hubby was doing martial arts 3 times a week already, and when he asked *where* she was expecting him to loose the fat, she apologised. Overweight people never get the apologies; whatever we do, it’s never enough in the eye of these well-meaning -but ultimately ill-adviced- people, and nothing will redeem us in their eyes, except being thin.

I’d love to know where this notion that we ENJOY being overweight, having crappy clothes, being easy targets for bullies or told off for whatever, really comes from. I do not, I never did. But I also do not enjoy being reminded of the situation or risks constantly, particularly in an alarmist manner… someone weighting more than me with far higher abdominal fat who eats like crap, smokes, doesn’t exercise and doesn’t get constant health monitoring is obviously at a higher cardiac risk than me, putting both of us on the same level just because we both have some extra weight is wrong, and I profoundly resent being thrown in that category just because I happen to have fat accumulated on my hips and thighs. I am tired of people assuming immediately that I hit the junk food every single day just because of my weight. Worst of it is, everybody that does this *thinks* they are helping. They are NOT.

How can *you* help if you’re worried about friend or family member and think they would do better if they lost some weight?

  • behave like a human being: you’re not the Wrath of God(dess), you’re not an Instrument of Right Eating; tell them you’re worried, ask what you can do; don’t be a prick
  • don’t try any emotional blackmail: ultimately, the impulse is either there or it isn’t, but don’t try to give them a “think of your children” or “think of your husband” lecture; chances are, this will only create more stress
  • find the right moment: do NOT do this while they’re going through a divorce, moving house, changing jobs or fearing about loosing their jobs, or there is an illness or death in the family, or a new kid; these are extremely stressful times and diets or habit changes are extremely likely to go down the drain in these situations, and every doctor, nutritionist or Weight Watcher advisor will tell you the same
  • don’t dismiss the effort they’ve put in so far: if they’ve recently started exercising, praise, suggest new goals, or even better, find something that you can do together; if they haven’t found something they enjoy, suggest (and go for) walks, or other activities that would burn calories while being fun; a LOT of us have hideous memories from exercising at school, the only way to make exercising enjoyable for those cases is to create new and enjoyable memories; if they’ve started dieting, even if there’s hardly any weight loss apparent, you can comment on things like better looking skin, or them having more energy; telling them that they’re looking good goes a long way, and by all that you hold holy, refrain from adding “but you’d look better if you lost some more”
  • if you live with them, help with the diet; this doesn’t mean you have to diet yourself, but you’ve all heard about “out of sight, out of mind”… if you want that yummy chocolate snack, you might be better off eating it at work; also, remember to keep healthy food in the house; it’s a lot easier to have a healthy eating plan if there is healthy food available
  • don’t assume: that standard coke can or hard candy after the gym could be because they’re diabetic and having a low glucose episode; the pudding while having dinner out could very well be explained by them being on their day off, or if they’re using a WW-style point-counting, them compensating some other way; if you see this every day it’s a different matter, but don’t immediately jump to conclusions without having the full picture
  • don’t push: this goes for your beliefs, your diet-assumptions, or even your food; I can’t count the times that I’ve seen mothers *visibly offended* when their children eat less than what they consider a standard portion, or in their attempt at being “nice”, effectively sabotage their children’s diets, constantly; also remember that alcohol does have calories, so don’t push them to drink more than what they’re prepared to drink, even if this means no drinking at all
  • don’t assume that fat = unhealthy and thin = healthy; quite a few thin people don’t exercise, drink a lot, smoke, and eat badly, and quite a few of the overweight people eat sensibly and exercise
  • try to push forwards the benefits (i.e. less medication, better well-being, better rest, etc) instead of the negatives
  • avoid, at all costs, shaming, either public or private: this is the surest, straightest way for someone to say “sod this, there’s no way I can ever live to their expectations” and just throwing it all out, or to do the opposite just to be contrary
  • finally, find out whether there’s some particular trigger that increases food intake; emotional eating is incredibly common, and all you’re doing with a shaming or “intervention” session is to trigger another one of these; suggest counselling, or plainly be there for them; help your loved one find out whether things like stress are hindering their efforts, and see if you can help them plan strategies to cope.

Overall, be possitive and be there for them. Becoming active and loosing weight are extremely difficult things to do on their own, and whoever is trying to do either deserves our help and support, not a harsh battering with “facts” that might have nothing to do with them. And I am happy to say, this supportive attitude is what I’ve found within the belly dancing community: people are kind, accepting, and encouraging; which goes a *long* way towards making the activity enjoyable and making people like me want to continue. This is another reason why I dance, and why I think belly dance is such a great activity. Yes, you might burn more calories in a Zumba session, but burning calories should never, ever be the ultimate reason for any physical activity. Your own health and well-being, mental as well as physical, should be paramount, and ultimately, you are the best judge of that.


You may also like...

3 Responses

  1. Sandra says:

    This is a really great article and I hope it will be read and taken to heart by as many people as possible.
    Having gained a lot of weight and lost all of my fitness due to several health issues myself, I have been in the same situation. In september I started a class for obese women only at our local sports club, where I try to actively help. But in my own workouts at home and attending classes I’m still confronted with being able to do significantly less than others – some people react to this by thinking I was nothing of a dancer after having seen me in general fitness classes only – so frustrating after 17 years of bellydance!

    This is what I do when I’m struggling in class: I try to remember that twice the weight mean twice to work to do exactly the same exercises and my mantra when I’m sweating like hell is “more weight=more work=more energy needed=more waste heat=more sweating” …

    • Arien says:

      You’re welcome. This was rather difficult to write, for obvious reasons… As you, I know that when working in class I am burning a lot… I usually sweat enough to drench my hair (and there’s a lot of it), but while I love that sometimes my teachers forget that I carry the weight, sometimes -particularly during conditioning work- I’ve had to remind them that no, I can’t do the press-ups lifting my whole weight JUST with my arms, or that for me, planking is the equivalent of them planking with another student on top of their back.

      But yes, it is difficult, it seems that people think it’s ok to assume what you do and eat and the state of your heart, blood pressure or whatever, because of your appearance, completely forgetting that weight gain is not as simple… the amount of hateful comments I read in places talking about “dropping the junk food and exercising a bit”… nobody believes we do, because it’s more comfortable for them to hate without thinking. Fat shaming does not work, and if people really want to help as much as they do, they should know this.

      And welcome to the blog, hope you are enjoying the read 🙂 Anything you’d like to see that I am not covering yet?

  2. Sandra says:

    Yes, it is difficult… the weight hasn’t added up without reason – and I’m not talking junk food. Yes, people want to think it’s nothing more than “calories in – calories out = weight” but life is just not that simple and controllable.

    As for planks: In my recent seminars for my general sports (Breitensport??? the non-competitive kind thats done in sports clubs?) trainer’s licence, I learned it was adviseable to design those exercises where you want to hold a pose for some time, in a way that 3 sets of 30 seconds or more can be achieved. Since I can do a normal plank for about 20 sec but only once, I tried putting my knees down – 2 x 20 sec or thereabouts. So, what did I do? Put yoga blocks under my elbows, using the same principle a with doing push-ups against a wall…plus knees down! Throwing an prone exercise for the back in between these planks, I can just do 3 sets of 30 secs…
    I tried this with my fitness class for obese women last thursday and with them it seemed like a manageable solution, too.

    As for reminding your teacher of the extra work thanks to more weight, I personally used this during my trainer’s seminars: “Since I’m twice the weight of some other people here I need only to do half the (rounds/repetitions), isn’t it?” 😉

    Remember: a big but fit person is healthier than a slim couch potato!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *