This article is for anyone who’s spouse, partner, friend, or loved one is struggling with weight, food or body image problems. If you want to help but just don’t know how, then keep reading. What’s most important is to know what NOT to say:
1) First and foremost, don’t – and I can’t stress this enough – do NOT be the food police!
Do NOT say, “Do you think you should eat that?”
Do NOT say, “Maybe you should make a healthier choice.”
Do NOT say, “Do you really need a second portion?”
In the history of all time, a comment like that has never made anyone put down a fork, or stop eating something and say, “You’re right, I never thought of that. I shouldn’t eat this. Thank you for enlightening me.”
Never happened. Never will.
More likely, the person you’re talking to feels embarrassed, ashamed, guilty, and defensive. They might be mad at you. And worse, they’re even more likely to turn to food for comfort, since eating soothes, numbs or distracts from uncomfortable feelings. In other words, being the food police doesn’t make things better; it usually makes things worse.
2) Another example of what NOT to say. Don’t be logical. Don’t say, “If you want to lose weight, just eat a little less.”
Here’s why logic doesn’t help. What seems like a weight problem or a food problem is usually not about food at all. Whatever is going on with food is a “symptom” of the problem.
In gardening, if you chop off a weed it grows back. To eliminate a weed permanently, you have to dig out the root. Overeating is the equivalent of a weed. To stop overeating, people have to identify and work through the conflicts and emotions that lead to overeating. Talking about food or being logical isn’t going to help, because the focus is on the wrong thing.
3) What if you’re trying to be supportive and reassuring, and you say, “What do you mean, you feel fat? You look great.”
Sorry, but that’s another what NOT to say.
Think about it. If you say, “You look amazing” to someone, has that person ever said, “Really? I look great? Thanks, I don’t feel fat anymore.”
Again, probably never happened, and never will.
Fat is a substance, not a feeling. If your partner feels “fat” she (or he) may be using the term “fat” as a default description for feeling unsatisfied, or wishing for more of something they’re not getting. They may feel fat because it’s preferable to feeling emotional.
4) Maybe you’re thinking, “I don’t say any of those things. I’m sensitive to people’s feelings and I’d never comment on my friend’s weight. I’d never say anything to my wife or my husband about their weight.”
That’s wonderful. But, do you talk about other people’s weight? Have you ever said something like, “That actress who lost all her baby weight in three weeks? She looks amazing.”
Or, maybe you’ve weighed in (pardon the expression) on the changing weight of Lady Gaga, Christina Aguilera, Al Gore, Chris Christie, and so on.
Although, overeating is about deeper issues than weight and food, commenting on anyone’s appearance can actually trigger the behavior. When people feel bad about themselves, say in comparison to a celebrity who lost all her baby weight in three weeks, they might turn to food for comfort or distraction.
So to sum up:
Don’t decide what someone should or should not be eating
Don’t restrict food choices or amounts
Don’t make comments about food
Don’t play nutritionist or offer food-related advice
Don’t comment on other people’s weight or appearance
Stop doing all those things and that WILL be a huge help!