During my first pregnancy, my weight gain was always a topic of discussion. Eventually, my prenatal care specialist suggested I see a nutritionist. During the appointment, she took one look at my vitals and weight, and said: “You’re not at risk for gestational diabetes, but if you don’t slow down soon, you’ll never be back to your pre-pregnancy weight.”
That comment right there planted a seed of insecurity that sent me down a path of really unhealthy habits.
By six weeks postpartum, I was obsessed with weight loss and was in the gym at least six days a week. On the surface, I was a motivated new mom. But in reality, I was neglecting my mental and physical health to look fit. Between new mom anxiety, breastfeeding, and working out, I stopped making time to eat. The compliments came as fast as the pounds left. However, my size didn’t reveal that my new smaller size came at the cost of starvation. And their encouragement was fueling an undiagnosed body image disorder.
Most individuals don’t understand how impactful perceptions of weight can be on one’s body image. So why do we continue to talk about it?
Actor and public figure Matt McGorry has been a long time advocate for discussing men’s body image. Recently, he shared a social media post that has all of us discussing the ways weight-related comments unintentionally have an impact on body image.
“I constantly hear people praising weight loss. But we need to think about those ‘compliments’ more deeply and critically,” says McGorry.
While negative weight-related comments are typically associated with weight gain, weight loss comments can be equally harmful.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that associates thin with “fit and “healthy.” However, this is not always the case. There are many documented cases of individuals who fall into a “healthy range” for height and weight when going by BMI (which is bogus, by the way), but are drastically unhealthy mentally and nutritionally.
McGorry offers himself as an example of this and mentions how he was most unhealthy when he was at his leanest weight and preparing for a bodybuilding competition. Many individuals can identify with the mental and nutritional consequences that sometimes accompany the obsessive fitness lifestyle.
An overlooked consequence of weight-related comments is the unintentional affirmation of insecurities that one has towards their weight. Consider the way we celebrate women who return to their pregnancy weight or “snap back” quickly after birth. If she is losing weight in a healthy way and it was a goal, it’s okay to celebrate that.
But for women like me who were losing weight due to stress, harmful eating habits, and fitness obsession, compliments could cause them to continue to hold onto unhealthy routines that created the problem. Anxiety is often accompanied by weight loss, and that’s not worthy of celebrating.
Similarly, many individuals struggle to gain weight or have small frames as a result of prolonged stress and long-term health consequences.
The usual discussion surrounding weight and body images overlooks the many people who aspire to gain weight. For individuals who struggle with gaining weight, discussing weight is equally as painful as it is for individuals who struggle to lose weight. Making assumptions on other people’s ideal size and fitness goals can hurt, regardless of their current size.
Consider Making Statements That Avoid The Mention Of Weight Directly
As support figures, we overlook the impact we can have on others by commenting on weight issues. We can support our loved ones better by learning to make statements that affirm the health of the individual instead of the size. Judging others’ health appearance by modern-day beauty standards is problematic. Always aim to make statements that support the value of the individual, not the dress size.
Instead of saying, “Wow, I can tell you lost/gained 15 lbs,” say something like “You look happy; how are you feeling?”
Engage With Loved Ones And Listen For Any Red Flags On Weight/Body Image Related Issues
Get to know the individual and be sure that the weight loss that they are experiencing is intentional and not the result of an adverse circumstance. Are they eating regularly? Are they exercising a reasonable amount instead of overdoing it? Have they expressed any signs of depression? These are all things one should consider before making weight judgments.
McGorry believes we can make this process easier by evaluating our motivations for giving and receiving compliments. “If you’ve noticed someone’s weight change — it is not your task to pass judgment on that — positive or negative. If you thrive off people commenting positively on your body, especially after weight or body related change, what are you really seeking from them,” McGorry notes.
Be mindful of that individual’s circumstances. Support your loved ones in their attempts towards healthy endeavors and be willing to speak up if you see negative patterns.
“I understand this is a topic of debate,” McGorry concludes. “If this doesn’t vibe with you, that’s okay. May it be food for thought.”
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