It's the question every man dreads to answer and every woman seems to ask: "Do I look fat?" On first thought, you may feel that a simple "No, honey. You look beautiful." would suffice; and in many situations, it might. However, a person's body image, in certain circumstances, has been found to negatively effect one's health.

Dangers of a Negative Body Image

On one hand, a negative body image has been linked with serious conditions, including depression, anxiety, and risk of suicide. In fact, one study conducted at Bradley Hospital, Butler Hospital, and Brown Medical School found that teens suffering from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) and eating disorders "were more likely to be depressed, anxious, or suicidal...than peers with other psychiatric illnesses."

Eating disorders, such as Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, not only take a serious psychological toll on a person but a physical one as well. A person suffering from these conditions is at risk for:

  • Damage to vital organs
  • Stoppage of monthly menstrual periods
  • Drop in blood pressure
  • Slowing of thyroid function
  • Dehydration
  • Inability to conceive
  • Anemia
  • Swollen joints
  • Death (in extreme cases)

Dangers of an Overly Positive Body Image

Most studies on body image focus on practices of becoming overly thin and striving for the "perfect body." However, a recent study published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows that having unrealistically positive body image can also be a danger to your health. Researchers at Temple University studied the body image perceptions of 81 underweight, normal weight, overweight, or obese women in North Philadelphia. As the women's body mass index (BMI) increased, two-thirds of the women still felt they were at an ideal body size.

With nearly 34 percent of Americans considered to be obese, being complacent with an unhealthy weight can be problematic. Obesity is a major risk factor for several conditions, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Hypertension
  • Heart disease
  • Prostate, kidney, colon, and brain cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Arthritis

How to Answer

It'd be a stretch to say your answer to, "Do I look fat?" is life or death. That said, knowing that your answer could do more than just upset a loved one is important. Consider the following advice:

Honestly assess your partner's reaction. If you know a loved one has had weight issues in the past, you may want to answer delicately. This may be a situation where, if a white lie is in order, you may want to use it. However, if your rapport warrants an honest answer, by all means give it.

When "No, honey. You look beautiful." is the truth, make sure you sound sincere. Anyone can give a rote answer. In order to convince a loved one that they look great, eye contact (even a little up and down look) and a genuine tone are crucial. Also, point out specifics like, "Not at all. You look great in blue." This shows that you're actually paying attention.

If your partner has gained an unhealthy amount of weight, it may be worth being honest. Not only are there health risks involved, but if physical attraction has been lost, your relationship may suffer.

The keys to answering honestly:

1.Pick the right moment. Maybe before you're attending a wedding isn't the best time. It may be worth waiting until you have time alone to talk.

2. Be sincere. Make sure your partner knows this isn't about vanity and that you're worried about her health.

3. Know the repercussions. In the majority of cases, this won't be taken well. Just be sure you're being sensitive when addressing the subject and focus on the health aspect.

4. Offer support. If diet and exercise are in order, offer to work with your partner to better both of your lives. Make it an "us problem" and not just her's. A healthy diet and regular workout regimen can benefit anyone-regardless of their current weight.