How to make my weight loss a non-issue in conversation
August 10, 2012 11:23 AM   Subscribe

How can I be polite and yet shut down conversations about my weight loss at an upcoming family gathering?

I recently lost a significant amount of weight. I didn't set out to lose weight and I haven't quite come to terms with how different my body looks and especially with all the feelings associated with it. (Some of the weight I lost due to feeling ill for a couple months, some of it from dietary and lifestyle changes that make me feel good. I'm healthy now.)

I'll be seeing some extended family this weekend and I'm anticipating lots of comments and maybe questions. I don't want to talk about it really, but I also want to be polite. I tend to get tongue-tied in situations that make me anxious, like the one I'm anticipating. Can you help me brainstorm ways to respond and then deflect the conversation?
posted by purple_bird to Human Relations (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I would think the most common things you're going to hear are, "wow, you look great!" and "how did you do it?" The answers are "thanks!" and "diet and exercise!" said with a smile, and then you say, "So what have you been up to?" Swiftly switch the focus back to the asker; people like to talk about themselves so it's a pretty surefire way to change the subject.
posted by something something at 11:29 AM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: One strategy that helps me a lot is to talk to a couple trusted family members in advance - just tell them exactly what you wrote here. This will only work if you trust them enough, of course. The idea is to get them to help deflect the conversation if it moves to your weight loss; that way it's not all on you to change the subject. It's a lot easier for two people to change the subject than for one person to change the subject.

Clueless relative: Oh my gosh, purple_bird, you're looking slender!
purple_bird: Yeah, I lost some weight. Hey, did you watch the Olympics this year?
Clued-in relative: Oooh, I watched all of the diving, it was so neat!

I also find it helpful to make value-neutral statements, like the one in my example above. "Yup, I lost some weight" is pretty value neutral, you're acknowledging the comment of your relative, but not really giving much of an opening to continue, especially if you then deflect on to another subject.
posted by insectosaurus at 11:29 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

"I'm dying of cancer" ...*big smile*
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:30 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Say "thanks!" and deflect and steer the conversation to something else.
posted by J. Wilson at 11:30 AM on August 10, 2012

Oh my goodness, that lifestyle change seems to have done you some good.

First of all take the damn compliment. If someone says how awesome you look, say, "Thank you very much." No matter how you down-play it, losing weight is an accomplishment.

If people persist in following up with impertinant questions just say, "Gosh, I can't think of anything more boring to discuss than my diet. How is Junior enjoying his new school?"

What people really want to know when you lose weight is: "So did you have that stomach surgery?" But you don't need to cave into their nosiness.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:30 AM on August 10, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: In a similar situation, I realized people mostly were hoping to replicate my success. So I generally didn't mention my health issue. Instead I made polite but vague comments about walking a lot and that I had made some dietary changes.

Most folks really weren't being nosy per se. They were really hoping I would sprinkle them with magic faerie dust in the form of two sentences of brilliant wisdom and then, voila, next month they would be three sizes smaller as well. Once I realized that, it became much easier to say "yes, I have".."thanks".."I walk a lot and try to eat right".
posted by Michele in California at 11:39 AM on August 10, 2012 [12 favorites]

If someone starts to go on about how thin you look, just give a little grimace and say, "Yeah, I wasn't feeling too well for a while there. Don't know what it was, but I hope it's over at this point." People will want to talk about your weight because they assume it must be complimentary and agreeable to you; letting them know it's an (unspecified, non-serious) health issue should take it pretty firmly out of the realm of polite small-talk and make it easier to move on to something else.
posted by Bardolph at 11:43 AM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The thing to keep in mind is that there's never any reason to say anything you don't want to say. If you don't want to talk about it, don't talk about it.
1. Accept their statement, acknowledge that it's true.
2. Accept the compliment, if any. "You look great" --> "Thanks, I'm feeling pretty good these days, too." Decide if you want to treat the statement "you've lost weight" as a compliment or not (as above, or -->"I have, yeah. Rough year.")
3. Figure out how much you're willing to say: Do you mention you've been sick? Do you mention that medical stuff kicked off your weight loss? Do you just call the hospital stay "life-changing" and let that imply whatever the listener wants to hear? Do you never mention any health issues at all? This is your call.
4. When you've reached your limit, deflect. Have something else that you want to talk about. The Olympics. Your favorite TV show. Your cousin's wedding. Gay marriage. It really doesn't matter, just pick something, inform yourself, and talk about it when provoked.
- notice that acceptable topics for the deflection do not include food or health: anybody's health, anybody's weight, your favorite food, your favorite restaurant, local restaurants, the hostess and the spread they've provided, etc.

Suggestions for having a buddy to help with the deflection make a lot of sense.
posted by aimedwander at 11:44 AM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would just answer with variations of "yeah, I'm feeling great". If someone phrases their interest as a question, don't take the bait.
Then, as other said, change the subject, not nervously, but with confidence. When you arrive, do perhaps a quick scan the house/offerings/garden/environment for topics to talk about. Like, beautiful flowers (or lame and watery barbecue, what do I know). Or talk about a hobby or a recent trip or something.
posted by Namlit at 11:52 AM on August 10, 2012

No matter how you down-play it, losing weight is an accomplishment.

Anyone who's had a wasting disease or an eating disorder (or cared for a loved one who had one) knows that's not universally true. Losing weight is not necessarily and objectively a good thing for everyone, and the process by which one loses weight isn't necessarily positive. Indeed, the OP notes "Some of the weight I lost due to feeling ill for a couple months[...]"

I avoid all body-talk with my extended family and acquaintances by taking whatever compliments come with a simple "Thanks" and then a diverting question.

"Hey, Elsa, you look great!" "Thanks, so do you! It's so good to see you; I can't believe how big your kids are getting!" (or whatever).

If they directly address my weight, I just answer briefly --- or give a non-answer, depending on my mood and their motives --- without treating the question as a compliment because, hey, in my world, "Have you lost weight" is not a compliment. "You look great" is a compliment; "Have you lost weight?" is a personal question about my body. I'm not interested in their critique of my body/weight and I'm not going to encourage it by taking an observation of my weight as a compliment.

"Hi, Elsa, have you lost weight?" "Yup. Hey, last time we talked you were working on a quilt. How's it going?" or "Oh, I dunno. Did you ever buy that motorcycle?" or "Nope!* Oooh, I like your new sofa."

*A real showstopper with my extended family: Because my weight goes up and down depending on [my activity level/the season/other factors], I sometimes respond to "Hey, have you lost weight?" with a happy "No, if anything I'm fatter!" They genuinely can't imagine being happy about being fatter, so that stops 'em in their tracks. It won't work for you but it will work for others, so I thought I'd mention it here.

If they persist in talking about my body, I wave off their remarks or question and say "Oh, let's not talk about that. It's boring" and yet another diversionary question. If they still persist, a quiet "I really don't want to talk about this" should close that door.

So, my formula: If it's a compliment (You look great, did you lose weight?"), I say "Thanks" for the compliment, ignore the weight remark, and immediately move on to a new topic. If it's a question ("did you lose weight?), I answer it once, as briefly as possible ("Yes, no, I dunno") and move on to a new topic. If they persist, I demur on the grounds of boredom; if they persist further, I tell them politely but clearly that I don't want to talk about it.

If anyone persists further, they are being truly rude, not just oblivious, and you can politely excuse yourself: to go get a glass of lemonade, to get some air, to make a phone call, to play with the family kids, whatever.
posted by Elsa at 12:07 PM on August 10, 2012 [19 favorites]

Clutch you stomach, make a barfy face, and say, "yeah, salmonella will do that." Unless they're my family members, you likely won't get too many questions re: size/color/frequency, so it should shut the conversation down pretty effectively.

And then change the subject.
posted by phunniemee at 12:13 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I'm dying of cancer" ...*big smile*
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:30 AM on August 10 [2 favorites +] [!]

Please don't say this if it isn't true.

As someone who has always been underweight and has managed to gain weight through a mystery illness, when people comment on how great I look it's awkward.

I can't say for certain, but it might be exactly the same kind of awkward that you are anticipating. I just brightly say, "yup, up ten pounds since you last saw me. I'm loving it! How's your kid/garden/job?" while I die a little inside. I hate the body policing, the judgement that I was doing something wrong before, when I looked more like a scarecrow. I hate that becoming ill made my appearance more normative.

I liked my body better when it was my own normal and not a constant visual reminder of illness, and that's just not conversation fodder for family gatherings. So I deflect with more specific questions if they th to bring it back to my weight. After a third attempt I'll just say that I really would rather talk about something that isn't my weight. If they still persist I leave.
posted by tulip-socks at 12:22 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

I usually go with, "So you thought I was a fat fuck before, huh?". I say it with a smile so they don't know if I am serious or joking. Puts them on the defensive and they usually change the subject. But, I am confrontational at times. It would work just as well to simply say, "Thank you, you look great yourself.". That way they are fair game for personal questions too and they usually back off especially if they have not made major changes recently.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:31 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Don't say it's because of cancer - honestly that's something that won't shut people up, it will invite MORE interrogation and when pressed for more info, your humor will be seen as poor taste - few people find cancer ok to joke about.
posted by lizbunny at 12:32 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Instead of cancer, you could say you finally got rid of those intestinal parasites.
posted by inertia at 12:46 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone who's lost a significant enough amount of weight to have people talk about it, I agree with the poster who postulated that it's mostly from people who want to know the secret--how they can achieve a similarly dramatic weight loss. I think there was a small contingent of women who are still very overweight like I was who want to suss out if I did it with surgery. I was always keen to knock out that theory and to let them know it was a bunch of hard work, so I always said "Oh, thanks! I work out like it's my JOB."

Since it sounds like you don't really care the reason for their inquiry, and you don't want to put so much emphasis on the reason you lost the weight, how about just a smile and a "Thanks! I'm feeling really good." And if they press you, just say "Oh, I don't really know. It was kind of accidental, but if I ever figure it out you'll be the first to know!"
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 1:06 PM on August 10, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers, everyone! Some of you brought up things I hadn't thought about. I think I'll be going with "Thanks"+deflect if it's a compliment and the "Yeah, I've lost weight response"+deflect if it's called for. I'm off to make a list of topics and questions to redirect with. And I like the sort of third-strike rule people seemed to have in common. I'll save "I don't want to talk about it" for anyone who's really persistent/rude, etc.

I'm feeling prepared for this now. Thanks again.
posted by purple_bird at 1:11 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]

A little late to the game, but when I showed up at an extended family gathering after dropping about 15 lbs. of baby fat, there was one person who couldn't let it go and was bringing it up over and over again--apropos of nothing--fishing for "what I had done." (She was sure I was on some sort of medication and not admitting it to anyone.) This person is an underweight (for her bone structure) compulsive exerciser.

So you might end up finding out who in the family is eating disordered.
posted by availablelight at 1:52 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

"I'm really enjoying [spin class, yoga, rock climbing, weight lifting, whatever positive thing is associated with your weight loss]. What are you doing for fun these days?"

(I have been losing a lot of weight because of illness and holy FUCK do I hate it when people bring this up as though I must automatically think it's a good thing. My response is generally something like "Unfortunately, I've been sick for some time, not doing something fun that might also make me thinner like climbing Mount Everest." )
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:00 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

It might also come in handy to come up with a few stock replies for those folks who hear your vague tale and conclude they can lose 100 pounds by Christmas if they do three situps a week and eat two fewer french fries at lunch. On short notice, it is all too tempting to say "oh, sure, hon --IF you get a life threatening disease like I have. Otherwise, you have to work at it."

Some truthful things I said to such delusional creatures without revealing my medical situation:

"When I say I walk a lot, I mean a whole LOT. In addition to walking to work because I have no car, I have been walking seven plus miles, two to three times a week since March."

"I did a lot of research and made substantial dietary changes specific to my unique needs. What worked for me wouldn't necessarily work for you."

"I have lived without a car for four years and have been working on my diet for ten. It only recently began paying off in a big, obvious way."

Like others have noted, I felt remarks about my weight loss were incredibly rude. I was invisible when I was heavy and suddenly I was in the spotlight. People who would have never dreamed of saying "Good, god, you're Fat!" were suddenly saying, in essence, "Good, god you were Fat! three months ago." Er, excuse me?

After I realized most people were looking for The Secret to effortlessly fix their own problem, it was much, much easier to make chatty, not very personal remarks about diet and exercise. Since most folks weren't really wanting to work at it, most folks didn't grill me for details. As soon as they learned this had involved real work, the conversation was basically over.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 3:13 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

You might say something like, "I've been thinking about my weight for so long, it's great to forget all about it now and just get on with other things - what's happening with you?"
posted by aryma at 11:20 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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