My friend gained 15 pounds. Here's what I said to her.

Sunday's Shortcut to Slim podcast discusses shame and the role it plays with obesity. You can listen to episode #4 here.

Shortly after I recorded that episode, life tested me. hard. 

A friend said to me, “ugh, I gained 15 pounds from stress eating!”

Admittedly, I never knew what what to say in response to statements like that. 
Do I acknowledge it by saying, “You're right, you did gain 10lbs.” 

or fib with, “What?? No way! you look the same!” 

OR do I skip acknowledgement altogether with my usual approach, a more neutral: “Well I think you look great!!" ??

(buuut my opinion should not matter and her looks aren't why we are friends.  I'd love her and value her in my life at any size... I don't want to contribute to the horrible societal messages I talked about in the episode and/or convey the awful message she is more valuable in a different body....)

OR should I validate and say, “Oh you've been through hell! Anyone in your shoes would stress eat!” 

Do I try to be motivational and say, “You’ll lose it!!”

Do I tell her to “Be kind to herself, love your body!” 

and on and on.

It's such a confusing situation!!!

Finally I reached out to Meal Mentor members on Facebook (the VIP member community is amazing!) for help.

I asked them to share their thoughts with me... specifically, what would they want their friend to say back to them.

Their advice was incredibly helpful so I'm sharing it here.

Here was my favorite reply:

 
"How about "well, crap. I've been there too. What kind of friend do you need me to be in this moment? Do you just want to vent, would you like advice or an accountability partner or should I just hug you and tell you I still love you and you're beautiful?"

Here are other helpful responses from our members:
  • "I'm sorry you've been having a hard time. Is there anything I can do to support you?"

  • "Don't address the weight, but ask how you can help with her stress like a phone call or go for a walk."
  • "I would ask her what has her so stressed out and not discuss the weight unless she specifically asked."

  • "You should ask first before offering advice, because sometimes people just want to be heard and understood."

What's the research say?

#1: Shame doesn't work, period.
 
See this week's STS episode for more info there.

But does encouraging a friend to diet or lose weight in a really, really nice way unhelpful too?

Yes.

New research suggests taking the vanilla "I think you look great" is the most effective way to make your pal not only feel better, but potentially help them stop stressing out about body and, in turn, lose weight.

In that study I learned, "try not to react or show any facial expression displaying surprise about the person's weight gain. It's best to ignore the change in body size."

I also found this to be super helpful, "At the end of the day, if you care about the health and well-being of a friend who feels she needs to lose weight, accepting her and enjoying your time together is the way to go, whether or not she needs to lose weight for health reasons."

Bottom line: Feeling bad about the size of your body doesn't make you lose weight. It only puts you at a GREATER risk for gaining. 

Social approval SUPPORTS physical health so be kind... always.