Kana Okada

Q. My boyfriend’s mother brings up her weight in virtually every conversation, whining that she’s “fat” and “gross.” For the record, she is overweight, but that’s not the problem. The issue is that she always puts herself down, which is upsetting and usually leaves me unsure of what to say. What’s an appropriate response?

Name withheld by request

A. First, don’t lie. That’s patronizing, and it will make her feel worse. Instead, try to understand what she’s saying to you and respond in kind. When she talks about being “gross,” she’s really telling you, “I feel bad about my weight, and it makes me feel self-conscious and helpless.” The next time she starts denigrating herself, say in a kind but firm tone, “Please don’t talk like that. Of course you’re not gross. We all feel negative about ourselves sometimes.”

Stay away from offering specific advice unless she asks for it. But feel free to add, in the same gentle tone, that you won’t listen to her belittling herself anymore. However, if there are any other things you can do to help (working out with her, planning healthy meals), you’re willing to lend a hand.

—Michelle Slatalla