Why You Should Never Compliment Someone on Their Weight Loss
Whenever you notice someone has lost weight, you probably pour on the compliments. Wow, you look great! Did you lose weight? Good for you! These comments are almost always well-intentioned. After all, you’re only trying to boost their confidence! But regardless of your intentions, you should keep your compliments focused on something else. Here’s why.
The weight loss might not be a good thing
Firstly, you don’t necessarily know if the weight loss feels positive to the person. “We should not assume that when someone loses weight, they intended to lose weight,” says registered dietitian Marlena Tanner. Our society assumes that weight loss is aspirational — but that’s not always true. “Weight loss may actually be a reflection of something being ‘wrong’ rather than ‘right,’” she says. “We equate weight loss with health, when in fact it can often mean the opposite.”
You can’t be sure what methods they’re using in order to drop pounds, either. You may be encouraging dangerous habits, such as extreme dieting, starvation diets, over-exercise or purging, without realizing it.
“For my clients in particular, who are working hard to recover from eating disorders, any commentary on weight is very confusing and triggering,” Tanner explains. Are you sure of this person’s history with dieting and disordered eating? It’s probably best to avoid the risk altogether.
It sends the wrong message
OK, so what if you know for sure that the person has been trying to lose weight? They even found what they insist is a “healthy” way! You still shouldn’t say anything. Sure, you know that your compliment is based on something they’re trying to do. But it’s a double-edged sword.
“There are many better markers of health and well-being than weight,” Tanner says. “And these comments insinuate that what the person looked like before was not as good as what they look like now.” Not only is that probably hurtful to hear, but it can further propagate weight stigma — the discrimination against people of larger size.
Weight stigma is harmful to people’s mental and physical health. Studies show that weight stigma is correlated with worse health outcomes and worse health behaviors. Body shame actually makes people make fewer healthy choices over the long term. In other words, you don’t want to worsen weight stigma. Instead, refrain from adding to the conversation and keep your flattery focused on other things.
It could actually hurt the person’s self-esteem
“Any comment about weight adds to the ‘evidence’ that weight is important,” says Kristie Amadio, certified eating coach and founder of Recovered Living Eating Disorder Coaching. “It strengthens the idea that smaller is better. But I don’t choose my friends for their body size or shape. I choose them for how they make me feel, the values they align themselves with, and the connection I have with them.”
The suggestion that weight is more important than other reasons for compliments (like kindness or connection) can do a lot of damage. “Especially for younger kids and teenagers (and especially for girls), these sort of comments are extremely insidious and can set them up to believe that they are only as valuable as their looks or weight,” says Melainie Rogers, certified eating disorder dietitian and founder and executive director of BALANCE. “Reinforcing this idea is incredibly impactful on self-esteem, which affects people for much of their lives.”
In other words, your compliment could make the person feel worse about their body — not better.
“I can’t think of a situation in which complimenting someone on their weight loss makes sense,” Amadio says. “Would you compliment a 5-year-old on their weight loss? If you wouldn’t say it to a kid, don’t say it to an adult.”
Next time you’re tempted to comment when you noticed they shed a few pounds, take a pause. What are you trying to accomplish with the interaction? If your goal is to make the person feel confident and happy, remember that this particular compliment probably won’t do the trick. Avoiding the conversation might make you feel more confident as a result, too — as might these other tips for feeling less insecure in your body.