How to deal with fit shaming from friends and family

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Ever been peer pressured to eat unhealthy food or drink alcohol? Ever been fit-shamed for going to the gym too much? This video will help you navigate these situations.


00:00 Introduction

01:36 What is fit-shaming?

02:21 Why people act this way? Their options

04:19 How do we deal with this? ‘Lead, detach or follow’ framework. Our options


Some time ago for my girlfriend’s birthday, I took her out to a two star Michelin restaurant, Ramon Freixam, it’s called, and we had an interesting experience. Now, usually I don’t care about these type of things. You know, it was my girlfriend’s birthday, she likes those types of things. Personally, I think you pay a shit load of money for teeny, tiny portions, so then you have to go home, to get your protein afterwards. Yeah.

And unless you fill yourself up with the bread, which they only give you olive oil or butter for, which nobody eats at home. But somehow in the restaurant, people like that or pretend to like it. I don’t know any case. We were ordering the food and it’s like 16 course menu or whatever. And you know, I know I can’t eat perfectly healthy and everything is going to be caloric, but I draw the line at trans-fats Deep fried foods, I don’t eat. So I tell them, okay, fine, just give us like Degustation menu we can have that, only please remove all deep fried food. Waiter says, okay. Then later Ramón himself, the chef comes over and he’s like, Oh, you don’t want deep fried foods, yeah there are actually multiple courses that have deep fried foods. So I said,

Okay, what do you replace those with – just anything else? He’s like, Oh yeah, it’s difficult. Why don’t you eat deep fried food? Like it’s unhealthy. It’s like, yeah, I mean, just because of your health. Like you don’t have an allergy or something? Like, no, just I don’t eat deep fried food. that’s too unhealthy for me. And he’s like, Yeah, why don’t you just live a little? I was like… Normally at that point I might have just left, but, you know, it was for my girlfriend’s birthday. So I was like,

Yeah, no, sorry. Just no deep fried foods. And I eventually did it, but it was really hard, you know, to really convince him. You’ve probably had things like this in restaurants where people frown upon you eating healthily, or maybe you’re with friends or your family. Maybe you went to a party and people say you’re the party pooper because you don’t drink alcohol or because you’re not staying up late and you have to go, Ooooh, you have to go to the gym in the morning.

Or always being the fit person, that means that you have been fit-shamed. And I don’t mean that in a dramatic way of – let’s change society, we cannot do this anymore. In this video, I’m just going to give you some practical tips on how to deal with this, because fit-shaming is annoying. for one, it’s a negative social interaction Two, it adds peer pressure making it more difficult for you to stick to your healthy fitness lifestyle and three, even if you can take it, it can still damage your social relationships. So how do we deal with this? How do you deal with fit-shaming and peer pressure and the desire for conformity? Well, first, you have to understand why people act this way. And the first thing to understand it is – it’s not about you. It feels like it’s about you and your actions, but it’s not. See, what’s happening is that in a vacuum, almost everybody will agree that being healthy and being fit is a good thing. Everybody will support that. You go to the gym, that you take care of yourself, that you’re gonna live a longer life, that you’re going to be there for your grandchildren.

All of that good stuff. Everybody is in favor of those things. The problem is when you’re doing it in front of them, you’re casting a mirror onto them, showing them that they are not doing that. It’s not about you, it’s about them. You’re triggering what psychologists call cognitive dissonance because they have this belief, they know that being healthy, being fit, etc. is a good thing. But then when you don’t order desserts, when other people do, then it triggers for them this idea, Hey, I’m not living in line with that ideal. It shows them. It makes them painfully aware that they are not doing what they think they ought to be doing. So it’s about them. You’re casting a negative reflection on them, and that gives them two options. Either they change and change is hard. So for most people, they don’t like to do that if there is another option. And the second option is they change you. So persuading you to act differently also solves the problem. It removes the cognitive dissonance, and research shows that people are very flexible in how they handle cognitive dissonance.

It’s not about personal integrity and personal strength and all of these things. It’s just removing the negative emotion. And you can remove the negative emotion by getting you to eat that cake so that they can also enjoy that cake and they won’t feel bad about themselves. So it’s much easier typically to try to persuade you to change than to change themselves. Unfortunately, most people would rather drag you down, than pull themselves up. So how do we deal with this? I propose a framework that I call – lead, detach or follow.

So you have three options how to deal with peer pressure or social pressure, conformity, etc. The first option is follow – you, swallow your pride, you give up on your dreams, and you act normal. Act like everyone else. Don’t do what you want to do. Do what other people want to do because normal is great. Normal means watching TikTok and Instagram 3 hours a day, but frowning on people that go to the gym 3 hours a week. Normal means going to a job, traveling an hour a day to go to a job that you hate to pay for a mortgage that you only need to be close to that job. Normal means being overweight in a majority of cases, two out of three people are overweight and over half of those are obese. Normal mean spending. The last ten plus years of your life with various ailments and in high state of morbidity, even though you’re not dying, you’re barely living. Normal is great. Yeah. So anyway, option two is – lead a little bit more positive.

You try to make other people see why you do what you do and the common mistake here is that people go halfway and you cannot do that. If you want to lead, then you have to go all in. You have to tell people exactly why you’re doing what you’re doing. So if people say, Oh, you’re not drinking alcohol, don’t make some excuse like, Oh, no, tonight I’m.. I’ve, I don’t know, I have some stomach problems or – Oh, tomorrow I have to get up early for work. No, just say I don’t drink alcohol. It’s not worth it for me. So you have to explain exactly what you do, what your norms are, what your values are, why you do it. You say, I used to drink a lot and it ruins the evening.

It’s a lot of calories. It’s a lot of money. The next morning it also ruins your day because of the hangover. So you lose two days per week. And I could spend those days enjoying myself in other ways, being more productive, doing other things that I value more. When you put it that way, then there’s a bigger chance that they’re, going to leave you alone. And you might actually persuade them to also live healthier. And then you have friends or family that also share your values and norms. You can help them also improve their lives, their health, their fitness, and that’s a win-win for everyone. However, you have to do this confidently. If you go halfway, which is what most people do like, sometimes they try to persuade people a little bit, but other times they make excuses.

It doesn’t work because if you go back to their two options, as long as they think that they have a chance of persuading you, that’s easier for them than to change themselves. They would rather change you than change themselves. So as long as they think that’s easier, they will do that. They have to feel like they cannot persuade you. So they will either have to change themselves or drop the subject and that’s what you want. So if you go this way, you really have to try to persuade people in a nice way. Don’t be a dick, Don’t be, you know, the person that… you don’t want to be the Jehovah’s Witness of the group, right, or the angry vegan. That’s like whenever they order a dessert, you’re like, Hey, are you doing that? Why are you doing that? You know what is going to make you fat?

Right? Now, just when they ask – you, inform them. You tell them politely and in a nice way why you do what you do, why that’s helped you don’t make it about them. Just say, this is why I do what I do. This is why it’s working for me. These are the benefits I experience. I feel better since I’ve been doing this. You know, I look better and my health’s better. I love the way I feel. I love this lifestyle. You can say that and bring it in a positive way about yourself.

So do they see, Oh, I could do this too, and reap these benefits? Don’t be negative about them. Just be positive about yourself. Now, still, there is a chance that you’re going to be, you know, that guy or girl. And some people are uncomfortable with trying to persuade other people this way. So that gives you option number three, which is – detach. If you don’t want to lead and you don’t want to follow, then the best option is often to just detach, change the subject, just ignore it, don’t even go into it. Again, you have to stick to your choice because if you try to half lead, if you try to make excuses, then they will try to keep persuading you if you sometimes give in and the worst this if you say no for a long time and then you give in like – no, no, the cake.

I don’t know if I should do it. I don’t know. I’m on a diet now. I’m not sure. And then at the end, yeah, okay, I’ll do it. Then they know persuading you is the way to go. So you have to stick to the choice. If you detach, You just detach. They say like, Oh, you’re not having cake. You’re like, no change subject. Talk about something else. don’t even go into it, right? If you’re not going to try to persuade people, then don’t bother. Just move on. And research finds that this can actually work quite well. Many people think that if they don’t align with the group norms that it’s going to not work out for them. It’s going to be bad. People are not going to like them, whatever.

And that’s not the case. Research finds that people can deviate from even very strong group norms occasionally, especially when it’s in predictable ways by virtue of what psychologists call idiosyncrasy credits. Basically, if you’re usually all right and they know that you’re a nice person, etc., then it’s okay that you have some quirks. And I’ve always had this in all of my social groups. Now my fitness is much easier. But before I was known as, you know, a fitness person, I would have a lot more issues with this. And I was usually, Oh, that’s just Menno. You know, everyone has their quirks, and my quirks happened to be not drinking alcohol, bringing Tupperware containers everywhere and doing pull ups in the playground. When we were somewhere on holiday, without an access to a gym nearby people accepted that – they were just like, Yeah.

Menno was weird like that. Menno was going to do Body weights workouts in the middle of the street, if there was no other place to go. Menno was going to bring Tupperware containers. He’s going to stop for random places to see if there is protein available. That’s just Menno and it’s fine if they know that you’re just doing your thing and you’re letting them do their thing. So again, to the real important thing is that you make it about you and you’re not negatively reflecting on them. And it’s predictable and they know they cannot persuade you and then it’s fine that you’re different. They will just accept that, move on – and they will also not feel bad about it any more. Because if everyone else is having cake and you’re not having cake, it’s just like, yeah, that’s Menno – or in your case, that’s you.

So everyone can have their quirk and with those idiosyncrasy credits that you earned, you can cash those in and be different. It’s a little bit messed up that you have to do that to be different, but that in many social groups is how it is. So I hope these tips help you navigate social situations and help you have a better time with your friends and family when you’re going to restaurants, to parties, etc. If you like this type of evidence-based fitness content, I’d be honored if you subscribe and like, see you next time.

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About the author

Menno Henselmans

Formerly a business consultant, I've traded my company car to follow my passion in strength training. I'm now an online physique coach, scientist and international public speaker with the mission to help serious trainees master their physique.

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