We know you mean well when you tell a fat friend or family member to stay away from the Oreos and Fritos, but new Yale University research suggests that the advice could backfire and lead to more weight gain.
After overweight women watched a stigmatizing video, they consumed three times as many calories as those who watched a neutral video. Researchers expect the same would happen to men.
“Using food to cope is common strategy for people who face weight stigma from multiple sources—whether it be from TV shows, coworkers, or family members,” says lead study author Natasha Schvey, M.S., graduate student at Yale University.
Now, we know you wouldn’t be rude to a loved one with weight problems, but unwanted “advice” can go awry. “Overweight adults frequently list family members as a source of weight bias,” says Schvey. “Comments intended as helpful often come across as critical or stigmatizing.” Here are the three things you shouldn’t do—and what to do instead.
You try to convince him to join a gym
Do this instead: Be a good fitness role model. Sign up for a class and invite him to join, too, or suggest an evening walk after dinner together, advises Schvey. “This makes fitness mutual, not judgmental.”
You stock the house with healthy food—on the sly
Do this instead: “Don’t make him feel that you’re going behind his back to change his weight, which will make him feel belittled,” says Schvey. Be more collaborative. Cook together, which shows that eating healthy can be easy—without lecturing about it.
You tell her she needs to eat fewer calories
Do this instead: Yes, you’re right, but you should frame the advice in terms of health, says Schvey. Ask, “You seem to have less energy than usual, are you eating well?” That will show concern for her overall well-being, not just her waistline.