Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's Not Your Job to Tell A Loved One to Lose Weight

     KCBY of North Bend, Oregon published an irresponsible story on Jan. 2 about how to tell a loved one that he or she is "fat." Charles Stuart Platkin, a nutrition and public health advocate, bases his advice on a study by the University of Colorado that indicated a majority of successful weight-loss maintainers had experienced a "trigger event or critical incident." He says that this event could be "a comment from a loved one that acts as a wake-up call."
     In the study referred to, about 32% of the participants pointed to either a medical trigger or an emotional trigger as motivation. One participant's motivation was "husband left me and my lawyer told me it was because I was too fat." 
     Doesn't that sound like a horrible way to begin what should be a positive life change? Successful weight-loss maintainers should be able to look back at the beginning of their weight loss as the start of their path to a healthier way of life, not the end of a relationship. Even if a talk about weight doesn't lead to a break-up, and it won't necessarily, the start of a weight-loss plan shouldn't be triggered by worry about how a loved one feels about you.
     People who need to lose weight should not be doing it for anyone but themselves. The motivation needs to come from the right place. And they should never be told that they will somehow be a better person because of the weight loss.
     It's likely that an overweight person already realizes they are overweight, especially if female. In fact, it's more likely that a female will consider herself to be overweight when she's not.
     An article in the International Journal of Obesity compared adults' actual weight-status according to BMI and their perception of their status as underweight, normal weight, overweight or obese. Researchers found that 59.00% of male subjects were either overweight or obese, but 44.22% said they were overweight. 
     But for female subjects, they found an opposite trend. For women, 50.49% were either overweight or obese, while 60.09% said they are overweight. 34.83% of healthy weight/underweight female college graduates even believed they were overweight.
     Platkin warns against being judgmental. But how can negative comments about weight be considered anything but judgemental? Telling a loved one that you want them to change means that you view some part of them in a negative light. In other words, you're being judgmental. For someone who already suffers from poor body image, or even disordered eating, these comments can be especially damaging.
     We already know that girls whose families criticize their weight or diet may develop future body image problems. One study found that of 455 college women with poor body image, more than 80 percent said their parents or siblings had made negative comments about their bodies during childhood. The opinions of significant others also play a critical role in one's self-esteem. For some people, the opinions of significant others may be even more important to them than those of their families.
     The article makes valid points about how social support is needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and how couples can resolve to be healthy together. But Platkin completely neglects to mention eating disorders in his story. Someone suffering from binge eating disorder or bulimia knows they when they are overweight. Being criticized about it by a significant other is not going to help. A better approach for significant others would be to simply be there to listen and provide support when their loved one is ready to make changes.... and not one second before.
     Families should of course speak up if they recognize an eating disorder in a member. But comments should focus on concern for well-being. They should never focus on appearances, whether the object of concern is underweight or overweight.

3 comments:

Sunflowers said...

I agree completely!

Erin said...

Thanks, I'm glad someone else feels the same way!

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