Healthy Weight Loss or an Unhealthy Body Image?

Dear Penny:

Help! I have discovered the Incredible Shrinking Woman! She is my best friend from high school, Abby. Abby was overweight in high school, but she had a great attitude- she was always positive and the life of the party. When she left for college nearly 300 miles away, I knew I would miss her- this was before Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. When she came home halfway through our freshman year she seemed depressed and homesick. She made a resolution to go to school locally and live with her family. I also noticed when she moved back that she had probably lost 50 pounds. I was supportive and a little jealous- she looked incredible! Now, though, I am worried. It’s been about six years since she came home and she is a completely different person, physically and mentally. She is always talking about working out and trying to limit her food intake. She actually prides herself on eating less than 500 calories a day some days! She went from a size 22 and the life of the party to a size 00 and a worried, grumpy grouch. What can I say to let her know my concerns?



Penny Says:

Oh my! This is quite the dilemma. Speaking from personal experience, which I am sure most of you can relate to, having someone comment about your weight can be incredibly offensive and awkward. This is true not only for those of us with love handles, but also for those of us who are sick of hearin, “Why don’t you eat a hamburger already!” However, in this situation, I don’t think you are judging the way your friend looks on the outside, so much as you are concerned for the way she sees herself.

It sounds to me like your friend is suffering from some body image issues. I don’t know her, and I am not a trained psychologist, so I can’t diagnose her issue. But from the information you have provided about her, I wonder if her anxiety about being “homesick” spurred her need to burn calories. A study published last summer noted that 42% of women who have eating disorders also had childhood or, in this case late adolescent, anxiety.

Only 500 Calories! I just entered my info into the Mayo Clinic Calorie Calculator and I topped out at about 1,900 calories for a some-what active lifestyle. Maybe approaching your friend with the numbers and facts might help her understand what her body really needs! Calories don’t just nestle in for the ride around our waistbands and arms, the calories we consume make up all parts of our bodies-our immune systems, brain, hair, nails, skin, teeth, and organs all depend on turning what we eat into energy.

Your best bet may be joining in the action. What does your friend like to do that doesn’t put any attention on her weight or eating habits? Would she like to come over and scrapbook? How about joining a book club with her? Sometimes, it is easier to say what concerns us when it isn’t staring us in the face. If you confront her over a meal or say, while you are running a marathon together, you may spring additional anxiety. Talk to your friend. You have known her this long; you can’t shy away from discussing this with her if you truly feel her health is in danger.

If, however, you are just upset that she looks better in a swimsuit, please don’t approach the subject. It wouldn’t be fair to either of you.

penny b Healthy Weight Loss or an Unhealthy Body Image?

Have a question for Penny? Post it below in the comments section, or click here to email Penny directly.


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