What Do You Say When Someone Refers to Being Fat?

Updated on September 10, 2014
P.R. asks from Akron, OH
28 answers

I have a friend for quite a number of years who was heavy when I met her but over the past 10 years has gained more weight. I assume she would be classified as obese at this point. On one hand she's a bit vain about her looks and will compliment herself but sometimes she will also say how she is fat. I'm never sure what to say. To reply "oh, you're not fat!" seems so fake as unfortunately she really is quite overweight/obese. But I want to be nice. She works out by the way but also eats plenty of junk and drinks plenty of wine. It comes up mostly in the context of dating or she'll comment on someone else being fat and then refer to herself as fat too. Should I just say "oh, you're not fat!" anyway? Or "you're not really fat". ? I'm obviously just saying it to be nice but maybe that's still better than nothing? I used to say it but as she gained more weight, seems like such a stretch that I now kind of try to change the topic a bit or side step it. Thanks

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So What Happened?

Oh for goodness sake's Nervy Girl, how am I being judgmental? I'm trying to be nice in how I chat with her. It's just a fact she's overweight. I'm still her friend. I guess if I was so judgmental of her, I wouldn't be? I'm just trying to be a good friend and her weight comes up often enough I'm not sure if I'm saying or not saying the right thing. Why do I need to say anything about her weight? Of course I don't! But she brings it up. I should just stare in silence? I'm uncertain of how to reply which is why I asked. I mentioned she works out and eats/drinks fattening things in case someone asked if she's dieting or trying to lose weight as part of the consideration how I should reply to her. ie: if she was actively dieting it'd be appropriate to cheer her on. And by the way, ironically, she often is referring to someone else being overweight in a critical manner. If your advice is to just say nothing, then I appreciate that. That's what I was asking. Thanks to other posters who responded with advice.

JB: thanks! That's what I was looking for and makes total sense.

As for what kind of friend I am, not really close enough to have a sit down that her health is at risk. We work together. I want to be kind but she also already knows her health is at risk. She has mentioned going to the doctor etc. So not like she needs an intervention bc she's in denial.

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answers from Boston on

I'll respond as someone who is pretty overweight myself. If I say this (and I try not to but sometimes it slips out) the most helpful response is something like "oh stop, you look great just the way you are" or something else like that. Again, I know it's the kind of think that's not helpful to say and just creates an awkward moment (because I am fat LOL so there's no point in telling me I'm not) but if somehow it comes up and there's no way to graciously move past the statement, a compliment that is plausible (you look great!) fits better than something like "oh, you are not fat at all."

Hope that helps!

23 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

I wouldn't say a thing. She knows she's fat. She knows she's eating junk. You can be nice in other ways. Perhaps she has nice eyes, a great laugh, tells hilarious jokes, is very intelligent....whatever. You could also say that a shirt or dress looks nice on her, if it's the truth. But don't lie about her weight....she'll know you're lying.

ETA: I just wanted to address the whole "judgmental" thing. When we see a friend we love who isn't taking good care of themselves, but has chosen to continue along in blissful foolishness, we do tend to feel a bit judgmental toward their choices. I think that is normal human behavior, and I don't think there's a thing wrong with recognizing it.

Best to you.

18 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

If someone says that they are fat, I choose to either respond with silence; or choose to say, "that's an awkward remark" or "why would you say a thing like that?", or "how am I supposed to respond to that?" The latter puts them on their heels, but sometimes it can make room for a healthy dialogue about their weight and health.

Neither of my approaches is terribly kind or pandering, but both allow me to keep within the comfort of speaking the truth.

F. B.

11 moms found this helpful

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answers from Portland on

I don't say anything in similar circumstances. I suggest she says she's fat after having made a comment about someone else being fat to show she's not judging them. No need to comment on either comment.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

She knows she's fat. I'd say nothing, unless she pushes the point and seems to want a response. Then it's probably safe to just mirror what she says, starting with a comment like, "I hear you saying that (…)" or "You've expressed (…) often lately." She may not be aware that she's been heard.

I do have to object to a previous poster's comment that "she knows she's eating junk." Isn't that just automatically shaming those of us who struggle with more weight than is fashionable? I used to believe that until I had personal experience that proved to me that it's not necessarily junk food causing the problem.

I've never been a junk-food junkie, and consume something sugary or fatty POSSIBLY once a month, usually less. The first time (post menopause) that I gained a serious amount of weight was when I went vegetarian for 2.5 years. It was a crazy-healthy diet with lots of whole grains (thus plenty of carbs), just wrong for my metabolism; I was always tired, cold, hungry, and weak. This came on gradually enough that I failed to recognize it was diet-induced, and I spent 2 of those miserable years actually under-eating and over-exercising in an attempt to stop gaining. It only made me colder and fatter.

When I reluctantly started eating meat again (just 3-4 oz. daily) and cut out most of the grains, I felt better and started losing weight, even eating more total calories. I've lost 2/3 of that weight now (45 lbs), but it's taken 4 years.

I know many middle-aged or older women in my boat. Many of us have gained considerable weight while eating responsibly. Most of those in my social circle grew up long before most junky or processed convenience foods were widely available, and are good, healthy cooks who understand nutrition. Some genotypes are simply more susceptible to weight gain in general, and often in specific areas.

Please, ladies, check your assumptions about fat people. Sometimes, perhaps often in the case of us older women, those assumptions can be wrong.

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Albany on

Can you just say something like "I feel your pain", or "I know how that is, unfortunately", and then change the subject?

Are you close enough friends where you can be honest with her and tell her how her frequent weight references make you feel awkward?


9 moms found this helpful


answers from Abilene on

I have struggled with weight my whole life. Right now I would like to lose 40 lbs but would be happy with 20. Heck I'd be happy with 10. I know what to do. I had a hysterectomy last year and it has been very hard. I even fasted for other reasons (time of praying, did the Daniel Fast) for 3 weeks and guess what. NO WEIGHT LOST! That was cutting out all sweets, caffeine, meat etc. My mom is 5' weighs 110 lbs and she says I eat less and healthier than her. So...I can't tell you how discouraging it is for people to assume I make unhealthy choices when that's not it. I do get that you know your friend and her habits so you add them together and "know" why she's packing on weight.

What to say to her? Maybe what I like to hear. My mom tells me I'm beautiful no matter what my size is. My sister tries to "fix" me. My husband says he loves me and thinks I'm beautiful. I can tell you that I've never once resented my mom or husband. You can let her know if she wants to do something about her weight you'll support her any way you can. You can tell her that you'd rather be around her living large then some skinny girl with a bad attitude. You can be her friend like you are already. Most of us that are carrying extra know we are. One thing I've thought about a lot is Robin Williams. He poked fun at himself a lot. He cracked me up on many levels when he talked about himself. I think sometimes we do that because we know our weaknesses but stating them makes it easier for us to deal with.


9 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

P., honest self-statements like this make me think two things: either she talks incessantly about herself and doesn't care nor want a response of any kind, and would not be receptive to any approach or honest reproach.

Or, she is opening the door for you to discuss the weight issue with her, perhaps provide a few pointers in how you successfully manage your weight.

Since you are the friend, only you know if she has an open heart for the truth, or will shun you if you speak your mind. Some people don't handle differences very well. Some people do.

These statements remind me of the pretty girls who post selfies All The Time with similar statements such as OH, I"m ugly, OH, wish I was pretty.....gag, and then their 300 friends clamor and say oh, you're so pretty, I wish I was as pretty as you...it's a shallow, merry go round. So either jump on or jump off.

Personally, if I were you, I'd say something like: "Gosh, you mention your weight a lot. I admire you for working out girlfriend. Keep it up. If you want to discuss it further, I'm ready to listen?"

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Portland on

Why do you need to say anything about her weight?

You seem to have thought about her and her eating habits a lot more than I would have. I have friends who are bigger-- they sometimes mention they are fat. Just like I am really short and sometimes mention that. Guess what? We don't really need any comments or denial from anyone else. We know who we are. We are just talking. No biggie.

My guess is that the problems are coming from your discomfort with her weight. Consider your post: you come off as being very judgmental. She's not stupid. Be genuine with your friends. If she says she's fat, there's no law which says you have to say anything at all. We all have our issues, right?

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Seattle on

Don't say anything at all. She's just commenting on her size, not saying, "Am I fat?" Right?
I am super big too....any time I mention my weight no one ever contradicts me! (DAMMIT!!! lol)

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

I would not. If you can gracefully ignore the comment and move on, do so. If she seems expectant for you to say something... then say something else. "It's what's on the inside that matters."

It's difficult to say from your brief summary if she is actually fishing for you to say something, or if she is just being self-deprecating so as not to seem rude in her comments about others. If it's the former, you can compliment her or evade. Up to you. Fishing for compliments is not attractive, no matter what you look like or what your size. If she is just being self-deprecating, you should be able to ignore it easily enough.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

There's nothing you can say. If she's fishing for reassurance, or fishing for denial, there's no good answer. I'd say nothing. It's as if she says, "It's 2:00" or "It's Tuesday." Say nothing. She'll either let the remark go or she'll add another inquiry, saying, "Why don't you answer me?" or "What do you think, do you agree I'm fat?" Then you can respond with something like, "What does it matter what I think?" or "I didn't think you were looking for a response, just stating your own feelings. What is it you're looking for from me?" If she keeps pressing, you say, "I'm kind of torn here - you say this a lot and I'm not sure what do say. I can contradict you or I can agree with you. Neither one seems like a good choice." But that's only if she gets into it for an in-depth discussion, not a response to a throw-away line.

Ultimately, it's between her and her physician. If you're really good friends, you can say, "What would help you? Would it better if we went for a walk instead of a big lunch? Do you want to inquire to see if your insurance will pay something towards a gym or a weight loss program?" But again, if she's not looking for help, then don't offer solutions. So I'd absolutely start with not responding.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

My sister used to be heavy and she'd do this. I finally just agreed with her (And she stopped)! But this is a friend, not a sibling. So...maybe something like, "You are so much more than your size, but if you want to start walking together, I'd love to do that. I'd get to hang out with you more!"

For what it's worth, people who do this, sadly, are stuck on valuing themselves and others based on looks. That's why your friend is critical. My sister is now thin, and after a few pregnancies, and a CRAZY long-hours desk job, I am heavy. She feels the need to "encourage" me by telling me I still have really nice butt. I usually just look at her, and say nothing. But I am tempted to tell her, "You know, I REALLY don't NEED to hear that. I'm working out, but I may never be thin again, and most of the time, I don't even care." But she's fragile...so I don't.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

i feel the pain, both hers AND yours!
i've really tried to stop being passive-aggressive about my own weight issues. it's such a natural default, to be self-deprecating and make snarky comments about my own body, because i'm truly uncomfortable with it. but i also totally get what a difficult position it puts others into, so try to pro-actively shut myself down before i do it.
you're right, 'you're not fat' is not a great response to someone who...er......clearly is. but you also don't want to get sucked into the 'pat pat' game. i often think the best response is none at all, or if that would be too glaring, something true but noncommittal like 'that blouse is really flattering' or 'oh baby, we ALL look fat in our little tank tops! but they're comfy, aren't they?'
and please no, NO 'helpful' discussions about the health risks of extra weight. i promise you that every fat girl knows it.
don't lie, and don't dance down the self-indulgent path with her.
every time i forget myself and make a body-loathing remark, and someone says 'oh S., you're not fat' i cringe a little for putting them in that position. and for dissing my fabulous body, that even with 50 extra pounds is still carrying me around and accomplishing heroic exploits!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

I know what you mean.
When she talks about herself it's hard to tell if she's fishing for feedback or denial.

"I'm so fat" possible responses:

"Oh no you're not" - just joins her in denial

"Oh yes you are" - you might have a gift for stating the obvious but it's not kind

"It's an epidemic out there and a really common problem!" - neither confirms nor denies anything about her status or how she feels about herself but let's her know she's not alone.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

No response is necessary from you if she says she's fat.
One of my best friends is obese. He knows his weight is creating health problems for him. Other physical conditions and side effects from medication to treat them make it hard for him to lose weight.
When he refers to himself as fat, I don't tell him he isn't. I would seem stupid, blind, or insincere to do so. I am none of those things.
I say nothing unless he specifically requests input from me on his weight.

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answers from New York on

I think the kindest answer, from a good friend, would be: "I think you're beautiful just the way you are."

Compulsive eaters tend to eat MORE if they feel judged. So you won't be helping her weight issues any if you point them out. Believe me, she knows.

If she decides to embark on a weight loss program, then you have a great role to play as a diet buddy, workout buddy, etc. If she embarks on an unhealthy, unrealistic weight loss program (which many overweight people do), you have a role to play in helping her find something healthy and realistic, that will actually last.

But if she's not undertaking a weight loss program at the moment, then you'll just be feeding (literally feeding) the compulsive eating demons if you trigger a wave of shame.

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answers from New York on

Rhetorical question: What kind of friend are you really?

Right now I have a friend in the hospital for obesity related health issues. Visiting her in the hospital was the first time in our seven year friendship that I've said anything about it to her. It had me thinking I'm not a very good friend. If I can't say the difficult things in a loving way to my "friend" or I'm too whatever to talk to a friend about the things that really matter in life. Like health (physical, emotional or mental).

She graciously received what I said and asked me to continue to be honest with her and help her on the rough road she has ahead with loosing at least 200 pounds from her 5'2" frame.

Question you need to ask yourself if the shoe was on the other foot do you only want friends that tell you what they think you want to hear or tell you the truth in a loving way?

Which leads me back to my opening rhetorical question:
What kind of friend are you really?

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Anchorage on

I am a fat woman. I qualify as obese on the BMI chart. If I call myself fat it is not a way of putting myself down, it is a simple fact, I have fat on my body, more then some, less then others. If someone said to me "you are not fat" that would actually really annoy me because it is a lie, and I hate being lied to, even if the person is trying to be nice. I then know that person can not be trusted to tell me the truth in any instance. When I say I am fat in front of my husband he usually replies with something like "so? You are beautiful just the way you are", or something of that nature. Honesty, or even silence (you know what they say about if you don't have anything nice to say), goes a lot further then a well intentioned lie. Because the simple fact is, she may be fat, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that as long as she is happy in her own skin, and if she is not happy then only she can change it.

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answers from San Francisco on

No, if it's not true, you shouldn't say it. But J.B. poses a good alternative.

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answers from Los Angeles on

Just start singing "it's All About the Bass...No Treble...."

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answers from Hartford on

How about not commenting at all on her weight even when she brings it up herself? Instead you can compliment her on how nice her make-up looks. Compliment her on her hair. Tell her how flattering her clothes are, and how much you envy her shoes.

You don't have to lie, but you can still give her compliments that are truthful by telling her about the things that make her look beautiful. /begin sarcasm/ Because even fat women can be beautiful too. /end sarcasm/

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answers from McAllen on

When she complains about being fat, reply with "You obviously don't like what you see in the mirror or how you feel. What would make you feel better?" You never have to say, "You are fat," but don't lie about it. Just remember what the point is--her feeling good about herself, having a good self-image. Focus on that part. I would never volunteer "Oh, no, you're not fat" if I didn't believe my own words. I would put emphasis on helping her to feel her best. Not MY best, HER best.

"Do you think I'm fat?" (My friends know not to ask me questions that they don't want MY answers to.)

"Well, I think that you've gained weight and you don't feel good about it, and that shows in how you carry yourself and in your conversation." (...But I don't have to make it about how I feel about it.)

She's not asking so you can settle it for her once and for all: FAT or NOT FAT? She's asking because she's trying to figure out how to feel better about herself. Ask her, "What would you change if you could?" Help her to work that out.

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answers from Grand Forks on

I have a couple of overweight friends who I have been in this situation with. I try to find something positive to say regarding their appearance when they bring up being fat, such as "but you dress so well", or "you have such a beautiful face", "but you are well proportioned." I don't know if that is helpful or not, but it feels right.

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answers from Miami on

I guess that I'm confused about the idea of being nice and talking about fat in any way. I have friends who are fat, thin, big breasted, flat as pancakes. Big feet, little feet. We all might disparage ourselves about something or another. One friend forgot to put on a bra before coming over and was embarrassed, but then said frankly that it's not like she had any boobs anyway. What could I have said that would have been nice? "Oh, you're not flat!" Or "I can't see your nipples." I think that's called a lose/lose...

You don't say anything. She knows she's fat. She mitigates some of the damage by dressing nicely and doing pretty makeup and such. What you CAN do is once in a while tell her how nice she looks. THAT'S honest. It's not honest to say an obese person isn't fat, or a gal with no boobs is not flat. What's the point? Of course, you don't have to be honest on the other end of the spectrum and point it out. It's just not necessary.

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answers from Washington DC on


This is a really hard thing. With society being sooo PC - it's hard to know where the line is.

How good of friends are you? If you are GREAT friends? Then when she says "I'm fat" - say "do you want to walk around the block with me tomorrow morning before work?" Have her take ownership of it. Ask if her if she wants to change her life? It might cause some tension, but the truth needs to be discussed. IF SHE OPENS the door, walk through it.

Yes. She's fat. No. You don't need to tell her that - she KNOWS. Now what is she going to do about it?

I'm struggling with weight loss right now. I was doing really good and had 30 lbs off - then I spent 30 days with my dad in July and TOTALLY got off track...now it's building the routine up again and eating right and healthy again.

Have that frank conversation with her when she opens the door.

I know it's tough when you haven't experienced weight issues yourself. It's easy to say she eats plenty of junk and drinks plenty of wine...but if you are right there with her and NOT saying "let's go to the salad bar instead" you are helping her with her weight.

Why not offer to be a work out buddy?
Why not offer to go somewhere else that serves healthier food?

I have a girlfriend that I have dinner with regularly. She's 5'10" and I would say weighs a good 300lbs. Has she always been big? Sort of. She's NEVER been petite. She KNOWS I've been trying to lose weight and when I am feeling discouraged? She suggests a healthier place to eat.

Due to her weight, she's had BOTH of her hips replaced and had foot surgery last December. NO, we don't talk about her weight, well, not outright. She has talked to me about the gastric by-pass and the gastric ring - as I've had two friends who have done these procedures. However, part of her weight problem is her thyroid. She has thyroid problems - her family has a history of thyroid problems, including cancer.

So instead of lying to her and saying "you're not fat" - have her take accountability - ask her if she wants to join you for a walk or at the gym...suggest healthier places to go.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Wausau on

In the context of a passing statement in a conversation, I say nothing and just look at them as if they didn't say anything remarkable.

If she persists and is clearly trying to get a reply out of you, be kind but honest. My neighbor was not a large woman all-around, but she had no defined waistline and it was expanding over time. She was constantly harping about it and upset that her regular exercising wasn't making her thinner. She finally started asking "what did I think" directly. I told her that it was likely that if she stopped drinking 2-3 large glasses of wine every night, she would lose several pounds within a month without further effort. She ultimately chose the wine over the weight loss, but further comments were more along the lines of, "I know I could lose this belly if I ______."

If your friend is trying to draw you into discussing it, you might ask her, Are you happy with the way things are or do you have a plan to change it?

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answers from Atlanta on

Hi P.,

I usually keep my mouth shut. If push comes to shove and someone forces a response, I tell them there is something they can do about it if they're not happy with themselves....and of course I offer support. Looks are not important, health is. "Fat" comes in all forms and a lot of time "thin" is unhealthy too. Malnutrition comes in many forms. True nutrition will balance weight.


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