This is a question I get a lot, and I got it five times yesterday so it seems like it’s time to blog about it. It goes something like this: “We love our fat [loved one], but we’re concerned about their health. We think they need to lose [insert number of pounds.] How do we tell them that we love them as they are but we are afraid for their health and we want them to be around for a long time?”
I know that most of these people have the best of intentions, and I know that they are living in a society that encourages them to do this. Still, I think it’s something to think over very, very carefully.
First, consider that there is not a single study of any weight loss method where more than a tiny fraction of people actually lose weight, and the weight they lose is typically a few pounds. The odds of actually losing a lot of weight and maintaining that are basically lottery odds, gaining back the weight is a near certainty, and a majority of people gain back more than they lost, so even if you buy into the idea that thinner is healthier, suggesting that they attempt weight loss would actually the worst possible advice that you could give.
To take that a step farther, I would suggest that everyone who wants to be involved in this intervention ask themselves the following: why do I think that this adult isn’t capable of making decisions for their own health? Have they asked that folks comment on their body size/health/choices? Do I think they haven’t heard the (highly questionable) messages that thinner is better? Do I feel that I have some accurate expert information that they haven’t heard before? (Hint: The answer to this last question is almost certainly “no.” If you’re planning to quote Dr. Oz, you’re making a horrible mistake.)
How are you going to bring this up? Say your intended script out loud – have someone say it to you. I think you’ll find that there is really no way to say “We think you’re going to die if you don’t do something that nobody has proven is possible for a reason that nobody has proven is valid,and that would really be a bummer for us” that isn’t offensive or hurtful.
If you are still thinking about speaking with with this person, I would think long and hard about what information/options you think you can actually offer that they haven’t already heard, and if your unsolicited advice in this matter is really likely to do anything other than rack them with guilt and shame that may be with them for the rest of their lives, or lead them to do something truly dangerous (and possibly deadly) like drugs, stomach amputation surgery, or medical contraptions, or worse. If your discussion drives this person to dangerous or self-harming behaviors, how will you feel about that?
Are you really prepared to accept the consequences, and your responsibility for them? Remember that you can’t take this conversation back. Once you tell someone that you have a problem with their size (even if it’s “just about their health”) you’ve let them know that you are judging them for the body they live in 100% of the time and for what you perceive their habits, behaviors, and health to be. It’s possible that, no matter how good your intentions, this may drive a wedge between you as they now assume that every time they see you, you are judging their body/health/behaviors, and it may create a situation where they are no longer comfortable being around you. That’s a completely valid response on their part to you choosing to share your judgment, unsolicited opinions, and inexpert advice with them.
Be aware that you may ruin your relationship with this person, and if that happens it’s on you for busting out the unsolicited, unwanted judgment and advice. From a personal perspective, I am “Type 3 – Super Obese” It’s as fat as you can get on the BMI chart, a category above “Morbidly Obese” and if my family members came at me to tell me that they had made up a number of pounds they thought I needed to lose to be healthy so I didn’t bum them out by dying, suggesting the same things that I’ve heard and tried already, I would be pissed off, and it might ruin those relationships completely.
I know that there is nothing wrong with being fat, but even if I was still buying into the sizeism and healthism that our culture encourages, I would still assume that if someone actually wants my opinion about their size, health, habits, or anything else, I will be among the very first people to know. Until then, I don’t make it my business.
No amount of time is ever guaranteed with any loved one, I would recommend enjoying the time you have with someone, and not jeopardizing your relationship for a conversation that’s not likely to have any benefit, and could do some serious harm.
RUSH REGISTRATION IS OPEN FOR THE FAT ACTIVISM CONFERENCE!
This year we have a truly kick ass line up of speakers, and there’s only one day left to take advantage of our Rush Registration – if you register before 12:01am on June 24th you’ll get the best rate for a Platinum Pass, and special bonuses. (If you’re a Dances With Fat member, check your e-mail for your member deal.)
This is a virtual conference so you can listen by phone or computer, and you’ll receive recordings and transcripts of each talk so that you can listen/read on your own schedule. The Conference will be held September 23-25, 2016
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