In this new year, there are undoubtedly people who have made resolutions to lose weight or who have big endeavors for a fitter future. While those ambitions are valid and anyone is allowed to do whatever they choose with their body, there are some very common phrases that can make your fat friends extremely uncomfortable. As someone who has been curvy her whole life, I have weathered a boatload of friends who mean well but leave me feeling deeply insecure with the words they use. It’s important to think about how others interpret your words and how the things you say can negatively affect the self-confidence of perhaps your closest pals. Here are five phrases you should avoid if you don’t want to shatter a friend’s self-esteem and instead build a positive friendship.
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1. “I feel fat.”
Fat isn’t a feeling, it’s an adjective. It describes an object, and it isn’t a negative word, even though the fashion industry wants you to think it is. When you’re thinner than someone and you turn to them with a grimace and say, “Oh my god, I feel so fat,” all we hear is, “Oh my god, I feel ugly . . . like you.” Instead, try describing how you actually feel. Phrases like, “I feel sluggish,” or “I feel full,” are likely what you meant in the first place, so say that.
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2. “I need to lose weight.”
It’s likely that this is more of a want than a need for you. When you turn to your friends with large bodies and state that it’s a necessity that you lose weight, we often think that you see us as monstrous and wrong. If you, as a thinner person, “need” to lose weight, that must mean that your biggest fear is eventually looking like us if you don’t do so as soon as possible. Instead, try saying, “I’d like to try working out more often,” or “I’d like to cut some things out of my diet because they don’t make me feel good.” Focus on health, not image. That should be where your brain is anyway.
3. “I wish I could eat that.”
Or, for that matter, any other food-related commentary along these lines. If you’re out to eat with a friend and she ordered, say, a cheeseburger and fries, while you ordered a more vegetable-forward option, there’s no need to comment on the difference. When you say, “I wish I could like eat that,” we hear, “If only I didn’t care about my health, I could make fat, junky choices like you!” (Obviously, there are exceptions for a food allergy or intolerance.) Anything is good in moderation and, likely, your fat friends eat healthily most of the time and have similar workout habits to yourself. Take Lizzo for example. She works out like a machine! Eating out is a treat, so let people treat themselves without being shamed.
4. “Do I look fat in this?”
So what if you did? Would that really be the end of the world? Would the sun explode? No. When you say this phrase, I hear, “Do I look like you? I sure hope I don’t,” and I don’t really care to give you input on a question that has now made me feel terrible about myself.
5. “Do you think she’s pregnant? She looks bigger.”
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I feel like celebrities could talk for days about the damage of pregnancy speculations when, in reality, a person has gained a small amount of weight or looks bloated, but I’ll speak to it, too. Bigger does not equal pregnant. Even if you know someone who’s had washboard abs since the day you met and out of the blue now has love handles, that doesn’t mean that person is pregnant. They might just be gaining weight, and that’s fine and also none of your concern. Additionally, weight gain can be the result of many other things, so stop immediately jumping to pregnancy. Thyroid issues, medications, depression, and certain disabilities can all lead to weight gain, so keep your thoughts to yourself and talk about something other than your former sorority sister’s stomach.
In an informal survey of pastors, I asked a simple question:
What do you wish you had been told before you became a pastor?
Some of the responses were obvious. For me, a few were surprises.
I note them in order of frequency of response, not necessarily in order of importance. After each item, I offer a representative quote from a pastor.
- I wish someone had taught me basic leadership skills. “I was well grounded in theology and Bible exegesis, but seminary did not prepare me for the real world of real people. It would have been great to have someone walk alongside me before my first church.”
- I needed to know a lot more about personal financial issues. “No one ever told me about minister’s housing, social security, automobile reimbursement, and the difference between a package and a salary. I got burned in my first church.”
- I wish I had been given advice on how to deal with power groups and power people in the church. “I got it all wrong in my first two churches. I was fired outright from the first one and pressured out in the second one. Someone finally and courageously pointed out how I was messing things up almost from the moment I began in a new church. I am so thankful that I am in the ninth year of a happy pastorate in my third church.”
- Don’t give up your time in prayer and the Word. “I really don’t ever remember anyone pointing me in that direction. The busier I became at the church, the more I neglected my primary calling. It was a subtle process; I wish I had been forewarned.”
- I wish someone had told me I needed some business training. “I felt inadequate and embarrassed in the first budget meetings. And it really hit home when we looked at a building program that involved fund raising and debt. I had no clue what the bankers were saying.”
- Someone should have told me that there are mean people in the church. “Look, I was prepared to deal with critics. That’s the reality of any leadership position. But I never expected a few of the members to be so mean and cruel. One church member wrote something really cruel on my Facebook wall. Both my wife and children cried when they read it.”
- Show me how to help my kids grow up like normal kids. “I really worry about the glass house syndrome with my wife and kids. I’m particularly worried that my children will see so much of the negative that they will grow up hating the church. I’ve seen it happen too many times.”
- I wish I had been told to continue to date my wife. “I was diligent in dating my wife before I became a pastor. I then got so busy helping others with their needs that I neglected her. I almost lost my marriage. She felt so alone as I tried to meet everyone’s needs but hers.”
- Someone needed to tell me about the expectation of being omnipresent. “I had no idea that people would expect me to be at so many meetings, so many church socials, and so many sports and civic functions. It is impossible to meet all those expectations, so I left some folks disappointed or mad.”
- I really needed help knowing how to minister to dying people. “Some of those who have terminal illnesses have such a strong faith that they minister to me. But many of them are scared and have questions I never anticipated. I was totally unprepared for these pastoral care issues when I first became a pastor.”
How do you respond to this list? What would you add?
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Pastor to Pastor is the Saturday blog series at ThomRainer.com. Pastors and staff, if we can help in any way, contact Steve Drake, our director of pastoral relations, at [email protected]. We also welcome contacts from laypersons in churches asking questions about pastors, churches, or the pastor search process.