When someone in your life is in the process of losing weight, what should you do? Should you draw attention to the weight loss and applaud the person, or should you de-emphasize it and avoid talking about it? The knee-jerk reaction is often to compliment and praise people for how great they look and for all their hard work. But is hearing those things truly helpful?
As a registered dietitian nutritionist, I’ve worked with hundreds of people who have successfully shed pounds. To my surprise, many of them have related the same message: They don’t like it when people notice and talk about their weight loss. They don’t want to be complimented, praised or even have attention drawn to them. Instead of having every conversation revolve around their pants size, they want to talk about other things with their friends and loved ones.
For people on the sidelines wanting to show support and love, it can be hard to understand why someone wouldn’t want to hear words of encouragement. It can be challenging to put yourself in that position and understand how someone might misinterpret your well-intentioned comments.
There are people who love to get positive comments and feedback about their weight-loss progress. Not everyone is sensitive to words of encouragement, but it’s more common than you’d think to have a negative reaction.
Let’s dive into the top five things you probably shouldn’t say to someone who is losing weight.
1. “HOW MUCH MORE DO YOU HAVE TO LOSE?”
This is problematic because it assumes they couldn’t possibly be happy with where they are now. Different people have different weights at which they are comfortable, so who are we to judge?
2. “YOU PROBABLY DON’T WANT TO EAT THAT, RIGHT?”
Foods that are high in fat or sugar are often vilified. A person who is actively losing weight might have it built into their plan to enjoy or indulge in those foods occasionally. The last thing you want to do as a support in their life is increase food anxiety or induce guilt about eating certain things. Trust them, and don’t critique their food choices.
3. “YOU LOOK SO MUCH BETTER THAN BEFORE.”
This is clearly not the most helpful thing to say to someone, but it does occasionally slip out of our mouths. Avoid comparing their appearance from before and after. Chances are, they’re already doing enough of that in their own head. If they want your opinion, they can ask!
4. “YOU’RE JUST GOING TO GAIN IT BACK ANYWAY.”
This statement conveys a lack of confidence in your loved one’s ability to maintain weight loss and could be very discouraging to hear. It’s disheartening even if you meant it as a joke.
5. “WOW, YOU LOOK SO GOOD!”
This is the real kicker. People say this all the time and usually have nothing but good vibes they’re trying to send. This can be interpreted in many problematic ways, though. People often wonder what was wrong with them before or why everyone is noticing their body. This well-meaning statement can cause body-image issues to surface, which can — in the worst case — trigger an eating disorder.
I don’t think we should feel like we have to walk on eggshells around one another. I do think we can increase our awareness of others’ experiences and try to focus on people, not their bodies.
In a perfect world, we wouldn’t talk about each other’s weight at all; you never really know what someone is going through. Someone could be losing weight due to secretly dealing with a cancer diagnosis, they could be struggling with an eating disorder or they could be going through an extremely difficult time with their mental health. People you’re trying to support can sometimes equate your compliments about their weight loss as an indicator that there was something wrong with them when they weighed more.
Even when someone enjoys and appreciates hearing the positive feedback from people around them, there’s a chance of developing problematic eating behaviors as a result of the affirmation. A straightforward effort for weight loss can lead to obsession, restriction and disordered eating, triggered by compliments that are twisted into motivation for unhealthy behaviors.
If you notice someone in your life has lost weight, ask them how they’re genuinely doing. Compliment them on how happy and confident they seem. Draw attention to their strengths as a human being, and convey unconditional love and support. Avoid conversations about food, weight and body image unless someone reaches out to you asking for help and support with those issues.