So Your Friend is Suddenly a Weight Loss Genius

WTF are you doingI got this question from a blog reader:

How do you cope with people who have lost significant amounts of weight, and who suddenly seem to think that they have all the answers? I have seen this recently with a few acquaintances, one of whom has lost a massive amount of weight and now seems to spend most of her time criticising others for being unable to do the same. I’ve expressed my concerns to her- firstly that she’s using [a commercial weight loss program], which means she may well put all the weight back on again- but also that her manner has become incredibly toxic and fat phobic. She is not the only one, though.

I suppose what I’m saying is, how can people who know what its like to be the subject of fat-shaming and discrimination suddenly forget all that and perpetrate it against it others once their circumstances change?

This is something that has happened to every fat person I know.  We have a friend who experiences short term weight loss and suddenly they are a Weight Loss genius and expert on why everyone should be thin.  Often it doesn’t matter if they themselves struggled for a long time, or even if this isn’t their first ride on the diet roller coaster.  Of course, people are allowed to do whatever they want with their bodies, but that doesn’t make it ok for them to add to the oppression of fat people by diet culture.

Let’s start with some of the reasons this happens (of course your mileage – and everyone else’s – may vary so these things may or may not be true for your newly minted weight loss genius friend.) I think it’s a confluence of things having to do with our culture’s obsession with weight loss and thinness:

They have, for the moment anyway, moved themselves out of a stigmatized social class. They are like the kids who suddenly became popular in high school and then join their new “cool” friends in teasing the kids who used to be their friends in junior high.  They are enjoying their new-found privilege and acceptance and they feel like they need to use the language of the people who used to oppress them to keep it, so they now sound like a walking, talking weight loss add complete with before and after pictures and weight and measurement changes that they tell anyone who will listen.

This often comes with a double dose of anything from advice to scorn for the people in their lives who are fat, and especially those of us who aren’t engaged in weight loss. This is because the “cool” kids are only powerful if everyone else wants to be them, so if they are resting their self-esteem on thin being more valuable than fat, but we don’t buy into that and we don’t think that thin is any more valuable, that challenges everything for them from their self-esteem to their social status.

The second issue is the way that we are taught to credit everything good to thinness/weight loss and everything bad to fatness.  There is a more complete explanation here, but the basic issue happens when people make behavior changes and they experience health changes and weight loss (at least for the short term) as a result.  Instead of seeing both the health changes and the weight loss changes as side effects of the behavior changes, they give all the credit to the weight loss.

Often people will credit weight loss with better treatment socially, when the fact is that they have, at least in the short term, solved social stigma by changing themselves to appease their oppressors. Basically they’ve given the bullies their lunch money and, at least for the moment, the bullies have stopped beating them up. It’s important to make the distinction because otherwise they are oppressing fat people by blaming our bodies when the actual problem is the stigma, bullying, and oppression we face because of weigh bias.

And then, sometimes, it’s just blatantly done for profit.

As far as how to handle it:

I suggest that you resist, with conviction, the urge to tell them how good they look now – it sounds like you are saying that they looked bad before.  If we want to opt out of a world where some bodies are seen as better than others, then not suggesting that somebody’s body is better because it’s a different size is probably a decent place to start.

Often when this happens people are really excited and expecting a compliment. I know that there is an extremely high chance that they are going to gain the weight back.  For that reason I try to comment in a way that will lessen the self-esteem hit if they end up in the vast majority.

By the way, if they don’t bring up the weight loss I don’t bring it up. Weight loss isn’t always welcome – it can be from medical issues, medication, stress, grieving etc. and I don’t want to bring up something painful. Plus this conversation is awkward enough, I’m not going to go through it if I don’t have to. (If you’re dealing with unwanted weight loss compliments, or want some suggestions for talking about your weight loss without hurting fat people in the process, I have some suggestions for you here!)

If they bring up weight loss what I tend to say is something like “I’m glad that you are happy” or “You were beautiful before and you still are” or something that is as neutral as possible.  While it’s important to me that people be allowed to make choices for themselves including the choice to attempt weight loss, it’s also important to me that I not perpetuate and praise diet culture or make it seem as if I think a body is more valuable or in some way better if it is currently smaller than it was before. Other people feel differently about this, choosing to celebrate other people’s weight loss and of course that’s their right.

If you are uncomfortable with the amount/frequency of diet talk and weight loss talk, you have several choices. You can decide to just live with it (in this case having a mantra that you say in your head like can be helpful – I use “hey, that’s bullshit!”)

You can try responding to diet and weight loss talk with Size Acceptance and/or Health at Every Size talk (ie: Them: “I ate super clean today and I’ve lost however many pounds this week” you: “I just feel so much freer, happier, and healthier not moralizing food or talking about my weight!”).

You can change the subject. My friend Jeanette (aka The Fat Chick) told me about a friend of hers who memorized a bunch of facts about monkeys and every time someone brings up diet or weight loss talk, she uses one of her random facts to change the subject to monkeys.

It’s also perfectly ok to set boundaries. Something like “I respect the choices you make and how you feel about your body, but I’m not interested in diet or weight loss talk so if we’re going to hang out we need to find other things to talk about.”

However you decide to handle it, it’s also totally reasonable and ok to be disappointed and hurt by your friend’s actions, and remember that however you choose to deal with it on any given day is totally valid, as are your choices to not be part of diet and weight loss culture.

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16 thoughts on “So Your Friend is Suddenly a Weight Loss Genius

  1. It seems that often, these people have used a product that is part of a multilevel marketing scheme and are crowing about their weight loss to try to get people to buy into said scheme. All of a sudden, they tack on some title such as “health coach” or “transformation coach” and are overnight experts in weight loss (using, of course, the product they are peddling), yet without any apparent training or credentials. It’s scary. I am horrified to admit that, for a brief time, I was sucked into one of these schemes. Luckily I came to my senses and got out, but it’s an embarrassing part of my past that I am not proud of.

    1. Kinda sounds like Herbal Magic. There was an exposé a couple yrs ago, on their business practice. One of the people they interviewed had quit due to shoddy ethics, and explained that her “before” pic was right after she gave birth, and her “after” pic was a year after that when her body naturally went back to pre-preggo form. But the company told her to play it up as success on the pills (about 16 diff ones a day). After a bit, she got fed up with it, and left.

  2. There’s also this: losing weight is so unnatural / opposed by the body and mind that when people do it on purpose, it usually involves obsessive focus pretty much 24/7. They won’t stop talking about it because it’s on their minds constantly.

    1. This is a huge factor! When you weigh everything you eat and constantly track calories, it takes over your life. Just like people who watch tv all day can’t talk about anything but tv shows.

  3. I try very hard to smile and nod.
    I have been that person, caught up in “my way” and wanting everyone else to see the light.

    Over the years I realized there is no one way. There is just life. And we each get to do it our own way.

    If I can’t get out of a conversation, and I can’t hold my tongue, I usually say that my personal experience with extreme dieting became an obsessive, anxiety ridden problem and it has taken me years to find my current peace.

    And then I try to get them to come to yoga. Lol

    I’m still working on that one.

    1. I was that person too, so obsessed with dieting and feeling so superior because once in 30 years I had succeeded. Of course I gained the weight back and learned a valuable lesson. Some of us need to learn everything the hard way.

      I love this line “my personal experience with extreme dieting became an obsessive, anxiety ridden problem and it has taken me years to find my current peace”

      May I borrow it?

  4. None of my dieting friends have ever lost weight for any length of time. It hurts my heart to see them all excited when the are losing, then they gain it back and are sad. Then it starts again.

  5. What gets me is when they join an expensive weight-loss program, with regular dues, and spend their money on expensive weight-loss program food (Like Weight Watchers Brand, or Jenny Craig special food), plus the expensive food supplements, to ensure your get enough vitamins, minerals, and calcium, when you’re limited in your food intake, and add in the expensive gym membership and work-out gear,

    And THEN, they complain that there is NO EXCUSE not to do what they did, and lose the weight, and that ANYONE can do it, if they just exercise the smallest amount of willpower, and put down that donut! YOU FOOL!

    Yeah, because putting down A donut really compares to spending more money in a month than I make in six months.

    You know, I once asked my mother, “What does ‘in my salad days’ mean?” She told me that it meant a person was talking about when they were poor, and all they could afford was salad. I laughed. “But, Mom! Salad is expensive!” Yeah, with all the government food subsidies for junk-food, they should call it, “In my high fructose corn syrup and ramen noodles days.”

    So, yeah, it’s one thing to say, “I starved myself and lost weight,” and quite another thing to spend all your money on it, and then yell at other people, saying they have no excuse not to bankrupt themselves to do the same thing.

    Especially if it doesn’t even last longer than a few years, anyway. I get better return on investment from buying a junker car than I do from ANY weight-loss program. At least with a junker car, I can drive to work, and make some of that money back.

    1. “Salad days” actually comes from Shakespeare: “My salad days, when I was green in judgment, cold in blood, to say as I said then.” Since then it’s been used to signify one’s youth and immaturity, like the term “green” (though of course people also use it to mean simply “youth” in a good sense).

        1. It’s easy to see how that could be misconstrued as “when they were poor” because usually when you’re young, you’re poor.

  6. How very, very timely. I was just looking in my inbox for a picture my friend was sending me of his before & after.

    This guy’s been on a weight-loss-and-buff-up kick this entire year. I had to have a real talk to check in with him to see if he was okay (rather than dangerously obsessed with thinness), because for a while that is the ONLY thing he would talk about and any change of conversation would quickly get steered back to that. A bit unnerving if you ask me. He convinced me he wasn’t developing an eating disorder, though, so I stopped prying.

    Now he’s calmed down and is back to talking about everyday things… but he’s still complaining to me about being hungry from his diet at this very moment, so…

  7. What do you mean suddenly…?
    I think it’s “After Syndrome”. There is no more tense, moralizing, irritating, extremist behavior than one sees than that of an “After”. After Anything, post- fat, post-gay, post-whatever. Sometimes it isn’t necessarily a full body blow out. I have come across people doing healthy things like getting into therapy and they learn new tools and then beat people to death with them.
    Right about the laser focus. If you: “made it” by total focus and absolute control and obsession it is gonna spill over into EVERY MOMENT OF YOUR LIFE because in a way it has become your life.
    S’kinda like when people fall in love and bore the rest of us to death. Some kind of mental quirk. The all consumingness of whatever is a drag for everyone else. When it is something: “YOU TOO” can obtain “For your own good” then it becomes positively punitive.
    I like the idea of the monkey bit. Think I will memorize stuff on penguins or alligators. If you really want to make people uncomfortable talk about sex or therapy, body fluids.
    There was a recent election that could be used to swing the conversation to less tense topics…;)

  8. Well, I have lost a significant amount of weight. But it was truly never my intent to lose. And I’m not precisely sure why or how the loss took place. I do *not* endorse dieting or weight loss. When I am asked what my “secret” is, I present my Rules For Healthful Eating:

    Eat whatever you want, whenever you want it, and as much as you want. (and please don’t substitute lesser things for what you *really* want)

    And, because folks are always fascinated by those Before And After comparisons, I use my own as a tool for opposing anti-fat bigotry:

  9. And when people ask (because people are inappropriately fascinated with what everybody weighs) how you’ve lost weight, or how you stay slim, and you tell them the truth – “I ate 1000 calories a day and ran 15 miles a week” – they get bored really fast. It’s like they’re hoping for a magic pill or some such….

    (I’ve been up and down my whole life, so I hope this doesn’t offend anyone if i put it here. I’ve had food issues since I was 10, and I still struggle. But geesh, you do you, I’d never recommend anyone step into my personal hell. Some people lack the ability to understand the difference between their experiences and everyone else’s in life.)

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