Fun With Awkward Conversations

I'm ok you're okAh the joy of awkward conversations.  This post is inspired by questions from several DWF readers about how to deal with people who want to lose weight when you are practicing Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size.

Now, what happens when we are involved with people making choices based on poor information?  Should I be up in a dieter’s biz trying to inform them that they don’t need to shrink their body to have worth?

I have been there and I understand where you’re coming from.  The first thing that I would suggest is checking your assumptions.  Does the fact that you believe that it’s “poor information” mean that other people should have to believe that?  While it can be really difficult to watch a friend make choices that we wouldn’t make, I think that the first step in having our choices respected is to respect the choices of others (as long as those choices don’t infringe on the civil rights of others of course.)

When I’m struggling with keeping my opinions to myself it sometimes helps me to remember that if I tell someone that I know better than them what they should be doing with their body – then I’m doing the exact same thing that I complain about people doing to me.  People who tell me that I need to lose weight can be well intentioned and think that I’m working from poor information.  They are allowed to think that but I want them to keep that to themselves, so I do the same.

That said, even though people are allowed to choose dieting/weight loss etc. for whatever reasons they believe to be true, it’s perfectly ok to have spaces where diet and weight loss talk are not welcome.  If people are engaging in diet talk in a Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size space that I manage then trust that I will be deleting that.

How about a FA blogger who proudly proclaims their weight loss in the name of health, and hopes to diet their body out of plus-sized clothing soon?  Is it appropriate then?

I feel your pain on this one.  I know so many people (myself included many years ago) who went down a bad road with dieting using the justification that it was “for health reasons“.  But I have to remember that my experience is not everyone’s experience and I can’t extrapolate it to everyone else.

Although it can feel like a major blow when this happens publicly (especially if it comes off as a publicity stunt *cough* Jess Weiner *cough*) all we can do is move on with our own lives.

How do you deal with people who tell you about their weight loss and how happy they are?

When people tell me how excited they are about their weight loss it’s tricky because I know that there is an extremely high chance that they will gain the weight back.  I don’t want to say something like “you look so great!” (even though that’s what they might want to hear) because I fear that it makes it sound like I thought they looked bad before, and it’s doubly awkward if they end up looking that way again.  So I usually say nothing, or say something to the effect of “size doesn’t matter.”   While people are allowed to buy into the idea of weight loss as a good thing for whatever reason, we aren’t obligated to do the same.

I think that debate is an important part of HAES and FA movements, but when it comes to dealing with people’s personal choices there are more subtle things that I can do that are often effective.  Doing things like Talking about the Health at Every Size option whenever people are talking about diets.  When people are body snarking, you can talk about how much you love and appreciate your body.  Work it into the conversation and it will become an invitation for people to talk to you about it.  Just like I don’t think that people hate themselves healthy, I also don’t think that you can argue them into loving themselves.  I find that often when people want to fight with me about the validity of the HAES option, the entire thing is diffused because they want me to argue that my choices are better than theirs, but the only thing I’m arguing for is that we both have the right to make the choices that we think are best for us.  So if they choose dieting and I choose HAES then that’s ok, because they are the boss of their underpants and I am the boss of mine.

I try very hard to avoid doing to others the exact things I don’t want done to me.  That includes

  • Not confusing my experiences with other people’s experience
  • Offering options and respecting other people’s choices
  • Never making assumptions based on body size
  • Not snarking bodies of any shape or size
  • Not offering unsolicited advice

I’m certainly not perfect and I have my off days but in the end I think that what works best for me is not just talking my truth but living it as well.

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17 thoughts on “Fun With Awkward Conversations

  1. What I said recently when someone was commenting about how great a person looked post-bariatric surgery was “She looked great before and she looks great now- I think she is a very attractive person.”

  2. Thank you for this. It’s the flipside of me not needing other people to tell me about my weight — I have to remember not to do it to other people, too, even if I’m well-intentioned or even when I’m trying to point out that dieting doesn’t work. It’s still not my business if someone else wants to diet.

    I’ve been trying to practice the underpants rule while engaged in a conversation on the Dear Prudence FB page — she had a letter in which someone wanted to know essentially what he should have said to his fat friend about obesity before the friend died of a heart attack, because when he had brought it up, the friend resented the interference.

    There was one poster who insisted it needed to be “talked about” and insisted on likening being fat to addiction (because clearly, all fat people have disordered eating and no thin people do, right?). I — and more others than I expected, which was nice — have been politely trying to explain that it’s not that you “can’t help” someone who is fat, it’s that you shouldn’t try because you don’t know whether they want help, need help, or really, anything about their condition, and it wouldn’t be your business if they did.

    1. I read that letter, too, and Prudence’s response (which was basically “your friend knew he was fat, regardless of what you did or didn’t say or do, and he’d made it clear he didn’t want to talk about it, so it was really none of your business”) was her only response to a letter about weight that I haven’t strongly disagreed with/found extremely annoying.

  3. I’ve gotten to the point of these methods:

    When they are excited and happy about weight loss…. I say “I can see this makes you really happy.” or “I like seeing you happy.” .. or even “it IS fun to go shopping when things fit you”

    If they bring it up over a meal, I just decline to participate and try to change the subject. Later, when I can talk with them one on one, I tell them I’m not comfortable talking about diets and weight issues over my meals. That I’m working on overcoming years of bad messages and guilt over enjoying foods of any kind (healthy or not) and that it triggers my anxiety issues and sends me into old habits that are not healthy for me. It isn’t good to guilt myself all the time.

    I tried bringing this up at the table once and got shunned in a way that I don’t want to ever live through.

  4. Reading this, I find myself thinking of a conversation I had with a friend a couple years back. We hadn’t talked in a couple months, just through one thing and another, and when she called the first words out of her mouth after ‘hello’ were “you’re going to be mad at me.”

    With an opening like that, of course I had to ask why she thought that. She sheepishly said she’d taken up smoking.

    I could hear her brace for impact across the long distance lines.

    All I could say was “Why should I be mad at you?”

    I told her that this was a decision that she was more than old enough and more than well-informed enough to make for herself. More than that, it’s her body, not mine.

    She went really quiet for a minute, then she said she thought if she’d asked me I would have said it was a stupid thing to do. I agreed this was so. On the other hand, I said, you didn’t ask me.

    And that’s how I approach the diet decision. If someone asks me what I think before they begin, I’ll give them my opinion with both barrels and every statistic I can lay hand to. If they don’t ask, I butt out. If they ask but decide against my statistics, I butt out. If they tell me how happy they are to have lost weight, I tell them I’m happy that they’re happy.

    But if I want others to respect my right to make my own decisions, I have to respect their right to make their own decisions, too, even when I do think they’re damn fool decisions.

    1. Excellent response. I was discussing this with my mother recently, whose grandkids (not my kids) are constantly harassing her about her smoking, at their parents’ behest. Thing is, it drives me just as crazy as it drives her. As I told her, of course I wish she wouldn’t smoke, but I was also pretty clear on the facts that she knows it’s not good for her and wishes she could quit and that it was none of my damn business to tell her what to do.

      I think it’s worth remembering when we start to feel like fat is the “only acceptable prejudice left”. Other people get the same judgment and concern trolling we do for different reasons, and if we pay attention and try, we can give them the respect we wish others would give us.

    2. My husband’s mother used to cut out articles about smoking and drinking and leave them with my husband’s things when we visited. I took her aside and politely asked her not to do that anymore. I got some of the standard “but I care about him too much” and “I want him to be healthy!” arguments. To which I replied, it’s his life, and he gets to make choices like that for himself.

      He smokes cigars… goes to cigar establishments and that is one of his primary social networks outside work and home. He enjoys the camaradarie, and has a very strong network of powerful friends from that group. He finds them relaxing, they make him happy. That in turn makes me happy. There is no smoking in the house (self imposed–he never asked to) and he must brush his teeth afterward if he wants a kiss from me. 🙂

      1. I wish my mother-in-law just did that. She outright tells my husband that he needs to lose weight and he needs to get some Rogaine because of his hair loss. {{sigh}}

        She did ask once in front of me whether I didn’t agree that he need to do something about her hair loss. I just smiled and said “no”. At least she never tried to bring me into it again after that.

        1. You should print this article and leave it for his mother:
          May 27, 2005 — Mothers may unwittingly put their sons on the path to baldness. Chalk it up to genetics, says European researchers.

          They include Markus Nöthen, a genomics professor at Germany’s University of Bonn. Nöthen and colleagues say they’ve found a gene variation that may explain some cases of male pattern baldness (androgenetic alopecia), the most common form of hair loss, which is related to the male sex hormones.

          The suspect gene variation sits on the X chromosome, which is handed down to men by their mother. So a man may get an idea of his scalp’s future from men on his mother’s side of the family.

  5. Hey Ragen…another great blog and one I think we all deal with all the time.

    I would add a question to you on this though. What do you say to friends and family who seem obliquely discuss dieting and weight loss when you are around, yet you know the comments are directed at you?

    I have two examples:

    1. My mother was in the clinical trials for Belviq and is now “on it for life as she says.” She has lost a total of 4 pounds since June, despite the massive amounts of risk and side effects. When I am around her she constantly says things like “If only EVERYONE were to take Belviq they would feel as good as I do.” She can say she’s not directing it at me, but as far as I know…I fall into the “everyone” category.

    2. My community of gay men is sadly very “six-pack” driven and for all we’ve overcome our communities addiction to the healthy image can make other gay men appear very “health-ist” (even amongst other people are physically like me who fit the “bear” stereotype). It is hard to go anywhere with my gay friends, even if its to a nice dinner or an art gallery, where the topic doesn’t come up “-so and so- feels so much better after losing 15 pounds” or “have you seen how confident -so and so- is now that his abs are starting to peek through his belly.” All while staring directly at me.

    Just curious how you might handle such situations?

    Thank you so much again and if you don’t get a chance to respond I totally understand, its always great to have a place to vent some frustrations!

    1. Obviously I’m not Ragen and she may have some other good advice for you, but my preferred method is to attempt to move the conversation in another direction. I’ll start with something subtle, such as a news item of interest I read, a movie I watched, or a funny story about something that happened to me recently.

      If that doesn’t work after a couple attempts, though, I’m not above the method of loudly saying ‘how about that local sports franchise.’

      You have every right to be comfortable in social situations, Simon. And sometimes it takes some self-advocacy to make it happen.

      Oh, and you may not be interested in this, but I have a brother I haven’t spoken to in a couple years because he’s just plain too toxic for me to have him in my life. It’s a nuclear option and should be considered with extreme caution, but it is an option if all else fails.

      1. Simon, you and Twistie are definitely better people than me. I’m not saying it’s the most effective solution, but I tend to get passive-aggressive right back (or just plain aggressive) in those situations.

        You could always take the tactic my husband does. Whenever his mother starts in about his weight, he keeps telling her he’s working on gaining up to at least 300 pounds so he can get a Jared/Subway-esque deal and then start his weight loss. It mostly confuses her, but it’s pretty funny for us. 🙂

  6. One of my go to comments to people that are losing weight and are happy about it.. is “I’m glad things are working out the way you want them to” or “I am happy that you are happy with your weight loss”. Those get me out of the “you look great” situation and allow me to be supportive of their joy. As you always say, though, that is what works for me.

  7. Last time I noticed considerable weight loss in a colleague I said in a positive tone: “Oh, you lost weight!” – Just stating the obvious, I know, but since my voice sounded positve she took it as a compliment. She tries to lose weight couse public administration in Germany only puts you on an unlimited contract if you fulfill their bench mark BMI …

  8. Thanks to the Underpants Rule, I bite my tongue constantly when people brag about losing weight on some juice fast or other faddish diet. The only thought I have in my head is that they’ll be seeing that weight again real soon. For the most part, I just leave people be as I would like the same courtesy in return. If someone asks my opinion though, I will be giving them an earful about weight cycling and the low success rate of long term weight loss.

    I am grateful though that I don’t have a lot of people concern trolling me about my weight. I’m at my heaviest and I am committed to never dieting again.

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