I'm overweight. I'm overweight by New York standards, Hollywood standards and medical standards. I'm not "death fat" (Lesley's satirical term for morbid obesity), and I don't wear plus-size clothing (I'm right on the edge), but I could healthfully stand to lose 30 or 40 pounds (which would still put me pretty high in the "healthy BMI" range, but, you know -- boobs).
As you may recall, my parents are very concerned about my weight. We otherwise get along swimmingly, but my body is a point of contention; and the fact that it's a point of contention is also a point of contention. They are very vocal about my weight, and they have never been shy about telling me I should slim down, even when I wore a size 6 and it was definitely not a potential health issue.
For as long as I can remember, I've begged them to not make my weight a topic of conversation, but it's something they can't resist. And for as long as I can remember, I've slowly, steadily gained weight.
Coincidence? A new study thinks not.
"When we feel bad about our bodies, we often turn to loved ones -- families, friends and romantic partners -- for support and advice. How they respond can have a bigger effect than we might think," study author Professor Christine Logel said in a University of Waterloo statement. Her research appears in the latest issues of the social psychology journal Personal Relationships.
In the study, a team of psychologists asked women their weight and how they felt about it. Five months later, the psychologists asked the participants if they had talked to their family about their weight concerns and how their family members responded. Another three months later, they weighed the women again.
"On average, the women in the study were at the high end of Health Canada’s BMI recommendations, so the healthiest thing is for them to maintain the weight they have and not be so hard on themselves," Logel explained. “But many of the women were still very concerned about how much they weigh, and most talked to their loved ones about it.”
The researchers found that the women whose family members made them feel accepted as they are maintained a healthy weight or lost a little weight. When the women did not receive positive, accepting messages about their bodies from loved ones, they gained weight.
"Lots of research finds that social support improves our health. An important part of social support is feeling that our loved ones accept us just the way we are," Logel said. However, she went on to explain that pressure from family to lose weight can increase stress, which is a known cause of weight gain. "We all know someone who points out our weight gain or offers to help us lose weight. These results suggest that these comments are misguided."
I don't blame my parents for my weight gain; my choices and lifestyle have been my own, and there are a number of other emotional factors that have contributed. But nagging me to lose weight -- even when it's done with the best of intentions -- hasn't helped. I want to lose weight. I just don't want to talk about it with them, especially when I'm not the one bringing it up.
I sent them a link to the study. Maybe it will help us have a conversation about how not to have a conversation about my weight.