How Not to Talk to a Fat Person

I’m fat.

I think that’s pretty obvious the moment you meet me. (Although it’s not always so easy to tell online. I’m a whiz at Photoshop.) What’s not so obvious is that underneath these copious folds of Fatty Daddy flesh is someone grossly unhappy with and sensitive about his weight. Unfortunately, all this corpulence doesn’t buffer me from the insane ways people have of talking to me about my weight.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not the easiest person with whom to broach the topic of weight. When you’re obese, you’re defensive. At least I am. And the heavier I get, the more defensive I become. But when The One jiggles my stomach and says he’s rubbing the Buddha belly for good luck, I mean, come on, people! If you prick us, do we not bleed?

So when you talk to someone who’s overweight, especially at this time of year, may I make a few delicate suggestions?

1. Don’t ask, “What are your New Year’s resolutions?” We fatties know that’s a pathetically veiled way of asking, “Are you going to try to lose some weight this year?”

2. Never ask us, “Are you going to eat all that?” It may simply be an innocent question indicating you’re covetous of our meal and hoping we’ll share. But all we hear is, “You have the appetite of an American pygmy shrew!” (That’s an animal that literally must eat three times its weight every day or it will die. Why can’t I be so fortunate?) Keep your fork on your own plate.

3. If you’re a parent or significant other, nix the guilt, for cripes’ sake. It always backfires. (I think every time Mama Leite has guilted me about my weight, I’ve gained five pounds in rebound fat. It’s not out of spite, anger, or revenge. My response to guilt is to feel shame. Shame is an unpleasant emotion. I’m an emotional eater. So guilt = shame = eating. Second-grade math, folks.)

4. Don’t say to your adipose husband, “Hey, Hank! I’ll give you five dollars for each pound you lose.” Please. Bribery begins at $50 a pound.

5. Don’t buy one of those fat little pigs that you place in the fridge that oinks every time you open the door. We’ll hurl that thing at your head wicked hard.

6. Under no circumstances should you strike a deal with We Round Ones. No matter how well-intentioned you are, don’t say something like,”If you lose weight, I’ll stop nagging you about being such a rotten daughter-in-law.” That, too, will backfire. (Although I did strike a very shrewd bargain with Mama Leite during the holidays. We agreed that if I lose weight, she won’t hound me about my memoir. See, she’s paranoid about what I’m going to say about her and our family. It’s not the reason I’m losing weight, but it certainly took a lot of pressure off.)

7. At a dinner party, don’t say, “Here, why don’t you take this chair?” pointing toward the overstuffed club chair you dragged into the dining room. Do like my friend Carlotta does and sweetly say, “David, I’d love for you to sit at the head of the table.” And, of course, the only chairs that happen to fit at the head and foot of her table are her sturdiest ones. Not only do I get to preside over the evening, but it saves us both face.

8. Never ask, “Do you know how many Weight Watchers points are in that?” Because while you’re asking that, I’m plotting your murder. My Blubbery Brethren and I know the exact number of points, calories, and grams of carbs and fat in every food known to man. We can calculate to within .0001 percent accuracy the number of calories in a chicken-and-waffles all-you-can-eat buffet. A Turing machine has nothing on us.

9. Please don’t ask us to stand in the front row for a family photograph. We like the background. It hides our girth, and we can prop our chins on the heads of our shorter relatives to camouflage our onerous wattles.

10. And if you don’t know the answer when your beloved asks,”Honey, does this make me look fat?” then, my friend, I feel sorry for you.

Of course, this begs the question: What can you say? Well, that’s different for each person. When my friend Kate Jackson saw on social media that I was eating—wait for it, wait for it—quinoa, she texted me, “So proud of you.” Short, simple, and very encouraging. She even sent along a recipe. That is support.

In the end, it’s not what you say but rather what you don’t say that can help us. We know we’re heavy. We curse every time we have to wrestle with the seat belt. We know the relief that only sweatpants and Lycra can bring. In 2015, some of us will want to lose weight, while some of us will be content with the way we are. Me, I’m gunning to be 100 pounds lighter by Christmas. I’ve done it before, and I’ll do it again. I’d love your help, encouragement, and support. But if you come around saying, “It’s just a matter of portion control,” I swear I’ll sit on you.

The word "David" written in script.

About David Leite

I count myself lucky to have received three James Beard Awards for my writing as well as for Leite’s Culinaria. My work has also appeared in The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Yankee, Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, and more.

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  1. David – there is something so calm and heartfelt about the way you write. It’s comforting to read, like eating warm apple pie. I suspect that’s why you are you and loved by many (including myself). I too struggle and am mindful of my food choices because I love life and want to be around…you know? We all have our flaws, whatever that is. Live, love, eat and laugh. You, David, are doing all this whether big or small. It’s just flesh. By the way, I am baking your Hershey’s cake tomorrow for a dear friend! Cheers.

    1. Thank you, Tina. That’s very kind of you to say. I do know what you mean. And I hope your friends like the cake as much as mine do!

  2. HI David-

    I see you’ve reposted an older entry. How did it go?

    I’m nearly 70 and I remember going for a dress to wear to school when I started kindergarten and my mother had to take me to a special shop for fat children. So, you can see losing weight has been a livelong pursuit for me and I know what you’re talking about.

    I’ve tried many things that have been unsuccessful and a precious few that were momentarily do-able and effective. Just before last Christmas I discovered intermittent fasting. I’m not sure it would work for everyone, but for me it’s been a godsend. I can now bake with pleasure and not be remotely tempted by any of it.

    There’s a growing library of information about the variations online as more research lends support for intermittent fasting as a strategy for losing weight and also for improving cardiac health, diabetes and even making chemotherapy more tolerable. Basically, you incorporate fasting into your weekly plan for eating. Some people do it every other day. Some people choose a couple consecutive or non-consecutive days and do it twice a week. A “fast” doesn’t need to be rigid — most people restrict themselves to 25% of their normal calorie intake. That’s not a lot of food but, chosen well, it can still be a satisfying meal.

    My own version is two consecutive days of water fasting. That may sound intimidating but the remarkable thing is it becomes a pattern and it doesn’t feel restrictive at all. It feels like a vacation from having to think about, deal with, or be driven by food. And on the days when I eat, I eat with pleasure, I’m far more satisfied with the foods I choose and I’m freed from the constant cravings I used to have even when had already had large volumes of food.

    I would love to request an invitation to your Facebook group but I don’t have a FB account. Mostly, I just wanted to offer an alternative to those who are still looking for a solution. And to them I’d suggest googling “intermittent fasting” to see how simple and effective and liberating it can be so they don’t have to take my word for it or pursue some unsupported or profit-seeking method. Just google it, read from any source you feel comfortable and give it a whirl. It may do for you what it’s done for me.

    (PS I don’t weigh myself but I’m down 5 jeans sizes and I hardly even noticed it happening.)

    1. rainey! That is so encouraging. And I’m happy to hear that you’re doing well, feeling healthy, and have lost weight. Perhaps others will look into fasting and use it as a tool in their weight loss toolbox.

      1. I’ve loved it and felt liberated by it. And you’re exactly right that it’s a tool.

        I’ve personalized it — as many eventually do — and included many of the useful tools from other diets and programs that were helpful to me.

        I wish you well and happy in your pursuit. Dr. Michael Mosley did a BBC documentary that explains more about it if you or anyone else is interested.

  3. That was very entertaining to read. I had a good laugh cause I can totally relate. I’ve had 2 people come out and ask me in the past, “What made you decide to put on weight?”, and the other asked, “Why did you put on weight?” As if it’s a deliberate choice, like I’m gonna say “Hey, I know thinner is healthy but heck, I think I wanna be fat and get put down all the time, cause I like being tortured by ignorant people”.

    What helped for me was listening to subliminal messages over and over about self acceptance, worthiness, self esteem, healthy eating, and weight loss cause those were my issues. I have noticed that I cannot eat as much anymore and I feel better about myself and I’m also starting to want to try things I wouldn’t have tried before that are healthy.

    1. Lorelei, thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience. I give you a lot of credit for your self awareness as well as your decision to make the changes you want in your life. Like you, I believe that when you set your sights on what you want as opposed to what you don’t want, it makes all the difference in how you knowingly as well as unknowingly move about your life. Many thanks for the inspiration!