What Purpose Does it Serve to Talk about Body Weight?
During the holiday season, I often hear talk about body weight—in particular gaining weight.
Whether in conversation or in the media, we are all hearing about weight. Below are some typical statements.
“I’m disgusted with myself for gaining weight this holiday season.”
“You should stay away from the carbs to not gain weight this holiday season.”
“The only way to not gain weight is to not go to any parties.”
“Honey, be good at the party. You don’t want to gain any more weight.”
“I can’t believe she is eating that dessert after losing all that weight.”
“I wish I had an eating disorder so I could have willpower and not gain weight.” (I cringe hearing this)
What purpose does it serve to talk about body weight this holiday season, or ever? Although it may make sense to you, talking negatively about weight doesn’t change behavior. Whether intentional or not, when you talk about body weight, you are likely adding to the negative stereotype and lack of compassion for the millions of people who struggle with the disease of obesity or an eating disorder.
Obesity is a disease associated with having an excess amount of body fat, which may increase the risk of developing conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers and sleep apnea. Once thought of as a “weakness of character,” scientists now understand that with obesity, the gut, fat cell, and brain will fight against weight loss, making it very difficult for someone with obesity to lose weight and keep it off.
Eating Disorders are a mental and physical disease affecting people of every age, sex, gender, race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic group caused by a range of genetic, psychological, and sociocultural factors. They have serious consequences for health, productivity, and relationships.
Negative conversations about weight can have psychological, social and physical health consequences on the many who struggle or are predisposed to overweight, obesity and eating disorders. Examples include depression, low self-esteem, poor body image, social rejection, and unhealthy weight control practices. Knowing you care about people’s feelings, think about the following five reasons to stop conversation about body weight this holiday season (and ever) before you speak:
Talking about weight is boring and adds no purpose to a meaningful conversation. Surely, there are other more interesting things to talk about.
When you talk about weight in relation to a weakness of your character and having no will power, your words are generalized to those listening, and interpreted as “this must apply to me too.”
You have no idea who in your group of friends and colleagues have an eating disorder. (Except in extreme anorexia nervosa, it is invisible to the eye.) Be sensitive! When someone with an eating disorder hears negative comments about weight, the words are heard loud and clear in their own head, and may contribute to future negative behaviors of starving or purging.
You have no idea who is struggling internally about their weight. Even the jolly child or adult may be privately struggling. Negative comments about weight can be heard loud and clear that “I am a weak, bad person.”
Children hear the message that weight gain is bad. Children need to gain weight. Children will go through normal periods of rapid weight gain. Negative comments about weight can stop a child’s normal growth and development.
The bottom line is that a when you talk about body weight you take away from meaningful conversation where you learn, share, and enjoy the more important attributes of each other. You take away joy.
I wish you joy this holiday season.