How to Handle Pressure to Be Thin

manage pressure to be thin
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If you constantly feel like you need to look perfect or change your body size, you're not alone.   Teens, men and women are frequently bombarded by pressure to be thin or to be more fit. If you are overweight, this pressure can be especially hurtful.

So how do you handle the pressure to be thin? Should you give in and go on a diet? No. In fact, the worst thing you can do is to start a weight loss plan because you feel pressured to do so.

If you aren't personally invested in losing weight, the plan is bound to fail and you may even gain weight in the long run. Instead, determine where the pressure is coming from and develop the skills you need to feel good about your body at any size.

Who Pressures You to Be Thin?

The first step in developing a plan to manage body-related stress is to identify the source of the nagging. Sometimes, a single significant incident can trigger a feeling of pressure. And other times, the pressure builds up after many episodes of hurtful comments and behaviors.

In one recent study conducted at Western New England University, researchers asked fifty overweight or obese women to keep a journal in which they recorded incidents where they felt stigmatized by their weight. On average, the women reported an average of 3.08 incidents per day.  Common incidents included "nasty comments from others," "being stared at," or "others making negative assumptions."

Do those episodes sound familiar? If so, you're probably getting pressure to be thin from several different sources. These might include:

  • family members. In the study, researchers found that a surprisingly high number of hurtful comments and actions came from close family and friends.
  • friends. Coworkers, classmates and other friends may say things or do things that make you feel like you are the "wrong" size.  For example, a thin friend who calls herself "fat" sends a stigmatizing message, even though she only mentions herself in the comment. 
  • media. Overly photoshopped images send unrealistic messages about how we should look and how much we should weigh.  Even when we know that the photos are retouched, the images can create pressure to be thin. 
  • your spouse. If your weight has changed since you got married, your husband or wife may have expectations that you should lose weight.  Even small remarks or "jokes" about your size can have a bigger impact when they come from an intimate partner.
  • yourself. Do you frequently make negative comments about the way you look or have a habit of negative self-talk? If so, then you are also a source of pressure to be thin.

How to Manage Pressure to Be Thin

If you are clinically overweight or obese, the best way to handle pressure to be thin is not to go on a diet. You'll experience greater benefits if you learn to improve your self image with daily habits that promote confidence. 

  • Talk to your doctor. If your doctor tells you that you are overweight, follow up by asking a few questions. Find out how your weight affects your health. It's very possible that you are healthy and that very little change is needed. But if your physician does recommend that you slim down, find out why it is necessary so that you can make an informed decision about weight loss based on facts, not nagging from friends.
  • Be active. Being fit is more about the way your body functions and less about the way your body looks. If you exercise and enjoy an active lifestyle your body will feel better and move more effectively. Your elevated fitness level will help you project both strength and confidence to the people around you.
  • Stand up tall. Your posture sends an instant message to the people around you. It also sends a message to you. The simple act of lengthening your spine, lifting your chin and dropping your shoulders will help you to look and feel better - especially during moments of high stress or when you feel attacked.
  • Be prepared to speak up. If you have family members that make negative comments at family dinners or gatherings, be prepared to reply (politely) with an affirmative statement. Fend off negativity with a positive comment about your strengths and your accomplishments.
  • Set goals. Be clear about your personal, professional and health goals. If you have chosen to lose weight, you should know why weight loss is important to you. But if weight loss is not on your agenda, that's okay.  Define what does matter to you so that comments about your body seem less relevant.
  • Find supportive friends. Surround yourself with people who talk about the things that matter most to you. If your goal is weight loss, then be sure that the people around you know how to support you in the process. If your goals have nothing to do with your body, then find friends who don't talk about it.

Remember, never to use pressure to be thin as motivation to change. A diet based on nagging and coercion is bound to fail. If you choose to lose weight, do it for yourself - not for the people around you.

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