I received a question from a More To Love Class alum and client of mine:
“Recently, I've been chatting with some folks about my weight while healing from injury and I find myself having to justify my body constantly and being on the receiving end of unsolicited (though well meaning) advice. What advice do you have on how to handle this?”
What an excellent question, concern and often-tricky subject. I firmly believe that when you learn to love and accept your body, you also have to resist the urge to prove yourself. Why? Because you’ll get exhausted, frustrated and only deplete your own energy trying to justify yourself and health to others.
I’ve lived this personally, especially as More To Love’s work has grown more public, and struggled with having to defend and explain my health to critics who didn’t think it possible to be happy and healthy inside a larger body. Every Time I “fought back” to prove myself, it only made me angry to do so. What's really going on is our ego trying to be "right" and feel validated, which is very understandable, but not helpful to the ultimate goal of personal and body love and acceptance.
But all comments are not created equal so I’ve adopted a few responses and attitudes depending upon the type of person I’m engaging with. So here are a couple ways based on likely scenarios of people you’ll encounter regarding your body and judgement around health.
The Well-Meaning (but annoying) critic
This is a person whom at the end of the day truly loves you, but has a really bad way at getting their love across. They might use phrases like “lose weight for your own good” or “I just want you to be happy” which sounds lovely and may be intended to be, but likely, causes you grief and guilt that you’re letting them down. Most often, these are people close to you like parents, relatives and friends, and the balance of your relationship might feel tenuous at times if they aren't on the same page as you.
The best way to handle comments made by someone like this is to tell them flat out how their judgement is making you feel. Likely, they are concerned for your well-being, but it’s being directed at the wrong place. It might be uncomfortable to bring it up at first, but it’s important to because you deserve to speak your truth for what you’re going through and also, it’s also a good opportunity for you to educate them on what health at every size is or whatever you’re doing for your body that you’re happy and proud of.
Make it known that you appreciate their concern and would find more value if it was directed towards your whole well-being, not weight, and that they can trust you’re doing all you’re capable of. This approach is grounded in confidence and love so lead with that and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the reaction and positive changes in the other person.
This person proclaims to be an expert in all things health, wellness, fitness and diet - and makes SURE you know about it too. Usually they are up to date on the latest diets and workouts and often say things like “Have you tried this?” or the reverse “No, you're doing it wrong..see, you've got to.....” They might even push and prod you to try out whatever they do: to eat like X, workout like Y, do Z.
They are someone who values health, but negatively impacts others health if it doesn’t look like their own version. Health-jargon is feverishly tossed around and often time, engaging with this person makes you feel bad about yourself and judged. They operate from the concept that health is black & white, which makes it very difficult for them to see your side.
So to handle a know-it-all, it’s all about damage control and minimizing the impact of their comments on your own approach. Since they tend to be intense about how they do things, you’ve just got to acknowledge their comment but don't inquire more about their methods. They probably do enjoy their attention to health & fitness, but that does't mean their methods are right for you. It also helps to understand they see the world this way because they have a deep desire within them to be RIGHT. A know-it-all is ego-driven and that's their issue, but you don’t have to make it become yours either.
When I encounter the know-it-all who tells me about XYZ, I always say something like“Wow, that’s really cool - I’m happy you have something you love doing.” And if they say something like “You should really do X” I reply “Interesting, I’ll looking into that - thanks!” Don’t fuel it further because honestly, it’s not about YOU. Like I said, they are a know-it-all because they need to feel right. It’s not your job to engage that attitude or de-bunk it, since it’s exhausting and won't honestly, help you personally in the long run.
When you read, meet or know someone who falls under this category of person, just remind yourself of this “Do not feed the trolls.”
A troll is a person who enjoys upsetting other people, purely for the fun of it. It wouldn’t matter if you were Gandhi, Oprah, Jesus, Bill Gates, Buddha or anyone else marvelous all rolled into one -- a troll would have something nasty to say. So the only way to deal with a troll is to ignore their comments and avoid their toxicity.
A trolls usual assaults are statements based purely in inflammatory judgement, always bias, rarely factual and are designed to hurt. Things like “Fat is ugly” or “You’re going to die because you’re fat.” Basically anything that triggers fear, hurt, alarm inside is the act of a troll.
Now, trolls usually dwell online especially in the comments section under anonymous accounts, so if you’re really prone to their poison, avoid this area. If a troll is a person in your life, you can approach it two ways: cut that person off (likely you'll need support and a plan to do so) OR develop more confidence and bravery and one day, face their onslaughts with a higher-level of self-awareness that will likely stupefy them but make YOU feel amazing.
Example: “I feel sorry for you that no matter what happens in this world, you cannot let yourself see the good.”
Or another “I know that behind your cruel words is just a scared person who thinks they don’t matter to anyone and to get attention, you say things like that. I think if you were nicer to others, you’d feel nicer about yourself.”
BOOM. Even just SAYING those things to yourself….you’ll notice a difference in how you feel. The troll will of course retort with something nasty, but honestly, you’ve just proven your ground to be a higher, wiser and more loving person -- so you’ll be able to smile it off and carry on with your amazing self.
I hope these three attitudes and approaches help you deal with people who get involved or comment on your own body, health and life.