Cliché in Red

The 10 Most Annoying Clichés of Obesity

Novel ideas, phrases, and metaphors have a way of turning into annoying clichés. The more interesting an idea is, the more likely it is to get overused so that it becomes trite or irritating. So it is with these top 10 clichés of obesity. Thanks to all of you who have helped us identify them. If you discover we’ve missed one, please share your thoughts through the comment form below.

  1. Calories in, calories out. People who have no concept of the tremendous complexity of the systems that regulate energy balance have poisoned this phrase forever. They say “it’s just calories in and calories out” as a substitute for accusing someone of being fat and lazy.
  2. Eat less, move more. This one-size-fits-all advice for curing obesity is annoying because it drives a bewildering array of simplistic obesity initiatives that are often not helpful.
  3. You have such a pretty face. This phrase is just a poorly disguised insult because it is bundled with a suggestion that the rest of you is not. “Bless your heart” is often thrown in as a bonus.
  4. Tools in the toolbox. Overuse of this metaphor for treatment options evokes some strong reactions from people who just can’t separate the word “tool” from its common use as a derisive label for offensive or stupid people. Maybe its simpler to use words like “options” or “choices” or “aids.”
  5. Sandbags on the levee. The notion is apt that obesity is an urgent personal and public health problem — like a flood — that requires diverse resources to address it. So the metaphor of using all the sandbags you have to hold back the flood makes sense. It’s so attractive that now it activates eye rolling when it gets rolled out for the umpteenth time.
  6. Results may vary. These three little words could hardly be more true when used to describe outcomes from efforts to treat or reduce obesity. Lawyers love them. People have become numb to them.
  7. Permanent weight loss. In contrast to #6, this phrase is mostly a false promise. Research could hardly be more clear about the near inevitability of weight regain. There’s simply no reason to listen to anyone who utters this promise.
  8. Push away from the table. This phrase typically comes from people who think they can diagnose the cause of obesity without listening to a person. If it’s ever been in your vocabulary, delete it.
  9. Morbidly obese. Back in the day, this was a clinical description for someone with class 3 obesity. That was when people thought nothing about describing people as disabled, schizophrenics, autistics, or diabetics. We don’t do that any more. And “morbid” conveys disgust more than it conveys clinical status.
  10. Real results without drugs or surgery. This clever phrase is a backhanded way of perpetuating bias against people who seek medical treatment for obesity. The false implication, documented in weight bias research, is that people of character can deal with obesity on their own.

If one of these phrases is still one of your favorites, beware. At best, you may lose a few people when you speak. At worst, you’re disrespecting them. Bless your heart. We know you mean well.

Click here for a different view on favored clichés.

Cliché in Red, photograph © Garry Knight / flickr

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5 Responses to “The 10 Most Annoying Clichés of Obesity”

  1. February 17, 2015 at 8:51 am, Annie said:

    Don’t forget the very overused word ‘journey’.

  2. February 17, 2015 at 9:00 am, Debera Gau said:

    I’m surprised Journey wasn’t listed.

    • February 17, 2015 at 2:29 pm, Ted said:

      You’re right. It should have been there.

  3. February 20, 2015 at 4:49 am, Lisa Oldson said:

    I’ll miss you “tools in my toolbox”! Farewell!

    • February 20, 2015 at 5:01 am, Ted said:

      Thanks for giving me a smile in the wee hours of morning, Lisa.