The Art Of Silence

The Art Of Silence

A while back, I wrote a post about setting goals, and whether or not it’s beneficial to actually tell people:

And do we see goals as public property and “small talk?” As complicated as my current goals are, I certainly don’t think I can talk about them in a conversation with people who are only slightly interested in me. I don’t say that to imply that people shouldn’t ask – I don’t mind that – but I do mean that perhaps we should be careful regarding how we discuss our goals and who we share them with.

The more I talk to people about their personal goals with fitness and weight loss, the more I hear them tell me about how non-supportive their friends and loved ones are in them reaching their goals. They talk about how, once their loved ones learn of their desire to eat better, they find brownies and other irresistible sweets in the house all of a sudden. Now, they see their favorite cake on the dining room table as a centerpiece. Not flowers, not fake fruit (fake fruit?)… but a cake, man. Now that their girlfriends know that they’re trying to make better choices, they’re being put under the hot lights. They’re being given the third degree. They’re being asked the hard questions and, once they can’t give “the answers,” are told “girl, just shut up and eat this food… stop ordering all these salads.”

And all the while, while people are talking about this stuff, I just keep wondering to myself, why tell anyone anything?

If you’re starting on a journey that leaves you a bit confused and, just maybe, a little self-conscious, do you really think you could handle finding out that your peers and loved ones aren’t so supportive? And once they do show themselves to be non-supportive, do you think you could handle their acts of sabotage, should they choose to follow that path? If your answer is anything other than an emphatic yes, it might as well be “no.” Let me explain.

I remember when I first decided to give up red meat and pork, which was my junior year (I think?) of high school. I told my mom that I was planning to let go of the pork chops, the ham hocks, the ribs, the steaks, the burgers… all of it. It had to go. Considering how much she mad chicken, I figured I wouldn’t miss it much anyway, right?

Y’all. Before I knew it, every night… it was some kind of pork. It was ribs. It was roast. It was pork chops. It was bacon… every morning… bacon. House reeked of bacon (hence my general disdain for it – not because it’s “unclean,” just because I’ve been traumatized! Dang!) all the time, and it was inescapable. She was tryin’ to sabotage my efforts, man! Moms can, sometimes, take our efforts to change our eating habits (the eating habits we’ve developed from them) as an insult to them  – it implies that what they taught us was wrong, and that we reject what they passed down to us.

And what about our girls? When we go kick it with them, and we head out to eat before we go out for real… what happens when they notice that we’ve chosen something grilled instead of something fried (and usually in soybean oil… yuck?) Do we go in on how disgusting fried food is (by the way, it doesn’t have to be) and how you’re making healthier choices and losing weight by not eating it… thereby making them feel like garbage as the waiter drops their burger and fries in their laps? Do we tout our moral superiority for choosing the “better” option in the midst of temptation, thereby guilting your friends for not showing the same restraint as you?

If you ask me, I say no.

Now, I’ve written about this before – the fact that the people we spend the most time with can wind up feeling judged in a roundabout way by the decisions we make. And, let’s face it – we can’t always help that. Sometimes, that has more to do with insecurity than anything else:

I mean, think about it – when we hear a woman talk about how she doesn’t want “big thighs,” how many of us have looked at our own thighs and asked ourselves “What, is something wrong with big thighs? Do I have big thighs? She doesn’t like my thighs?” and it causes us to feel some kind of way about ourselves and the decisions we’ve made for ourselves.

But how much do we contribute to this? Do we ruin perfectly good outings by explaining to our friends how “those cupcakes are why they can’t get rid of their gut?” Do we, out of eagerness to share what we know, piss off the people who love us the most by trying to invoke their “come-to-fitness” moment before they’re ready? You might think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not – I’ve heard the stories, and I’ve witnessed it myself.

I’m a proponent of the art of silence. Like, the way my shoulders shrug off questions? You’d think I was a politician. I don’t want my outings with friends and family to turn into conversations about my eating habits, where I might be mocked and weakened and feel compelled to make decisions I’d rather not, just to conform and make everyone else [except me] comfortable.

“Aww Erika, you don’t really even go out to restaurants anymore… why not get a burger or something?”

[insert slow shoulder shrug]

“Dang Erika, you’ve got to try those cookies Danielle brought in to work… why aren’t you getting any?”

[insert slow shoulder shrug]

“But Erika, you’ve eaten this way your whole life and you’re still alive! What makes you think the problem is the food, and not just you?”

[insert shoulder shrug] [waits a few moments] “Oh, did I show you my pedicure? It’s my favorite shade of pink, too…”

All three are things I’ve heard over the course of my journey. All three have answers that could easily add another 1,000+ words to this blog post to answer each question but really, my little shoulder shrug works wonderfully. Now, I’ve advocated for straight up lying to answer these questions but really… you’ve got to use that to progress onward to the point where you simply don’t answer these questions. It’s pretty hard to find a point of contention in your reasoning… when the only reason you give is a physical version of “I don’t know.”

It’s all about self-care. Know your abilities. Are you able to handle the questioning? If so, then proceed with caution. If not, then know that. It’s a part of your new lifestyle – venturing off into unique territory and knowing you have a whole new set of strengths and weaknesses to assess.

The reality is, the more attention you draw to your lifestyle changes, the more people you’re inviting in to tell you how wrong you are and how you should be following the advice they’ve read in Marie Claire this week… and if you’re on the path to building the confidence you need to keep going, you really don’t need the additional battles of defending your choices at every turn. You don’t need the extra task of sifting out the friends from the frenemies. Your focus simply needs to be on making the “new” into the “normal.” If someone asked you why you always take off your favorite pumps and put them back in the box once you got home – a habit you’d developed from Mom – you’d answer “I don’t know.. it’s what I’ve always done.” and go on to another topic. Start thinking about this with the same approach.

The goal, in the end, is to make your new lifestyle something that isn’t “new” and “novel” anymore. It isn’t a “sideshow” worthy of pointing, staring and dissecting. It’s just you. And while you may be total star material… this is not a reality show, you aren’t in OK! Magazine and your every move – namely, your choice in salad dressings – really doesn’t need this much attention. Just shrug your shoulders… it counts as an upper body work out if you do it enough, anyway.

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By | 2017-06-10T11:29:08+00:00 November 7th, 2013|It's All Mental|31 Comments

About the Author:

The proud leader of the #bgg2wlarmy, Erika Nicole Kendall writes food and fitness, body image and beauty, and more here at #bgg2wl. After losing over 150lbs, Kendall became a personal trainer certified in fitness nutrition, women's fitness, and weight loss by the National Academy of Sports Medicine. She is also certified in sports nutrition by Precision Nutrition. She now lives in New York with her husband and children, and is working on her 6th and 7th certifications because she likes having alphabet soup at the end of her name.

31 Comments

  1. Marcia July 26, 2011 at 12:46 PM - Reply

    Great post! I have regained 20 lbs that I lost and I am on a mission to lose it the healthy way by eating clean and working out 6x a week. With that said, I find myself just keeping quiet about why I do not want to go out to eat with the girls, why I don’t want the burger from the grill at the barbeque and why I brought my own turkey burgers. I just do like you: shrug my shoulders or change the subject. I ignore the suggestions about how to lose weight quickly or the comments that I look good the way I am–“girl, what are you dieting for…you don’t need to lose weight. Mind you, those comments are coming from my sista friends who do not want to deal with their own weight issues. I have learned that this is my journey and no one else’s. I choose to lose weight and I really do not want to hear it! Thank you for your always right on time posts–they have been very helpful!

  2. Silky Coils July 26, 2011 at 12:58 PM - Reply

    I must admit that I get side tracked when I go out to eat with friends still. With certain folks I make better choices, but with others not so much. What I’m doing now is not going out to eat, or go to my fav Panera Bread where I can bring my lunch or just meet and chat (no food).

    Its a process. Lol. This was a great post and thanks for it. I plan to try the silent move with the shrug.

  3. Keelah July 26, 2011 at 3:28 PM - Reply

    Great post!!

  4. Daphne July 26, 2011 at 3:32 PM - Reply

    People have noticed that I’ve lost some weight, and if they inquire, I just respond, “I’m committed to a healthier way of eating,” or some variation thereof.

    I don’t mention weight loss (although it’s an obvious side effect), fitness, or any reference to my body. Because 1) I don’t need other’s advice if I’m not asking for it, and 2) even with the best intentions, people (especially women) tend to use others as a measuring stick, and so they want to know what you do, how you do it, how quick is the weight loss (because if it’s happening slowly, they’re not interested), what “tips or tricks” you have, is it the next best thing, etc.

    And I just…can’t, right now, maybe ever. It’s taken a long time for me to get it together and take sustainable action, and I refuse to be veered off course by riding the hamster wheel of mainstream “weight loss and health.”

    As Marcia referenced, the journey is incredibly personal. While I understand the value of family and friend support in general – in this arena, I think it can do more harm than good. The American mindset on body image is so skewed that I think it takes more work to weed through all of the information, advice, and shaming to get to a healthy place vs maintaining status quo (with regard to the current “diet” mentality).

    I remember a few months back, a co-worker approached me because she noticed my weight loss (frankly, given my size, I’m surprised people noticed), and I was in the breakroom, making a green smoothie. When I provided my standard response, she reacted with concern, of all things. Concern that I not to try to “do too much and go crazy.” I smiled and nodded and went on about my business, but I was thinking, “Da hell? How is incorporating more whole vegetables and fruit into my diet doing too much?” People are strange creatures sometimes.

  5. Holly July 26, 2011 at 4:06 PM - Reply

    Thanks for the reminder that it’s really no one else’s business but my own what I decide to eat and when. I really don’t need to explain myself or get into “discussions” about how right or wrong my/some one else’s eating habits are.

    In the past I’ve dealt with some serious food opposition from my father when I tried to make a positive change in my diet. He would encourage me to eat fourth and fifth helpings of dinner because he “didn’t want to give it to the dogs.” When I finally put my foot down during my high school years and refused to eat anything beyond seconds, he would hound me and hound me until I just left the room. Guess what happened to the uneaten food? It somehow found its way into the fridge instead of being “wasted on the dogs.” Now I’m severely cutting back on my fatty red meat intake, and you’d think I was attacking him personally. I’ve offered to still cook it for him while just making myself an extra veggie dish, but that doesn’t seem to be good enough for him. Too bad. My health is too important to throw away on eating junk.

  6. SoFrolushes July 26, 2011 at 4:27 PM - Reply

    I wish I never told a soul except my husband that I wished to lose weight. I have over the years gained 7 stone ish and it is not good at all. As I am not able to get to a gym I bought a cross trainer and wii fit plus various exercise videos from 10minute workouts to 1hour workouts. Yes I have lacked full commitment but so far at least once a week I am doing my workout. I also occasionally leave my car at home and me and kids go walking.

    I joined weight watchers and quit. however I found the moment I told people I was doing weight watchers or exercising I knew what was coming next. All my efforts at watching what I eat still continues and even doing Zumba on the wii gets my sweat going. Yet I am constantly told I need to join a gym and have xyz be my personal trainer. They don’t realise that my kids benefit from seeing me workout at home as they love it too. So much more stuff. I was better off not talking about it and just doing it. I only have one friend who truly understands. Contrary to what my other friends think, I know I don’t eat loads of food that is the problem but my inactivity. I used to walk everywhere till I met my husband etc.

    Another thing everyone wants to tell me what to eat what not to eat, what exercise is best. I did an intense 5 minute step workout and told my friend about it and she rubbished my achievements and said that is nothing to celebrate. However I celebrate al my health and weight achievements no matter how small or big. Did I mention the friend who told me to go on a liquid diet as she thinks it would suit me. when I said I need food solids etc she told me I was not serious.

  7. LBC July 26, 2011 at 5:43 PM - Reply

    I didn’t say anything because I pretty much feel the same way about it that I do about religion and politics: It’s personal, it’s individual, I don’t need to justify it, and you don’t need to justify it to me. If somebody asks, I say I started jogging again . . . and then I change the subject.

    I didn’t actually tell my mother I was trying to lose weight, but of course she noticed and commented (positively). She tells me my brother is a little jealous, although he would never say so to me directly.

    • Kiesha September 30, 2012 at 1:02 PM - Reply

      I think I am going to have to try your I just started jogging again line. I am finally having success on Weight Watchers and everybody has something to say about it. I am happy I have a supportive family but this journey would be so much easier for me if everyone would just shut up!!!! I will never understand why do people feel the need to tell you you are losing weight. Are they trying to put a flag on what they discovered? Who asked them to chime in anyway.I have people who say things like “you are losing weight, you finally have a waiste line” and they sit there and wait for me to say thank you as if their insults are compliments. I can no longer hide the weight loss, but I do need to find a better way to deal with the comments, and I think learning the art of silence may be a good approach.

      • triple T January 22, 2013 at 4:27 PM - Reply

        People make comments and wait for you to say thank you when it really is insulting. Or as my family puts it a BackHanded compliment. Such as Your suit fits you so nicely. It no longer hugs your waistline like it did the last time you wore it. I have learned to give the blank stare. Or the high pitched “Really you don’t say” response to these individuals. I do not share that I am dieting because of the running dialogue it inspires.

  8. JoAnna July 26, 2011 at 7:08 PM - Reply

    I enjoyed a DimSum lunch with my oldest girlfriend last week. We’re both diabetics, but she doesn’t do any type of workout. The weight I’ve been losing, she claims she’s gaining. She also always has an excuse for not working out so I don’t mention it anymore. At the restaurant, one of the waiters mentioned she missed not seeing me and that I was a bit smaller. No biggee, but I saw that “look” of competition in my friend’s face. So after lunch we decided to go to Coldstone. She demolished a double scoop with nuts and a waffle cone. I ordered a single scoop in a cup and ate half. She asked me how could I let good ice cream go to waste, and told me I should finish the half because “God knows when you’re going to get to Coldstone again the way you avoid restaurants….”

    I wish I could share this lifestyle with her, but I’m tired of flabby fat people telling me how to work out, or how to push my body, what to eat, or anything that has to do with my “get fit ‘n healthy” goals. They arent the ones suffering from swollen ankles from Popeyes/Church’s/KFC fried chicken. They aren’t the ones who will wake up with a headache and soaked in sweat from going to bed with high blood sugar. They aren’t the ones puffing from exertion by having to walk from the far end of the parking lot… Oh, yeah! They are! And they want to share all the aches and pains of their unsavory lifestyle. And that has no place in my life anymore.

  9. Dawnn July 27, 2011 at 9:59 AM - Reply

    I’ve just begun my journey, so I did what I always do when starting something new, I research and read, read, read everything, anything that I can find on the subject until I find what sounds best to me and attack it from there. Well, every morning the first website I visit is BGGTWL…the second is…SparkPeople…third…some news blog to keep up with what’s going on in the world. I do things in that order.

    Now the people I work with have all observed this, and all I hear from them are things like – why are you reading that? Why are you trying to change your eating habits? Those foods couldn’t possibly be bad for you…I’ve eaten that all my life and I’m okay… The list goes on. My point is that, the people who I spend over 70% of my time with don’t support me. They criticize me for bringing my lunch 4 days a week and only eating out on Friday. They turn their noses up at my baked chicken, veggies, salads and water. They call me crazy for walking the mile from my bus stop to the job instead of catching another bus, especially in the sweltering heat we’ve been having.

    It bothered me at first, having to defend the lifestyle change I was making, but I’ve stopped responding to their criticism. Their voices fall on deaf ears. Now, when they talk I simply change the subject. I’ve learned that not everyone is going to support the choice I’ve made, but that I don’t have to justify my choices to ANYONE. It took me 31 years to finally start this journey and to find the courage to stop following the status quo and just do me. Now, I do what I feel is best for me and will only speak on the subject if someone shows a genuine interest.

  10. Spiderlgs July 28, 2011 at 8:12 PM - Reply

    I just used this right now in a situation completely unrelated to weight loss. I have always struggled with trying to defend or explain my actions, without getting overly sensitive or overly defensive… and I decided to try shrugging and the shrugging was awesome.. no other questions… the situation was dropped.. and I sat not awkwardly, but comfortably through the silence. Thank you 🙂

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