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?
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'Body of Truth' by @harrietnbrown was an incredibly illuminating book for me (thanks for the recommendation @fyeahmfabello !!!). As someone who worked as a trainer for a decade (and has struggled with my own body image), I would highly recommend reading this book instead of the next diet or workout program you might be thinking about reading. "Now, more than a decade later, after three pregnancies and a whole lot of living, I just can't seem to do it anymore. So I sit in the chair, leaking tears of self-pity, and wait for the therapist to break out the Kleenex and reassure me that yes, it's OK, she'll help me lose weight, we will take care of this together… 'What if you were OK with your body the way it is right now?' she asks. I stare at her. What I *want* to say is "Are you fucking nuts?" I mean, that's why I'm here, because I'm *not* OK with it. Does she want me to have a heart attack or stroke or get diabetes because I'm too fat? Does she know how much time I've wasted crying in front of the mirror? Does she think I want to *look like her* for the rest of my life? Of *course* I never considered the possibility of being OK with this body. This unacceptable body. And I'm not *going* to consider it. That would be letting myself go, as my grandmother used to say, shaking her head, about any woman who had gained a few pounds. Even as a child I knew what she meant: they'd stopped caring about themselves. And now they deserved exactly what they got from my grandmother and every other woman in their social circle- censure, gossip, and pity… I consider leaving now, mid-session, and never coming back. But something keeps me in the chair. I have the sense that if I walk out, I'll be missing something big, something important… But her words stay with me. They haunt me as I brush my teeth and talk to my daughters and put dinner on the table. I'm in my late thirties, and it's actually never occurred to me before that some people might be OK with not being thin. Some *women*. It's as if her words revealed a huge blind spot in my vision, one I didn't know I had." #McGReads
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.
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Screenshot captions after the 1st graphic are from me. I constantly hear people praising weight loss. But we need to think about those “compliments” more deeply and critically. # Repost from @bodyimage_therapist – “Usually, the word 'judgement' brings to mind something negative. However, judgements are judgements. There may be more acceptable judgements, or more taboo judgements. For example, it's more acceptable to say 'oh wow you've lost weight, good job!' and more taboo to say 'you've gained weight, what happened?'. Just because one is more socially acceptable, doesn't mean the praised-based 'positive judgement' serves the person. Whether it be praising or scolding, judgements create a hierarchical interaction. It is implied that the person doing the judging has more ability than the person being judged. If a person thrives off praise, praise will always be based on the values system of the person dishing it out. . . If you've noticed someone's weight change – it is not your task to pass judgement 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? . . I understand this is a topic of debate. This is the angle I take. If this doesn't vibe with you, that's okay. May it be food for thought. . . #psychology #arttherapy #healthateverysize #stigma #mentalhealth #feminism #wellbeing #health #mentalillness #fatstigma #dietculture #selflove #gratitude #bodypositivity #bopo #bodyimage #counselling #therapy #mindfulness “
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.”