As the world still continues to combat the novel coronavirus, parts of life are beginning to reopen (at least temporarily), bringing many people out of their homes for the first time in a while. Whether that means returning to in-office work, returning to the classroom in person, or simply socializing face-to-face again, there’s been a good bit of online hysteria focused on one health topic that isn’t face masks and vaccine booster shots. What is it? Weight.
Of course, even in the earliest days of the pandemic, people panicked about weight. Gyms closed (or should have closed), people stocked up on food, and sweatpants became really, really popular for those of us lucky enough to work remotely. Through all of these changes, people honed in on how to prevent weight gain during a more sedentary period. And with the world reopening, many folks are ready to talk up their diet, their fitness routine, or commiserate with others about changes in their bodies they don’t like. My take? Keep those conversations in your head or with your therapist, and not your neighbor or coworker.
When a March 2021 study that tracked weight gain by age went viral, many folks were shocked at how much weight millennials gained as a collective. The survey, conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA), analyzed responses from just over 3,000 adults in the U.S. More than 60% said they experienced undesired changes in their bodies, with 42% of adults saying they gained more weight than they intended. More women than men reported weight gain, though men reported a higher average weight gain than women.
Nearly half of millennials reported unwanted weight gain, with the average weight gain coming in at around 40 pounds. Gen Z adults reported an average gain of 28 pounds.
About half of surveyed parents, as well as about half of essential workers, reported unwanted weight gain. Parents reported an average gain of 36 pounds, while essential workers reported a comparable average of 38.
People can talk endlessly about what value weight holds, what it means to be “healthy,” and what it means to take care of yourself. We could talk about the reality that BMI is a historically racist measure of health. That clothing sizes are inconsistent between (and sometimes even within) brands. That pregnancy, medications, stress, and mental health can all have an impact on weight. That so many Americans live in food deserts. What people seem to find a little harder to talk about, however, is the reality that no one needs to talk about their weight. Or their weight loss. Or their diet. Or the calories in their lunch. Or their carb-free breakfast. Or why they stopped taking cream in their coffee. Or, or, or.
My personal opinion is that it’s impolite to discuss these subjects in general, with the obvious exception being with a health or medical professional. Not everyone agrees with my perspective, and that’s okay. But what isn’t okay is subjecting people who are forced to be around you (like a coworker in a shared lunchroom, for example) to listen to it. What’s especially delicate about the dreaded weight or diet talk is that it tends to crop up when people are, well, eating. And no matter your weight, size, or dietary needs, nothing dampens one’s appetite like hearing someone else talk calories or “bad” foods.
If you’re thinking, Well, I like talking about my diet! I track my fitness and want to share! What’s the big deal? My advice is to talk about it with people who actively want to hear about it. Seriously: Join a meetup, keep a journal, or talk to a therapist or peer group designed around these subjects. There’s nothing inherently wrong with talking about setting goals for your fitness or health, or in wanting to share wins or successes in your life. But spewing latent fatphobia has become a real norm in this nation, and frankly, during a literal pandemic, there are much bigger issues to be talking about than millennials having to size up before returning to the office.
If we leave one common facet of life behind post-pandemic, let it be unsolicited comments on weight. Your mental health will almost certainly thank you.
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