If you only read one blog that I write - please read this one. I have devoted my career to helping women live healthier lives that make them feel happy, confident, and fulfilled. For some people, that journey may include weight loss.
And if someone you know is going through that weight loss journey you might be wondering if and what you should say to them. I usually don't deal in black and white terms, but in this case, I feel strongly that there are right and wrong ways to handle this situation.
If you're afraid you'll say the wrong thing, don't say anything at all. Simply greet that person with, "hello, it's wonderful to see you". If they want to talk about their recent weight loss with you, give them the opportunity to bring it up first.
So, let's review the things you should not say.
Here's the scene - you are meeting up with a friend you haven't seen in a few months. You're meeting at a restaurant and looking forward to catching up. She approaches you in front of the restaurant and you think to yourself, she has lost weight since I last saw her.
Avoid saying things like:
- "You look so skinny!"
- "Oh my gosh, you've lost so much weight"
- "You're wasting away, you must have lost weight"
- "You look great. Did you lose weight?"
- "You should eat something, you look so thin"
Generally, avoid using words like "skinny" or "wasting away" because they can make someone feel uncomfortable. It may also imply that the person lost weight using an unhealthy strategy. People often think that these words are complimentary but they can come off harsh.
The same applies to statements that leave the other person with awkward options for a reply. For instance, when you say, "you've lost weight" or "have you lost weight" the other person has to then say, "yes" but they will likely feel pressured to keep talking about it even if they don't want to.
And of course the, "you should eat something" line even when said in jest is unhelpful and could be belittling to someone who has worked very hard to adjust their lifestyle to lose weight. As a general rule, you shouldn't tell anyone to eat or not to eat - it's not your business.
Comments about how someone looks now versus before are also dangerous. You may not mean to imply that they were overweight or less attractive before, but when they hear you tell them that they look fantastic they might be wondering if or why they didn't look fantastic before.
What you say will also depend on how close you are to that person. Your mother or sister or best friend might take a comment from you very differently from a coworker or casual acquaintance. Know your audience before you open your mouth. And even if you are very close with that person, don't assume you know how they will interpret your comments about their weight loss. It's very personal and sensitive for some people and you should be respectful of that.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, but what if I want them to know that I support them and I'm proud of them? You can do that by not commenting on their weight. And if they want your opinion, let them ask for it.
People lose weight for all sorts of reasons and sometimes it's not a conscious choice, but a side effect of illness or a new medication. If you don't know why this person has lost weight, it could be uncomfortable to put them on the spot and glorify their weight loss when it wasn't their choice.
And the last reason you shouldn't comment on someone's weight loss is that your words could be triggering. Millions of women deal with disordered eating and disordered thoughts and feelings about food and exercise - so how do you know that your comment isn't triggering that negative experience? You don't. So, avoid making comments, even if you think you know that person well.
When we comment on another person's weight, we are reinforcing the idea that thin is good and overweight is bad. So let's stop this narrative and build each other up in different ways.
As a health coach, I help women identify barrrierrs to their ideal self. We work together to form short and long term solutions to create better habits that still fit into their lifestyle.
When a client wants to lose weight I encourage them to identify why. The desire to feel attractive and confident can be achieved without weight loss. However, if by changing your diet and exercise habits to support your health can lead to weight loss.
So the next time you notice someone's weight loss, refrain from speaking about it unless they start the conversation and encourage your participation.
If you are having a difficult time adopting and maintaining healthy habits, contact me. I work with women just like you to break through old destructive behaviors and replace them with sustainably healthy ones.