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. Dam, this goes for both ways actually, I’m quite thin and people loveeee to comment on it. Some doesn’t even know i had a history of struggling with anorexia. I think the world needs to just mind their on business when it comes to appearance ( specially at family get togethers/social functions and parties)
    It’s ok to not say anything about someone’s personal business and people don’t get it.

  2. I may be a bit late to the party (though I always am), but here are my takes.

    1. I am playing the Devil’s Advocate; not every resolution necessarily has to do with diet and exercise. It could do with getting a job or finding new employment, maybe furthering education or something else. Heck, something more fun sounding like “I’ll watch a movie from a different country each week”. For 2020, my resolution was mainly to go the year without eating sugary stuff (self-imposed, and seeing if I could).

    2. Horses for courses. With me, when I say that it is because I am hoover. For most of my life, I haven’t had steady employment so you got to eat where you can.

    3. I have never been fat per se, but have delved in skinny fat. In honesty, that is the real pits. Family members have attempted intervening all to mixed messages (e.g. pointing out a shirt is showing off the belly, but then a couple of days later not understanding “no thanks” to ice cream or soda), or results not going their way. Either way, it comes down to a failure to communicate.

    4. Those folks are going about it the wrong way there. At least to me, the real reward is in the dopamine or seeing slight improvements over time. Since I started weight training in 2014, I remember how stoked I was to do a single push-up from my toes; another breakthrough I got was seeing myself in the mirror (corner of my eye) with a better posture (no slouching, standing fairly tall).

    5. ……. That’s the first time I have heard about those things.

    6. I, uh …. don’t understand that one.

    7. Encouragement, not admonishment. Whatever the case may be, I agree. That primarily works when you have just begun changing your habits.

    8. There are some things I would say about Weight Watchers, dieticians, and whatever else in the diet industry exists. Then again, they would possibly break every rule put in place. To put in Minnesota Nice terms, it is my journey as I see it put; whatever anyone else thinks has little bearing to me.

    9. Along the way, you got to have fun. The whole shebang is about encouragement, results being inch-by-inch, and dopamine hits.

    10. I will admit it could be lovely to get a girl. However, sometimes I read that and think “yeah, bachelor life ain’t that bad”. In honesty, though, I tend to go for the bigger gals if I can.

    A lot of it comes down to the basic principle. You are on your journey, and no-one else is. Everyone wants to throw every bit of suggestions and advice your way, and all is useless unless you are asking and seeking that information. For me, I am an ardent weight-lifter, and more want to stack on the pounds than anything. Therefore, whatever I can do to clean bulk is more relevant to me than getting to a “healthy” BMI.

    Along the way, though, I reiterate the real results are in the little things (even in using the last hole in my belt, the pants are slightly loose). As a good friend of mine says “look after the little things, and the big things will sort themselves out”.

    Five years, 50 years, however long, always keep up the work.

    1. Thanks Mikey. It’s a long journey and self-care and self-awareness are so foundational in it, and it sounds like you’ve got those figured out! Good for you.