Few things are as central to self image as weight: maintain it in the post-college years and you’re a hero.
Fail — due to any combination of bad luck, poor health, a job, a family, stress, inattention, depression or garden-variety inertia — and the tax is high: while overweight men generally get off easier than their female counterparts, they still face unfair challenges in the dating and job markets. Life is hard. Extra pounds can make it harder.
It can be difficult to determine what, if anything, to say when someone you care about gains weight.
Below, a primer to negotiating difficult waters.
Don’t assume it’s up for discussion. People gain weight and lose weight. Some advocates will point you to studies that link weight gain to improved longevity. You’re not his mother. Unless it’s life or death (see below), keep your mouth shut until you’re invited to offer an opinion.
Don’t make jokes. “Hey, fatty” isn’t an opening play in a heart-to-heart about health concerns; it’s how cowards deal with a difficult subject — or assholes score a cheap laugh. Be direct or leave it alone.
Don’t bad-mouth him to your mutual friends. See “cowards,” above.
Be honest when asked. Someone who’s ready to ask a friend if he’s gained weight is someone who’s ready to make a positive change. Be honest, be kind and be ready to provide suggestions for how to proceed.
Be a positive influence. Skip the movie, go for a hike, offer to be his gym buddy ... just don’t beleaguer him about it.
Be brave when it’s critical. Bad things happen in life. Weight gain — either by way of unhealthy eating or an emphatically sedentary lifestyle — can result. Most doctors agree that it can lead to catastrophic health issues; at a minimum, it can impede an ability to form and develop relationships. If you’re well positioned to bring it up (perhaps after a couple decades of friendship), settle him in for a short but honest talk. Explain your concern, then shut up. When he’s ready, he’ll know who his allies are.