Your friends who think they can fix your body

I recently read a blog post called An Open Letter to the Guy Who Thinks He Can Fix My Life in Five Minutes. It’s a very funny piece of writing, but with a serious point:

I’m not sure what the world would do without the Guy Who Thinks He Can Fix Our Lives in Five Minutes. Overweight people would simply go about their day, blissfully unaware that they are disgusting and probably going to die soon. Women might walk down the street without realizing that they are dressed like sluts. Coworkers might have to do their jobs normally, without a helpful mansplainer nearby to constantly watch over their shoulder.

It struck a chord with me, in particular with the main point that Matt Thomas was making: weight.

As someone who has been perennially overweight since his early teens, I know only too well of this problem. I think it’s different as a teenager; you really are in denial, or at least I was, and it’s quite possible that actually this Guy has a point by trying to make you aware of the issue. However, it’s equally unhelpful — as a teenager, you don’t want to hear it and will pay the Guy no heed.

When you reach adulthood, however, and feel the need to take your life into your own hands, it’s different again. Although I would like to think that at 23 years old it’s a bit early for people to have genuine concerns about my mortality, there’s still a certain pity discernible in some people: ‘If only this fat guy knew what he was doing to himself, and knew how easy it was to eat less and move around more… What a tragedy.’

The bigger problem, as far as I’m concerned, is when you take matters into your own hands and make a concerted effort to lose that weight. I did this about a year and a half ago and lost around four stone, though I’m still a little overweight; now I go back and forth, on and off the old diet. Of course, you will have to share this fact with people at some point: ‘Why don’t you wanna eat at McDonald’s with us?’ ‘Why don’t you want another pint?’ ‘How come you’re suddenly into running?’ Naturally the answer is that you’re trying to lose weight, at which point there are two brands of well-meaning but annoying people. They can be divided thus:

  • The stop worrying about what everyone else thinks guy: This is the person who, when you say that you’ll probably just have a salad for lunch, says, ‘Mate, you should eat whatever you want to. You want a burger, you have a burger, yeah?’ This person thinks they’re being helpful by boosting your self-esteem and helping you to be comfortable in your own skin, but can’t get it through their heads that you might actually be doing this for yourself. It’s not just about the feeling that people are quietly judging you for having to buy XXL T-shirts or that you might be less attractive to the opposite/same sex, though of course this comes into it; it’s also how you feel in yourself. I grew fed up of the fact that it wasn’t easy for me to tie my shoelaces, or that I got back pain from the terrible posture associated with obesity. Nothing feels better for me than going for a half-hour run now, when the first time I went to the gym in 2010 I struggled through a slow minute on the treadmill. So kindly screw you; until you’ve walked a mile in my shoes, sweating and wheezing, then you have no idea what my motivations might be.
  • The don’t do it that way, do it like this guy: This guy is very similar to Matt’s Guy Who Thinks He Can Fix Our Lives in Five Minutes – in fact, in some cases, they may be the self-same person. The sad fact is that this is nearly every person when you mention that you’re trying to lose weight, because nearly everyone thinks that they alone know the secret to weight loss. Don’t get me wrong, I’m more than happy to have a chat with you about what has worked for you and the general struggles of losing weight – in fact if you ever see two people who are dieting in the same room it’s probably all they will talk about, as demonstrated by every interview Chris Moyles has done with Gary Barlow in the last few years. Just don’t try and tell me that the way I am trying to do it is wrong, or unhealthy, or even dangerous. I am a fraction of the physical mass that I once was, so I have been pretty successful in the past. I know my eating habits and I know how my life is structured a hell of a lot better than you do, so let me do it my way and then we can all go out for a beer at the end of it and toast my new waistline.

Just like the original Guy, it can be quite hard to tell these people to lay off, because they only mean the best and are quite often your close friends and family. I also acknowledge it can be difficult if your friend is trying to lose weight — it can be awkward trying to know whether you should acknowledge their weight or pretend it’s not a problem. The only advice I can give you is to ask them how it’s going, support them if they tell you they’re going to abstain from booze or fatty food rather than trying to talk them out of it, compliment them on how good they’re looking and wish them the best. You’re not their personal trainer; all they will ask is your support.


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