Most of the time, when someone successfully loses a ton of weight, there’s usually an outpouring of support and congratulations. But here’s a tough truth: If you yourself set a New Year’s resolution, made good on it, and shed a significant amount of poundage, you could actually face some backlash from your friends or family.
Your roommate’s constantly making jabs, saying you “got more girls when you were pudgy.” Your brother ribs you for ordering a salad at Hooters. Your mom keeps telling you to keep your elastic waistband pants, since you’ve “probably just lost water weight, anyway.”
In short: The people closest to you are being assholes. Sound familiar?
Now there’s a term for what they’re doing: “lean shaming.” Yes, there’s an antithesis to the “fat shaming” phenomenon that’s run rampant on social media and entertainment news for decades.
Thing is, lean shaming’s unfortunate but not uncommon, according to new research from North Carolina State University. In the study—published in the journal Health Communication—researchers conducted 40 in-depth interviews with people who identified themselves as having formerly been overweight or obese but now considered themselves thin. The participants (21 women, 19 men), reported an average weight loss of about 77 pounds.
“All 40 of the study participants reported having people in their lives try to belittle or undermine their weight loss efforts,” lead study author Lynsey Romo said in a press release. Yes: all 40. There’s a whole list of reasons why: jealousy, insecurity, and feeling like they’re being judged for not making the same lifestyle choices as you.
Whether it’s consciously or subconsciously undermining your progress, this type of behavior can seriously sabotage your continued weight loss. There’s a silver lining, though.
5 ways to respond to (and prevent) “lean shaming”
Participants in the studies used two different communication strategies in order to maintain their weight loss and close relationships: 1) helping naysayers “save face” or not feel uncomfortable about their own weight loss, and 2) damage control, which focused on mitigating any discomfort people might experience about their weight loss and lifestyle changes. Here are some ways you can try it yourself.
1. Explain your intentions and rationale for losing weight if someone starts laying into you. Maybe you always felt tired and unmotivated before.
2. If you want to blur how drastically different your lifestyle changes have become, eat small portions of your unhealthy foods at family gatherings so Grandma’s not offended and you don’t have to hear all the backlash about not trying your mother’s horrifically fattening double-fudge Snickers explosion cheesecake that took five hours to make.
3. Likewise, if you feel awkward in the office by not taking a slice of cake for your colleague’s birthday, take it graciously, say you’ll eat it later, then trash it.
4. Save your “cheat day” for a night out with friends.
5. Communicate how you’re not judging your friends and family’s choices. Stress how this was a change you made to better your physical and mental health. You don’t need to rival the body of a fitness model, but if you weren’t confident in your skin before, express that.
And if your coworkers, roommates, girlfriend, or family still give you crap, screw ’em. You should never feel guility for getting healthier, fitter, and happier. Check out 5 key strategies to stick to your New Year’s resolutions.