4 Things Overweight People Are Tired of Hearing

Don't make someone feel small just because they're a bit bigger.

Medically reviewed in May 2022

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Discussions about weight can be touchy. And certain comments, even made with the best intentions, can hurt a person’s mental and physical health.

There is a thin line between supporting a loved one and casting judgment, and in some cases, it may be best not to weigh in at all. “Most people who are overweight know that they are overweight,” says Nicole Fearing, MD, a bariatric surgeon with Menorah Medical Center in Overland Park, Kansas. In other words, calling attention to it probably isn’t necessary.

“It doesn't matter who you talk to—you want to make sure you’re not shaming people about their weight,” she adds.

Read on to learn what not to say to someone who is overweight.

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"Are You Sure You Want to Eat That?"

Your words of encouragement for a friend who is looking to shed a few pounds may be less encouraging than you think. “When people hear these comments, it makes it harder for them to break down that barrier and try to lose weight. It makes it more intimidating,” says Fearing. “There’s a sense that they failed once and everybody else will look at them like they failed again.”

The connection between a person’s support system and their ability to lose weight (and keep it off) is not entirely understood. One 2016 study out of Greece suggests participants who received more verbal instruction from family and friends were actually less likely to maintain weight loss. Those who maintained weight loss received support in other ways, in the form of compliments and participation in healthy activities.

Of the 411 participants who lost weight, 289 kept it off for more than a year. The other 122 people, those who regained weight shortly after the initial loss, were more likely to be reminded of what they should or shouldn’t eat.

The study also found that those who maintained weight loss were joined by their friends and families in healthy activities, like exercise and healthy eating. If you’re looking to help a friend on her weight loss journey, consider zipping your lips and moving, instead! A healthy buddy will be beneficial for both of you.

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"You Should Just Exercise More."

A healthy diet and regular physical activity are the pillars of healthy weight loss, but shaming someone into stepping on the treadmill may not so helpful.

One 2017 study published in Obesity suggests an association between high rates of internalized weight bias—the act of applying negative stereotypes to yourself—and a greater risk of cardiovascular and metabolic diseases. When people feel shamed about their weight, they are more likely to eat poorly and avoid exercise.

That’s not all. Mental health can be affected, too. Weight bias and stigma can increase stress, which in turn, ups inflammation and cortisol levels, a hormone that increases the amount of sugar in your blood. Some research suggests a link between cortisol and excess fat around the midsection.

Another study suggests similar results. In a study of 5,480 adults over the age of 50, those who discerned unfair treatment or discrimination based on their weight were 60 percent less likely to be physically active.

Negative perceptions aside, moving your body is important, and can reduce your risk of heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and more. Hitting the gym can be intimidating, so enlist the help of a friend to accompany you or get active in other ways, like taking daily walks.

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"Have You Tried This New Diet?"

Society tells us there is an “ideal” body type, and oftentimes, those around us reinforce this idea.

According to results from a study by the University of Connecticut Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, many overweight individuals cope with weight bias by eating. Of the more than 2,400 overweight and obese participants, 79 percent admitted to eating more and 75 percent to quitting diets as a result of this bias. Regular overeating can lead to a disorder called binge eating, a condition characterized by frequently eating large amounts of food and an inability to stop eating. Most binge eaters are overweight or obese.

Don’t attempt to combat this serious condition—or even lose excess weight—with fad diets, such as the Master Cleanse, cabbage soup diet and the Blood Type Diet, regardless of who recommends them. A healthy weight loss diet consists of lean protein, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and healthy snack options, like nuts.

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"Don't You Want to Feel Healthy?"

Parents can be some of the biggest offenders when it comes to weight-related comments. Although these words are often good-natured, one study suggests comments made by parents and other family members sting worse than those made by others.

Another study, published in 2013, suggests children of parents who encourage weight loss are more likely to diet or develop eating disorders, including binge eating. Eating disorders are on the rise, affecting an estimated 11 million Americans.

Results from a 2016 study of 3,557 Australian children between the ages of 4 and 13 and their parents suggest fat shaming your kids may actually cause them to gain weight. Parents who perceived their child as “overweight” rather than “about the right weight,” regardless of what the child actually weighed, were more likely to have children who gained over the eight-year study.

It can be tough for children to stand up to their parents. “I think it can hard sometimes to find your voice and speak up,” Dr. Fearing says. “But, you can say ‘the way you picked on me is hurtful, but, you could help me [lose weight] by going for a walk with me’,” she adds.

In addition to avoiding negative discussion about losing weight, parents can make an effort to stock the fridge with healthy foods, avoid buying junk food and soda and get the whole family involved in physical activity, like a nightly bike ride.

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