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Interactive Health
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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 larger-bodied — and thin, fit people who are insecure. But because people often feel pressure to look a certain way, teens worried about their weight 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.

Emotions

Teens often 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.

What You Can Do

Build your confidence by staying involved. Here are some ideas:

  • 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 a few 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 Teased or 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. If a bully calls you fat, for example, say to yourself, "People come in all sizes and I take care of myself."
  • 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. 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 they have 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 about how you feel and ask for ideas on how to handle hurtful comments.

Self-Esteem

People in larger bodies can 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 some people can be unkind.

When we have negative thoughts and feelings about our bodies, they may overflow into other areas of life. Negative thoughts can affect a person's confidence and make it hard to accomplish goals. For example, people who think "I can't do this" or "why bother?” are selling themselves short and may miss out on achieving their goals. This is one reason why it's important to recognize any negative emotions and work hard to change them.

Losing weight is hard and it can leave people feeling discouraged and disappointed. This can lead to self-criticism, anger, or even guilt about letting yourself, friends, or family down.

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

What You Can Do

Start by loving yourself. Instead of putting yourself down, focus on the good person you are and on your talents and things you do well.

Boost your self-esteem by accomplishing goals that you set for yourself. You can choose goals like getting better grades in school, learning how to play an instrument, or running a 5K. Set small, realistic goals and then check in regularly to watch your progress. If you are worried about your weight, focus on healthy behavior goals, like eating more fruit and vegetables or walking after school.

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. Talk to your doctor if you're concerned about your health or weight or are looking for nutrition advice and exercises you can do. Your doctor can also refer you to a dietitian for help with meal planning.

Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: April 2022