Why is weight a casual topic of conversation?

“Did you stop working out?” a co-worker asked me last week in the hospital cafeteria. “You look way too skinny,” said a colleague in the O.R. to me a few months ago.  “You used to look a lot stronger,” a former co-resident said to me at a national meeting of Bariatric surgeons.

Sound familiar? Anyone ever come up to you at work and remark on your weight going up or down? Since when did our weight become an appropriate point of discussion with acquaintances? Okay, so I used to be a lot heavier, and my weight has fluctuated over the years, just like everyone else’s, but what the heck?

When I was seven years old, I made the mistake of asking my friend’s mom if she were pregnant. She was not. Since then, I don’t make inquiries about pregnancy status unless I see the newborn’s head passing through a fully dilated cervix (my sister is an OB/GYN doc, so please cut me some slack here). Granted, I’ll congratulate my patients who have lost weight, and counsel those who are struggling with weight gain, but that’s my job. I have a confidential relationship with my patients that enables us to discuss weight, nutrition, and associated medical problems, all behind a closed door. I don’t walk up to acquaintances in the mall and say, “Wow, it looks like you’ve gone off your diet.”

Somehow, it has become socially acceptable to blurt out our opinions of the ideal weight of the folks around us. Is everyone now an expert in clinical nutrition and body mass calculation? Perhaps the Age of Social Media is distorting our ability to filter our comments, but weight is highly personal, and should not be assessed spontaneously and loudly at the water cooler. One person’s ideal weight is not the same as the person standing next to him or her. The person you are judging may have just had a death in the family, lost a job, gone through a divorce, or may be undergoing chemotherapy. We all handle stress differently, and our weight fluctuates accordingly. Some people may have made recent dietary changes that have resulted in weight alteration (up or down), but it’s not everyone else’s business!

In response to my three colleagues, I say the following:
1.        No, I have not stopped exercising.  I’m actually working out more than ever.

2.       Thank you for saying that I look skinny—I’ve been training very hard.

3.       I used to lift much heavier weights when you last saw me, but I also had a dense layer of fat over everything due to poor food choices and am now much healthier!

Let’s try to be a bit more sensitive to each other’s needs.  Let’s try to support each other in our mutual battle against the weight monster.  Let’s try to filter our comments so that we are encouraging each other rather than disparaging each other in public.  If I have a piece of spinach in my teeth, I’d appreciate a heads up.  Same goes for toilet paper stuck to my shoe.  But, unless you’re my Mom, if you’ve noticed that I’ve packed on some pounds, or on the contrary, that I’m looking, “Way too spindly,” do me a favor, keep it to yourself.

Let’s get healthy together!
Matt Metz, MD, FACS