Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girlshed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.
QUESTION: I get a lot of grief from people about dieting. Comments such as, “You look hungry. Why don’t you eat something”? Or, “You’re going to wither away to nothing.” Why do people say stuff like this? I’m doing this the healthy way. I’ve lost 45 lbs since June, and I would think people would be more supportive. What gives?—Karen
DEAR KAREN: Cheers to you for dropping pounds the healthy way! (At least you can always count on me for support!) You are not alone in finding out that the people around you aren’t always the best cheerleaders when you’re losing weight. I had the same issue: the “pushers,” as I called them, pushing food on me after I’ve mustered up all my willpower to say “no,” or the well-meaning (or not) questions about whether I was exercising too much. Like you, I was mystified, and even angry. After all my failed attempts at losing, how could the people around me NOT be supportive? Well, I’ve got a few theories about why, and some advice for handling the situation.
They feel threatened. You play a certain role in your friends and family’s lives, a role that they’ve likely become comfortable with. Your losing weight is a sign that you’re changing, you’re perhaps becoming more independent, developing new interests, growing into a different role. I’m not saying that our weight defines us, but for me, I know it played a major part in who I was (and continues to). People closest to us may be afraid that we will become someone they can no longer relate to us, or that they’ll somehow lose us to this new, thinner life of ours.
They don’t know how to love you anymore. My dad used to prepare a special steak dinner for me every time I visited home. That was his way of welcoming me, of showing his love for me. When I stopped eating meat altogether (I was a vegetarian for a time), it completely threw him off. He didn’t know how to express his feelings for me any more (words, alas, were not an option in our house!). Over time, he became more comfortable with the new noncarnivorous me, but until after trying to persuade me to have “just a bite.”
Your success makes them feel like failures. Friends and family who also have weight issues may feel more pressure to succeed themselves, or more daunted by their less-than-successful attempts to drop the pounds.
I’m sure there are many other reasons. This is the perfect time to discuss this topic, as many of us will be around family and friends—and tons of food—at the same time. Passing up seconds on family favorites may raise an eyebrow or two, or even incite a major discussion about your dieting history (speaking from experience here). I was angry about this kind of stuff until I realized that for the most part, people’s intentions are good—they simply don’t mean to undermine me when they question my choices. I learned to be as unobtrusive about what I was eating as possible. I stopped explaining myself when I skipped dessert or chose a healthy entree. You know, “I’ll just have a salad. I’m on a DIET.” Why announce it to the world? You’e only inviting comment.
I also—and this was tough for me—perfected the laughing response. So instead of getting defensive (“BELIEVE me, I eat!”), I just laugh and smile, refusing to get into a verbal sparring match. I still have to use these techniques even now. I’ve found that, for some reason, people feel like they have license to comment on what’s on my plate—or what’s not—while I would never comment on an overweight person’s food choices. Hey, it’s only food, and what I eat is my business. If there was someone who I felt was particularly unsupportive, I avoided being in food situations with him or her. Unfortunately, I did have some emotional “break ups” with friends over the new direction my life was taking. As hard as that was, I truly believe it was necessary.
Don’t let someone else’s issues keep you from doing what you know is right for yourself. This is perhaps one of the most difficult barriers to losing weight for good that you will encounter—harder than kicking your Oreo habit. If you can learn to laugh off the comments, you’re way ahead of the game.