November 21, 2014

What Our Overweight Family Members Want Us to Know.


Every week I have very overweight clients in my office crying, not about being overweight, but about the way they are treated because of it.

It’s important for people to know that someone who has been very overweight for a long time is used to being treated with a great deal of disrespect.

They have been the recipient of mean comments and cruel actions, and worst of all, they have been treated as almost invisible by a world that claims up and down their weight issue is their own fault because they have no self control. (Which is not actually true, but that’s a different blog.)

If there is someone in your life who is overweight, or if you are just a kind, loving person, there are a few things the overweight people in your life would like you to know:

1. Don’t give them clothing as gifts: If it doesn’t fit, even if it’s too big, they won’t think, “They just grabbed the wrong size.” They will feel really, really bad and likely cry long and hard about it, especially if it’s something they like but can’t wear. Even if you include tags and receipts, they will be too embarrassed to return it. So give them something else instead.

2. Don’t try to talk to them about their weight: Trust me, they already know they are overweight. By talking to them about it, even if you are saying things you think are loving, they will feel bad, and they already get enough of that in their life.

3. Don’t shame them for any physical accommodations you have to make: If they can’t fit into a seat or have trouble walking across the parking lot, don’t make them feel bad. You wouldn’t do that to a handicapped person, so help them out. Yes, it would likely be better if they walked, but you aren’t their personal trainer.

4. Don’t give them different gifts: A client tearfully told me a story of attending her family’s holiday party where one relative bought everyone a box of chocolates, but bought her an “I love San Diego” mug. The relative thought they were being thoughtful, but instead, my client was so embarrassed, she cried for a week. This is also true for holiday meals. Unless they ask for it, don’t make them a special “low-calorie” food item. It singles them out and will make them feel bad.

5. Don’t assume they have no self-control or don’t want it bad enough: I guarantee you the overweight person in your life has tried everything. It just hasn’t worked for them for one reason or another. You can’t know why someone is overweight, nor is it really any of your business unless they ask you for help. Just follow my next piece of advice instead.

6. Love them, love them, love them: I once had a very overweight coworker who people made fun of behind her back. Over coffee she told me she knew everyone did this, and when I asked her how she felt about it, her answer broke my heart. “If they didn’t say mean things, I wouldn’t get any attention at all. I’d be invisible.” These people, no matter how tough skinned they look or act, are used to people being mean to them, and that wound is not easily healed even if they do lose the weight.

Some of these suggestions may seem counterintuitive in helping your overweight friends and family, but at the end of the day, losing weight—if they decide to do it, to the extent that it may or may not be a choice—is on them. What they most want in the world is what everyone wants, to be loved and accepted just as they are. By doing that for them and teaching others to do so by example, you will truly make the world a better place.


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Author: Jill Thomas

Editor: Travis May

Photo: Flickr/Marjan Lazarevski

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