Helping Your Fat Friends (and Staying Friends)

Yesterday I posted three experiences I’ve had during my continuing weight-loss journey. Today, I’d like to help you stay friends with your fat friends while caring about them. Here are some tips:

img-thing1. Love them for what they are–kind, funny, smart, creative–rather than for what they are not–thin. You would not want to hear that you aren’t as pretty as you could be, have odd hair, or a birthmark. (Before you say, “but those are characteristics I was born with. . .” read #2.

2. Fat is not always a choice. Do you think Oprah Winfrey wanted to yo-yo up and down the scale? She had enough money to do whatever she wanted about her weight, and even with a cook and trainer, she still struggled. So it’s not just about self control. Don’t assume your fat friend has no self-control, is lazy, or doesn’t care.

Diabetes is an endocrine disease, not a punishment from a divine source for loving sweets. Grave’s Disease, and hypothyrodism are not diseases people want to have. Or worse, choose through “bad decisions you have to own.”

3. Don’t start. If your fat friend wants to talk about weight, you’ll know. Otherwise, don’t bring it up.

my-diet-doesnt-need-a-label-e13659982178694. Don’t offer opinions or advice. What works for you may not work for your friend. Do not offer diets, emails with links to dieting advice, or fashion suggestions.

5. Say, “You look great!” and mean it. Don’t say, “You’d be really pretty if you lost weight.” Don’t say, “That dress makes you look two sizes smaller.” Instead say, “That color looks great.” Or, “That’s a very flattering cut,” (don’t add, “on you.”)

6. Honor the mind/body connection. Making a decision depends on two separate steps. The first is the logical, rational understanding part. “To lose weight, you must expend more calories than you take in” is one of those statements. The next part of decision-making involves a strong emotional link. Emotion and decision making are both made on the right side of the brain, and without an emotional component, there is no lasting change. That’s why diets don’t work. They make sense, seem like a good idea, but there is no emotional commitment. And without emotional buy-in, change won’t last.

Nagging makes emotional agreement impossible. So leave your fat friend in peace. No pleading, nagging, or guilt-inducing drama. It won’t work. Save your energy for walking your own journey.

7. Don’t give “change back” messages. Losing weight is hard, lonely work. There is no easy, fun diet. Losing weight is a long-haul trek. When a fat person changes–eating habits, food choices, clothing sizes–friends and families have to change, too, in the way they relate to their friend. Often, family and friends don’t want to change, so they send “change-back” messages. “You shouldn’t lose any more weight,” or “you have to treat yourself sometime,” or “You’ve always loved this and I cooked it just for you.” Drop it. It’s hard enough for your friend to stay on a diet without you tenderly sabotaging the effort.

-Quinn McDonald is still losing weight. She has no answer for people who ask, “tell me your secret.” There is none. It’s tough decisions, every day. And walking five miles a day helps.

It’s Not Easy Being Fat

Now that I’ve lost 60 pounds and four dress sizes, I have something to say.

755I’m shocked at how much better I get treated now that I am thinner. No more sharp comments about my size when I’m on an airplane. Help offered in stores–and politely. Offers of help carrying items that are exactly as heavy as when I struggled with them six months ago. I am the same person, but the world I find myself in is not. It’s a big surprise. And not a pleasant one. We are a lot more judgmental than I had imagined.

* * *

Now, for the tougher love: Diets don’t work. I’ve been overweight for about 12 years. I’ve lost 400 pounds on diets. And gained back 405. So this time I did not go on a diet. I changed my relationship with food. It’s called behavior modification. What didn’t work on my diet was dealing with lost weight. Once I’d met my “goal,” I told myself I could handle an occasional “treat.”

Trouble is, I couldn’t. A once-a-month treat of french fries became a once-a-week scale1treat. Then I’d order fries anytime it was an option. Ice cream was a daily good-night send-off. It started with one-quarter cup. It ended with a cup a night, more if it was a flavor I liked. The list goes on.

I finally realized that I had to change my behavior with food. It was the hardest decision I have ever made. Food is my friend. My mom was an excellent French cook. My husband is a chef. I am a foodie. And in the long run it doesn’t matter. I was helpless in the grasp of  sugar and carbs. So, nothing for me to do but restructure my eating habits. For the rest of my life. There can’t be a “treat just this once” because it starts the battle with my will power over again. And eventually I will rationalize my way out of it. So, awful as it is, this is better. I know how to change my behavior one day at a time. I don’t try to outguess the future.

* * *

model_with_stuff_on_her_head_7-1_m-400x300When I mention how much weight I’ve lost (which I occasionally do in my goal-setting and time management class), I always get two replies. Two people will raise their hands. The first one will say that their weight loss was mine plus 10 pounds. The second one will claim to have lost as much as I did plus 20 pounds. No matter how much weight I say I’ve lost, the two hands will always go up and claim a weight loss 10- and 20- pounds more than mine.  Statistically, this is unlikely. Socially, it’s not surprising. We are a competitive culture, and being the best and first with the most is something we want to claim. No one has ever claimed a weight loss less than the one I claim. Interesting.

–Quinn McDonald fits into a medium size T-shirt. This makes packing a carry-on much easier. It now fits at least one more outfit.

Behavior Modification for the Creative Soul

When you hear “behavior modification” it often seems to be a negative way to get a positive result–stop eating what you love, stop doing some behavior that has become a comforting habit.

The trouble with empty calories is that they are fun and taste good.

The trouble with empty calories is that they are fun and taste good.

I was journaling last night and had a big “Aha!” moment. Two, in fact. One was about the way I’m changing my relationship with food. I’ve finally crossed over from anger and resentment to experimenting with new foods and old foods in different ways. And liking it. (Well, that took only seven months). Yes, I still miss cookies and chocolate and all the things my sweet tooth loved, but it’s been replaced by a satisfaction that I am managing to stay on track. Mostly.

Here’s the more important thing–behavior modification also works with creativity. But you have to look at it in a different way. It’s not stopping what you love doing. It’s doing what you love already in a more supportive way.

It’s easy to want to start 50 projects–pile up your creative plate with the creative equivalent of cookies and cakes–work that tastes delicious, gives you a rush of joy, but doesn’t lead anywhere. It can be loading yourself up with every project you saw in the latest magazine, instead of focusing on one project that supports your creativity but is challenging.

It can be buying a lot of new equipment that does just one thing per machine, requires lots of special, proprietary refills and takes up space.

It can be deciding to learn something new and make that the focus of your creative work, when it’s far away from your main interest. For example, deciding to buy a floor loom and take up weaving if you have done watercolors for years.


Going deep allows you to see new things and learn more.

None of these pursuits is dangerous on its own, but it is scattered behavior that is fueled by the Inner Critic’s insistent whisper: “What you are doing now is not as fun/ flashy/ popular/ money-making as your current creative work.

Focusing on your creative work requires discipline. It is incredibly easy to rationalize–to make what you want seem more important than your creative work that makes meaning but has hit a hard patch. There is nothing wrong with trying out new supplies. But if all you do is buy supplies and never use them, or play with them and then move on to the next new fad, if you never decide if the new thing is worthy of your precious time, energy and money, well, then, your creativity needs some behavior modification.

Running after every fad, trying every new device has the same effect on your creativity that eating a box of cookies has on your attention span. It feels great for a few moments, gives you a spurt of energy, and then your creativity crashes leaving you feeling empty and spent.

Creative behavior modification is a struggle, but after a few months, when your work improves and you move deeper into the work you love, you won’t miss the box of cookies new fad art supplies so much. You’ll value skill and depth of accomplishment. Life is good again.

Quinn McDonald is learning that behavior modification has advantages from many sides. Some days are harder than others.