For eight days, I ate like a bird. I nibbled crusts of bread and bites of egg. Spoons of rice were discretely shaken back into the plate before they were eaten. I drank a lot of water, took naps, and pretended the general malaise kept my appetite away. In truth, my diet – if you could call it that – was the result of something more sinister.

A few weeks ago I had a particularly bad bout of stomach flow. Amidst all the throwing up and numerous bathroom visits, I decided to stick in some dieting. And by diet, I mean the ‘not eating if I can help it’ type of diet. The pain and discomfort from the illness were perfect for hiding hunger pangs. So I swallowed pills on an empty stomach, curled up in agony, and blamed the sickness. My family was too busy to notice, but one day my Mom looked at me and remarked that I was a few pounds prettier. Yes, you read that right. A few more days of this, I’d be back to the slimmer, beautiful girl I was before the holiday season started. I clutched my cramping stomach and smiled a Madonna smile.

I’m fat, and I’ve been since childhood. Looking back now I realize that it was just baby fat and would have fallen off in time, but my rebellion against fat shaming by binge eating is a story for another time. For now, though, I have arrived at a place where I am squarely, soundly fat and the whole world and their neighbors suddenly seem to want to tell me how to live. It’s easy to sidestep unwanted lifestyle tips when they come from strangers. However, when family members who often appear to be well-meaning say or do hurtful things in the name of showing concern, it is harder to ignore.

Over time, I have come to realize that the people who want to kill fat people with kindness do not – contrary to appearances – usually care about our health. They themselves think they do, but in life, a lot of things we believe about ourselves are often false.

Chances are you may be reading this and thinking: how dare you say I don’t care about my fat *insert relative here*. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t talk about those Snickers bars and cupcakes every moment we spend together. But caring about us is different from feeling concerned about our health. The latter is usually a detached and impersonal feeling. we are viewed as Fat Persons, anomalies who must be cured at whatever cost. As such, there is rarely room to care.

For instance, some weight loss products and strategies are harmful, physically and mentally, but you will be hard-pressed to see a family member inquiring about your health when you start to lose weight. Instead, you receive cheers and encouragement, even when you might be slowly killing yourself on the inside.

To family and friends of fat people, instead of constantly needling your loved about food, pause and think for a moment. Observe the person. Chances are that they are already taking steps to live a healthy life. Engage with them from there. Join in workout and detox sessions, have discussions about unhealthy foods, do research and offer practical, unobtrusive help. This would be far more effective than making snide comments about food and size.

It is also possible that your loved one is not interested in weight loss at all. In that case, focus instead on living a healthy life. Discuss and don’t preach, because there is no faster way than preaching to make someone shut you out. Suggest walks, yoga, reducing the intake of some foods, etc. You could even take the lead and start doing these things. It is likely that eventually, they will join you.

Most importantly, be fair and objective. Do not just see fat versus thin people, as that view is highly flawed. That attractively skinny girl may be a depressed anorexic, and that guy that seems grotesquely fat may just be carrying a few extra pounds. Show interest about the mental and physical health of all your loved ones. Do not just single out the fat ones to pick on.

I’m sure some of you are groaning as you imagine the work that will go into doing all these. You may even have already mentally dismissed it. If you’re one of the lucky few, stop reading now and say to yourself three times: ‘I will mind my own fucking business from now on,’ then never talk to a fat person about their weight again, because it is obvious you do not actually care.

Hopefully, you are one of the well-meaning people who felt that terrorizing your loved ones was the way to go. I believe after reading this, you will know better, and you will know to treat everyone with kindness, regardless of weight.