Dealing with Unwanted Concern

beeswaxI thought that with everything that’s going on around Obesity being considered a disease,  it might be a good time to talk about some strategies for dealing with unwanted, unsolicited concern or advice.

Often this comes in phrases like “I’m just worried about your health” or “Somebody has to say something to you about this” or “Don’t you know that blah blah blah is unhealthy”  or “I knew a fat person who had a terrible health problems and I don’t want that for you.”  Sometimes these phrases are used by people in a tacky bid to soften expressions of hate for fat bias.  Those can often be dealth with using an eyeroll and exclamation (try “bullshit!” or “Jackass!) and/or reminding them that jerks raising your blood pressure is bad for the health they are so concerned about.

But sometimes they come from family, friends,  or people who feel that they are well meaning.  This can be difficult to deal with because, since people seem well intentioned, we can feel obligated to appreciate what they are doing or accept it as ok.

Like everything, it’s your choice how to deal with it, but for me this is not ok.  People are allowed to be concerned about whatever they want, but it is not alright for them to unburden that concern onto me. Whatever my level of health, it’s highly unlikely that it will be improved by having people tell me over and over that they assume it’s poor.

It can also be a quiet way to try to say that I am not a competent witness to my own experience, and let’s not forget that however well-intentioned it might be, this kind of “concern” is based on all kinds of myths, misunderstandings, and misinformation and conflates weight and health in a way that isn’t supported by actual evidence.

There are lots of reasons that people may choose to express their concern.  There are some who are truly  well-meaning, for others it’s about feeling superior, feeding their ego by trying to be the hero who saves the fatty, or something else.  For me it doesn’t matter why someone does it, it does not fit within what I consider acceptable behavior.  The way that I handle this is by setting boundaries.  Of course this is just how I handle it, there are many, many ways and they are all valid.

“I’m just concerned about your health”

Basic responses:

  • Don’t be.
  • I appreciate your concern, I’m happy with my path to health and I’m not interested in discussing it.
  • I’m not soliciting outside opinions about my health.
  • My health is none of your business.
  • According to research out of Columbia, people who are concerned about their weight have more physical and mental illness than those who are ok with their size- regardless of weight.  So every time you try to make me concerned about my weight you may be putting my health in more jeopardy.
  • My health is none of your business, but maybe it will comfort you to know that weight and health are two completely separate things and there are healthy and unhealthy people of all sizes.

The things I think but do not say when I’m having a bad day:

  • I’m going to need you to start citing some credible sources or shut up.
  • I’ve spent hundreds and hundreds of hours researching this – are you an expert on this as well or can we just assume I know more than you about this than you and move on.
  • Really. Coincidentally,  I’m concerned that all of your worrying will affect your health.  Please feel free focus your concern somewhere that is else.

“Somebody has to say something to you about this!”

Basic responses:

  • I appreciate your concern but you are out of line.
  • I don’t accept your premise, I’m fully capable of making my own decisions and I’m not looking for input.
  • No thank you.

The things I think but do not say when I’m having a bad day:

  • Perhaps,but it’s not going to be you.
  • I disagree.

“I knew a fat person who had terrible health problems and I don’t want that for you.”

  • I’m very sorry for your friend but people of all sizes and shapes get sick and it’s not appropriate to assume that everyone who looks like your friend will have the same issues.
  • I’m sorry to hear that but I’m not interested in discussing my health with you.

The things I think but do not say when I’m having a bad day:

  • Do you give these same warnings to people with the same hair color or  height as your friend?  If not feel free to go tell some of them and leave me alone.

Regardless of how you deal with it, remember that you have every right to set boundaries and decide who gets to talk to you about your health and how they get to talk to you.

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20 thoughts on “Dealing with Unwanted Concern

  1. That’s good advice – and applicable to all sorts of concern trolling, not just weight! I never know how to respond to bullying that’s offered up under the guise of concern. I get flummoxed, because there are two things going on in the conversation at once – the apparent concern on top, and the nastiness underneath. By the time I’ve worked out the mixed signals, the conversation has moved on, often leaving the bully triumphant, unfortunately.

  2. Once I used the “underpants” rule. To my open-minded(ish) listener It made a lot of sense to her I think. O, and I eased up about her constant texting.

  3. I remember when I was about 11, and puberty had begun, I’d put on some weight. I’d also been forced on to a restrictive diet several years earlier, where I had little say about what I ate. I was sneak eating on the side whenever possible. So yeah, I’d gained some weight, but ironically I was still underweight according to the BMI charts. .

    I was walking home from school, and got to the house of my grandmother’s friend, who happened to be outside. She looked at me and said,”well, you’ve put on some weight.”

    Just… WTF. Who DOES that to a kid? She wasn’t “old,” either. Probably in her 50s at that time. Some people like to say being “old” justifies poor behavior, but there are a lot of “old” people that I suspect use that as an excuse. At any rate, it wasn’t applicable to her. I was mortified and very upset.

    I developed an intense hatred for that woman after that. She was a bitch other times, too. I think she’s just a hateful, bitter person. All of her children moved far away, and when her husband died none of them offered to have her move in, so I suspect her kids would agree with me.

    That’s just one of many, many comments I had to deal with about my weight over the years. I wish I’d known how to tell people to STFU back then. At this point, they’ve all written me off as hopeless, so I don’t really get the opportunity to zing them (which I’d so enjoy).

    And the truth of the matter is… as I struggle to find my path to better health, it’s no one else’s business how I live my life, or what I eat or whether or not I exercise.

    I’d rather live a shorter life without dieting than a longer one where I am unhappy and feel constantly like a failure. My “dieting life” was so completely and totally miserable. I lived with a constant sense of dread, obsessed with food I “couldn’t” or “shouldn’t” eat (feelings I sometimes still struggle with after all these years of Intuitive Eating). I’d take a shorter, happier, more fulfilled life over one of endless cycles of minor success followed by miserable failure any day.

    1. Urg. I feel you. Here, in India, people use euphimisms. “Healthy,” “prosperous,” being some of them.

  4. “But sometimes they come from family, friends, or people who feel that they are well meaning. This can be difficult to deal with because, since people seem well intentioned, we can feel obligated to appreciate what they are doing or accept it as ok.”

    Ragen… I don’t know if you remember me e-mailing you a few weeks ago. I am Indian, and I had asked for a culturally appropriate way of letting my parents know that my 16-year-old size 2 body is a thing of the past and that as a 32-year-old woman I am a super-healthy, active, flexible, happy larger size.

    I went armed with all these postings from your blog, and tried to introduce HAES to Delhi, and have tried, and met with some success. Not a resounding thunderclap of reason, by any means… but some success. Though, falling ill and the heat and being unused to the spices has resulted in a drastic (unhealthy) loss of inches. Also, unrelated, but Mr.prospective Olemisstarana is coming for a visit and things may spiral out of control because of… issues.

    As a result (facepalm, facepalm) my mother is thrilled that I am “regaining” my “old self” – even though all this is because of illness, stress, plain old-fashioned water loss and heat.

    Enough rambling… I don’t even know what the point of this is. I guess I just needed to vent.

    1. I can imagine meeting your prospective beau is causing some stress, especially with the pressure you’re feeling from your mom to be thin. Is Prospective Beau also expecting you to be thin, or are you afraid he’ll want you to be thin? I remember a blind date with an Indian grad student in college. He was fascinated with my size, but not in a good way. However, one of my best friends (another Indian grad student) was totally in love with me and thought I was beautiful. I’m praying your guy is of the latter, not the former.

      All that to say, in my awkward way, I’m trying to let you know you have my support.

      1. Rhonwyn! My young man is not at all hung up on size at all… I guess I am really lucky that way- thanks for asking (in a not at all awkward way!) though. He’s been championing the HAES mantra for a while, without formally being aware of the movement.
        I am just looking forward to getting to a place where I am not feeling guilty about eating 3 square meals a day… sigh. In the meantime, dreaming of a big yummy veggie lasagna.

  5. Left-handed people have a higher than average rate of early accidental death, too. Guess what? If you tell me that, it doesn’t make me right-handed! Imagine that! For some reason I can’t entirely rewire myself to reduce my risk of death!

    And boy! did I get an object lesson in why horning in and nagging people doesn’t work well when I tried to be the Food Police after Mr. Twistie was diagnosed with diabetes!

    I tried concern trolling him – and yes, it was absolutely concern trolling and I’m owning up to that publicly – about every bite he ate. I lectured him about the changes he was going to have to make to his diet and exercise regime, and I gave him hell about sitting up late.

    You know what happened? Precisely what happens when someone concern trolls me! He snuck sugary snacks, went out of his way to order the menu items guaranteed to make me nearly stroke out with anger, got really sullen, avoided talking with me about what he was doing, got extra haphazard about testing and his medication, and spent more nights sitting up doing the stuff I was afraid was going to kill him.

    One day I came to the realization that I was making both of us miserable and acting like a jailer rather than a wife. I shut the hell up and looked for ways to be his helper rather than his keeper.

    The next time he reached for a donut with that defiant look on his face and said ‘I know I shouldn’t eat this, but I want it.’ I squashed down my urge to yell at him and said ‘You’re an adult. You get to make your own choices.’

    I still do my best to make meals that will satisfy him without adding to his physical problems. I’ve found ways of making more vegetables more palatable to him, and do my best to support any healthful choice he makes for himself.

    Result? Well, he’s never going to be the poster child for following doctor’s orders in handling his diabetes… or any of the other conditions he suffers from. But he is making fewer deliberately harmful choices, he’s more appreciative of my efforts to help, and we both dumped a truckload of stress that was making both of us sick.

    Now I don’t comment unless I’m asked for an opinion. Funny thing, now that I’m not trying to force it on him, he wants it a lot more often. Another funny thing, now that I’ve stopped trying to force my opinion on him, I’m also a lot more open to new information that might help me give him a more informed, and more helpful opinion when he next asks for it.

    Concern trolling is just as bad for the concern troll as it is for the trolled… well, maybe not precisely, but still, it isn’t helpful to either party. I know. I learned it the hard way.

    1. Twistie, sometimes we just have to learn the hard way that we’re being jerks. I know I’ve had to swallow my pride and own up to the fact that I’d been a jerk in the past about things, too…

      I’m hoping that arming myself with the knowledge I’ve gained from FA/HAES sites and this blog (and you, my dear, for you have absolute gems of knowledge to pass on) will help other concern trolls become reformed as we have.

      My hubby and his mom have never had the same relationship after he took up “the occasional cigar.” We used to visit them often, we now rarely speak. She concern trolls the hell out of him, then looks at me and asks why I don’t “make him stop.” Mom, have you ever known your son to stop doing something because some one else made him?? Sure, they’re bad for him. Instead of harping, I found a way to live with them. There are rules imposed–never in the house and he’d better brush the heck out of his teeth before even trying to kiss me, but he’s a grown-ass man and they’re for sale legally. And you know what? I could spend HOURS in a tobacconist shop. It smells so good!

    2. What a super comment! It is so easy when we love someone to be upset by their self-destructive behavior. I didn’t exactly nag my husband to quit smoking decades ago, but I wasn’t happy he smoked. After about a hundred tries, he quit, and I can’t tell you how happy and relieved he is that he did, especially now when he sees patients with COPD struggling to get their breath. Now my concern trolling takes the shape of, “Stop being so hard on yourself for having a tummy!” “If you don’t like eating peanuts [chocolate, etc], just stop eating them.” You’d think with all the very sick people he takes care of, he’d be appreciative of his own blooming health at age 61.

  6. Another great post! I especially liked bullet points 5 & 6 (I think). ALL were good & enjoyed the reading. Thanx!!

  7. My friends thought I was crazy when I asked them, “Do you ever arm yourself with responses for when people say stupid shit to you, just so you’re not caught off-guard?” I guess they didn’t deal with the name-calling and trolling I have. The worst is when a troll acts concerned: one minute they’re mocking you, the next they rationalize and say, “Sorry you think I’m mean…it’s just for your own good, and for society’s good.”

    My response is usually, “It’s good you brought up concern. I’m really concerned about the bigotry you’re showing, the hatred, and the ignorance. Shall we discuss those now?”

    1. Agreed. A lot of the stuff I think but don’t say involves creative and liberal use of the word “fuck” (in its various forms).

  8. I will NEVER forget the day that my best friend told me that someone came to her asking about my health, concerned about me. Mind you, it was the NURSE that worked for the company I work for… she’d already talked with me a few times before… but she asked my best friend, DURING a PUBLIC water aerobics class at the YMCA… My best friend is the water aerobics instructor, and I frequently attend her classes or just go swim – so most of the ladies there know me. I was mortified.. and the more I thought about it, the more livid I became. It was one thing to ask my best friend how I am doing, but to be the nurse for the company I work for, IMO, carries some confidentiality. I finally went to my supervisor with it and she “handled it” – thanking the nurse for her concern but suggested that she ask me directly if she had concerns. My boss was also mortified over it, having dealt with weight issues herself.

  9. For years I was polite and used kind words to get them to stop. They never did, and my fuse just got shorter and shorter. So now I am blunt and to the point. If that doesn’t work I tell them to f off, I didn’t and I don’t care.

  10. Sometimes I just straight up say the “bad day” stuff to strangers who are straight-up persistent in telling me how “concerned” they are for someone they haven’t met until this moment. There are fewer consequences, and usually they’re annoying as all get out. I also feel comfortable being more direct with relatives I only see once or twice a year. By the time I see them again they’ll likely have forgotten.

    I feel a little less at ease with the family members I see every day, mostly because they like the drop the “But I know (person X) who’s fat and has all kinds of medical issues and I don’t want that to happen to you!”, usually referring to “a friend of a friend of a friend”, and said conditions are often exaggerated to proportions that sound more like they made it up. Especially when I see this “friend of a friend of a friend” and they either don’t have the condition at all, or they do and it’s not as severe as either my mother or my sister have made it out to be. But then, both my mother and my sister are Pentecostals. At least at their church, which happens to be my former church, it’s not uncommon to hear sermons where former members of a congregation are said to be dead, only to find out that said former member is alive. So I’m used to exaggeration and outright lies.

  11. Thank you for this post. Hopefully I’ll be able to remember some of these great comebacks the next time my mom (retired nurse) starts in on my weight. She has been fat shaming me since before I was ever fat.

  12. This is so helpful. Though I’ve been familiar with FA and HAES for years, I was always stumped about how to deal with my mother-in-law’s judgemental-ness and presumptions that I want to, or should, lose weight.

    I’m memorizing the parts of your post that are perfect for my situation. Thank you.

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