In our body-obsessed culture, you may experience an understandable urge to say something — anything — when you notice a friend, co-worker, or acquaintance has lost some weight since you last saw them. But even the most well-intentioned comments can end up sounding dismissive, fatphobic, or simply rude.
Here’s your guiding rule: Because you never fully know the reasons behind someone’s weight loss, you should avoid attaching any sort of morality to it, good or bad. Below are common things that you may want to reconsider saying to someone on a weight loss journey, and a few suggestions for what to say instead. (You can also just say nothing. Saying nothing is fine too.)
“You look great, have you lost weight?”
This comment means well, it really does. However, the implication here is that thinner is better — not exactly body positive. Plus, keep in mind that people lose weight “for a multitude of reasons that often have little to do with dieting,” according to Melainie Rogers, MS, RDN and founder of Balance Eating Disorder Treatment Facility. “This includes struggling with either their physical or mental health, anxiety, depression, stress or engaging in eating disorder symptoms — [which] can all cause weight loss.” Unless you’re certain that a person’s weight loss is part of a healthy journey and that they be open to this type of compliment, refrain from implying that weight loss has made them look better than before.
“You didn’t/don’t need to lose weight, you know.”
Perhaps the good intentions behind this comment are that the person losing weight was always beautiful or worthy. However, this comment still suggests that they “should” look a certain way — thin or fat or anywhere in-between. And if they worked hard to lose weight, why would you want to undermine their work as unnecessary now?
“How much weight did you lose?”
Talking numbers is tacky. Plus, when you lose weight, the numbers — kilograms and kilometres and calories — can take on new, emotionally charged dimensions. Boiling down such a multi-layered experience into a few digits can be invasive and potentially belittling.
“What’s your secret?”
This question undermines the reality of all the boring, hard work that can go into someone’s weight loss efforts. Besides, there really is no secret.
“Good for you.” / “You look so much better.”
Avoid anything that insults how they used to look in order to compliment how they look now. After all, they’re still the same person — then, now, and at whatever size they may be in the future.
“How many kilos do you have to go?”
Ah, the implication that there must be more work to do! No. Keep this one to yourself.
“It’s like you’re a completely different person.”
This one is a loaded gun. Different good? Different bad? When someone loses a significant amount of weight, it takes time for them to adjust to the new reflection in the mirror. This sort of comment makes that process even more challenging.
“You are so lucky!”
Really? This phrasing either minimizes the real hard work someone has put in, or it’s insensitive to unintentional weight loss that could be due to a host of other reasons.
“Oh come on, you can have [snack/drink/temptation].”
It’s probably not your place to tell someone what they can or can’t do, and it’s dangerous to frame food as something that one “earns” for whatever reason. Best not to comment on what they are or aren’t eating.
“You look too skinny.”
Maybe you genuinely feel someone appears unhealthy or is being unsafe in some way. If that’s the case, rather than commenting on their appearance, try to ask inviting questions. For example: “How have you been lately?” or “I feel like maybe you haven’t been yourself lately. How are things?”
What can (or should) you say instead?
Ultimately, whether you want to express praise or concern, what you say depends on your relationship to the person. If you’re in doubt, there’s a good chance it’s not your place to say anything at all. If you do know beyond a reasonable doubt that the person has been working hard and would be open to hearing your comments, focus on complimenting their efforts over the results. This way, you’re complimenting the person, not the vessel.
What to say instead:
- “It’s great to see you,” or any kind of compliment that isn’t focused on appearance. Leave out the word “weight.”
- “You look happy.” If someone is proud of their weight loss, this invites them to bring it up on their own.
- “You look great.” Full stop.