Carrots, Sticks, and Sermons: How People Tell Us to Lose Weight


Blog / Monday, July 9th, 2018

Do you ever get sick of the constant stream of overt and subliminal messages about your weight? As if external messages weren’t enough, many of us have internalized society’s unrealistic standards, and generate our own stream of hectoring comments, berating ourselves over every meal, snack, and treat.

To quote Susan Power, “Stop the insanity!” The worst thing you can do is to obsess and beat yourself up. Whether you need to add pounds or lose them, your body is your own and you have a right to manage yourself. When weight management becomes your priority, you will tackle it.

Meantime, recognize the three approaches people take in trying to “shape you up” literally and metaphorically.

The Carrot

The carrot wielder holds out prizes for behavior that moves your body shape in the direction s/he desires. The prizes can be clothes, vacations, simple praise, cosmetic surgery, or even being seen with you more often and in more important venues. A subtle “carrot” takes the form of providing meals structured to produce weight gain or loss, regardless of your food preferences.

The Stick

Stick wielders dole out either punishment or “negative reinforcement” (withdrawal of something you desire). A stick wielder can refuse to go out with you if you don’t measure up to his or her physical standards. S/he can criticize (fat shaming) or threaten you with bad health outcomes. Sometimes a stick wielder will push physical activity, beyond your comfort level.

The Sermon

A typical sermon stresses the advantages of a “normal” BMI and the accompanying diminished likelihood of illness or accident. Sermons tend to be impersonal and the speaker tries hard to avoid attacking you. “I’m telling you for your own good.”

All three of these approaches objectify you and display a potentially unhealthy involvement with your body. Be on your guard.