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Dealing With Feelings When You're Overweight

Recognizing Feelings

The teen years come with all sorts of changes, so it's normal to face some emotional ups and downs. If a person is struggling with extra weight, it may add to these emotions.

Of course, not everyone who is overweight is worried or upset about it. Lots of us know confident, happy people who are overweight — and thin, fit people who are insecure. But because people often feel pressure to look a certain way, teens with weight issues may feel bad about themselves.

If you are overweight, you may feel frustrated, angry, or upset. Being aware of difficult emotions is the first step in dealing with them.

It takes practice to recognize emotions. Sometimes they can be so sudden and powerful that it's hard to sort out exactly what you're feeling. The best way is to pause and pay attention for a moment when you first notice yourself feeling upset. Try to name what emotion you're feeling without judging yourself. Say to yourself, "I feel angry [or sad, or frustrated]".

If you're upset but aren't quite sure why, it can help to talk to someone you trust, like a close friend, family member, or a therapist. Talking things over can also help people figure out how to deal with your feelings.

If it's hard to talk about your feelings or you think people won't understand, keep a journal, draw or paint, or do something else that helps you sort through difficult emotions. The more you take time to explore your feelings, the more skilled you become at coping with emotions as they come up. That can make it easier to find solutions to problems.

Social Concerns

An overweight person may worry about what others think. When people judge you unfairly, it can make you feel like it's your fault. Well-meaning parents, siblings, or friends can sometimes make things worse by making "suggestions" about food or exercise. These good intentions may come across as criticism.

Some teens who are overweight are teased or bullied. Teasing and bullying can make you feel sad or embarrassed. Fear of being judged or rejected might make you shy away from people. You may stop doing things you enjoy. But the best thing to do is to take your mind — and other people's — off your weight and back onto you as a person.

Social Concerns: What You Can Do

Here are some ideas to help you deal with social situations:

  • Volunteer for something you really like doing. The people you volunteer with will share the same interests, so you'll all be focused on a common goal.
  • Join after-school clubs and other activities.
  • Find out what's going on at the library, the YMCA, or a local drama group.
  • Focus on building one or two close friendships. Knowing that you have a couple of true friends who are always there for you can help anyone deal with life's ups and downs.

Remember that everyone feels shy when stepping into a new situation, even people who seem really confident. You may want to ask a friend to join you when trying new activities.

But what about when friends and family aren't giving you the support you need? If you feel pressured or misunderstood by friends or family, tell them how you feel. For example, tell them it doesn't help when they call you out when you slip up. Let people know what you appreciate (such as praise when you do well) and what you don't like (such as comments about weight or lecturing about food or exercise).

If You're Bullied

If you're being teased or bullied

  • Find a friend you can be with you when the bully is around. 
  • Talk to friends who support you.
  • Write in a journal about how people's comments make you feel. Then use positive statements about yourself to get past the hurt and remind you of your good qualities. For example, if a bully says, "You're fat!" say to yourself: "My weight is not what I wish it would be, but I am a kind, interesting person."
  • Ignore teasing, bullying, and inappropriate comments. But if the situation is really getting you down, you may want to stand up for yourself. The best way to do this is to speak back confidently. Say positive things about yourself and talk about your strengths without confronting the person in a way that might make things worse.
  • Don't let your emotions take over. Crying or getting angry shows the bully that he or she has hit a nerve — and that may just make the bullying worse. Losing your temper also can make you feel less powerful and in control.
  • Talk to a school counselor, parent, or other trusted adult and ask for ideas on how to handle hurtful comments.

Self-Esteem

Some people who are overweight have very good self-esteem. They're able to focus on their accomplishments and take pride in themselves. But some people who struggle with their weight also struggle with low self-esteem — especially when other people can be so unkind.

When we have negative thoughts and feelings about our bodies, these feelings may overflow into other areas of life. Negative thoughts can affect a person's confidence and make it difficult to accomplish goals. For example, someone who thinks "I can't do this" or "Why bother, I'll always be overweight" may have a harder time losing weight. This is one reason why it's important to recognize any negative emotions and work hard to change them.

The amount of time it takes to lose weight, and the natural tendency to slip up occasionally, can leave people feeling discouraged and disappointed. This can lead to self-criticism, anger, or even guilt about letting friends or family down.

Sometimes, difficult feelings — and constant worry over weight — make a person eat more. But there is a way to break the cycle and build healthier self-esteem.

Self-Esteem Issues: What You Can Do

Start by loving yourself. If you feel tempted to put your body or yourself down, focus instead on your talents and things you do well.

Another great way to boost self-esteem is to accomplish goals that you set for yourself. If you're trying to lose weight, make your goals about changing behaviors, not about losing weight. Set small, realistic goals and then check in regularly to watch your progress. For example, your goal may be to pack a healthy lunch one day a week.

Another way to feel good about yourself is to find others who support you. Talk to them about how you feel and how they can help (even if you just need them to listen and understand).

Your doctor is another wonderful resource. Ask a parent to make an appointment so you can talk to your doctor about your weight, nutrition advice, and exercises you can do. Your doctor may also be able to refer you to a dietician for help with meal planning. A school nurse is another great resource for ideas on how to take charge of your health.

Depression

When confidence fades and self-esteem takes a beating, it's harder to stick with a weight loss program.

If you think you may be depressed, tell someone. It's especially important to tell a parent or other trusted adult (like a school counselor or faith-based leader) if you often find yourself thinking about dying or suicide. Suicide crisis line (such as 1-800-SUICIDE) or your local emergency number (911) are staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week by trained professionals who can help.

There's no doubt that being overweight can be hard, both physically and emotionally. But there are ways to feel better, including being aware of emotions, thinking positively, and finding people who support you.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: June 2018