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What to Do When They Say, “Ugh–I’m So Fat!”

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album
Reviewed by Laura Acosta, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida

We’ve all been there. A family member, friend, or romantic partner complains about his or her weight, or makes a comment about needing to diet or being fat. How can you respond helpfully and supportively?

Should you reassure your loved ones that they look great just the way they are? Maybe you feel like you have some tips on weight loss, having “been there and done that” yourself. On the other hand, maybe it’s better to remind them that it’s what’s on the inside that matters…

How Do We Respond to these Conversations?

For those of who have been in this situation, new research in the journal Personal Relationships offers some guidance. In this study, over 100 female college students were followed for over six months to see how the messages they heard about their weight from family members, friends, and significant others affected them.

First, the women reported their weight, and were asked how concerned they were about it. They also were asked whether they had ever expressed weight worries to three people they were close to (typically, a friend, a parent, and a romantic partner). Ninety-three percent said that indeed, they had, reflecting how common these concerns are among young women.

Finally, the women indicated how those they were close to had responded to their comments about their bodies. For instance, did their loved ones say their weight was acceptable just as it was? Or did they agree that there was a problem? Maybe they brushed off the concern completely.

Acceptance At Any Size Had Positive Effects

Once a few months had passed, the women reported their weight again. After analyzing the results, the researchers found that women who had expressed high concern about their bodies the first time around had benefited from hearing messages of acceptance (like “I think you’re great just the way you are”) from their loved ones. In fact, these women lost weight or maintained their weight over time.

Other Comments Can Make Things Worse

Meanwhile, weight-anxious women who had heard more anxiety-producing messages (such as, “You’re right…let’s diet together”) or dismissive comments (like “It doesn’t matter”) tended to gain weight.

What’s more, when women who hadn’t been too worried about their bodies heard messages that they should lose weight, they got more concerned about this issue—and also tended to gain!

The researchers suggest that we may need to feel love and acceptance from those we’re close to in order to achieve our weight goals. Otherwise, fear or negativity may get in the way, preventing us from pursuing fitness and a healthy weight for the right reasons.

This is a great thing for all of us to be aware of when we hear those “I need to go on a diet” or “I’m so fat” comments from those around us. Offering acceptance at any size could have some surprisingly positive effects.

(Photo credit: Sunday morning in Piazza del Popolo, Nov 2009 – 46 by Ed Yourdon. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0. Cropped.)

References:

Logel, C., et al. (2014). A little acceptance is good for your health: Interpersonal messages and weight change over time. Personal Realationships, 21, 583-598. http://dx.doi.org/0.1111/pere.12050