Wading Through Weight Loss Compliments

Thanks to reader Su for the topic suggestion.  Oh this is a tricky. Let’s examine two scenarios: You are interacting with someone who has lost weight, and someone is talking to you about your weight loss (either real or perceived)

You are interacting with someone who has lost weight

I suggest that you resist, with conviction, the urge to tell them how good they look now – it sounds like you are saying that they looked bad before.  It’s no secret that our culture thinks that thin=beautiful.

While they are probably really proud of themselves, I know that there is a 95% chance that they are going to gain the weight back.  For that reason I try to comment in a way that will lessen the self-esteem hit if they end up in the majority.

If they don’t bring up the weight loss I don’t bring it up. Weight loss isn’t always welcome – it can be from medical issues, medication, stress, grieving etc. and I don’t want to bring up something painful. Plus this conversation is awkward enough, I’m not going to go through it if I don’t have to.

If they bring up weight loss what I tend to say is:

“Was weight loss your goal?” because I think it’s important to be clear that weight loss isn’t everyone’s goal.  If they say yes I say, “You have always been beautiful/handsome.  You still are, and I’m glad that you are happy .”

If someone mentions your weight loss:

I don’t know about you but I’ve had people do this as a passive aggressive way of pointing out that I haven’t lost weight.  So I cheerfully answer “Nope!”

If they are commenting on weight I’ve lost because I was sick I say “Yeah, I’ve been sick – I’m expecting to be back to my fighting weight soon!”

If you have lost weight intentionally and you want to support size acceptance it would be awesome if you said something like “Yes, I chose to lose weigh but I don’t want anybody to think that I believe it is the path for everyone.”  It would also be fantastic if you would point out and negate any attempts to make it seem like you are better than fat people who are still fat.  You are allowed to choose weight loss for yourself (as you are the boss of your underpants), it’s totally not cool to use weight loss as a barometer for personal worth, good treatment, or social acceptance.

I look forward to living in a world where bodies of all sizes and shapes are completely accepted. But until that time we need to be mindful how we talk about these things.

This blog is supported by its readers rather than corporate ads.  If you feel that you get value out of the blog, can afford it, and want to support my work and activism, please consider a paid subscription or a one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free.   Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on December 17, 2011 at 5:05 am  Comments (67)  

67 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I have been thinking about this lately, because people say this to me, and I don’t think they are being snarky but trying to be complimentary. I like your suggestions and appreciate your giving this attention. My answer was “no, maybe I’m just holding myself more confidently” but I’m not entirely happy with that or any answer yet. I guess I’m still uncomfortable with attacking the dominant ideology in most situations (I mean I’d jump right on my mother about it, but the nice lady at the pharmacy?) but at the same time anything that doesn’t attack it outright seems dishonest.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      I think that it’s always a process and it has a lot to do with how you feel on any given day so whatever answer you give is fine. It might help to separate attacking the dominant ideology from attacking the person who you are talking to – you can do the former without doing the latter. You could try something like “Thanks for asking – actually I practice Health at Every Size so I’m focused on my health rather than my weight”.

      ~Ragen

  2. I try not to comment on peoples weight at all. I rarely see people lose weight anyway, unless their just lost a loved one or they have a serious illness. And I’m surely not to comment on the weight gain of people. Also I don’t want to sound patronizing, which is apparently what I have been accused of when I comment on someone’s appearance.

    People still comment on my weight, and even though I have gained 10 lbs in the last 5 years, they seem to insist I am even skinnier than before. Of course it is just in their own heads. It doesn’t bother me like it used to, but I try to dodge sounding defensive by correcting them when they won’t believe me anyway.

  3. Although I do understand everything Ragen said, I have to ask – being on Weight Watchers myself – why we just can’t enjoy someone’s losing some weight, and being happy for them? Just as I am happy for you, Ragen, being a dance champion, and not worrying about your ever wanting to lose weight. As I have commented elsewhere on this blog, I am trying to go down to an 18-20, and would love it if people told me how good I am starting to look. Especially since I have decided to remain plus-size. I am doing it for myself, to look better to me, but must continue feeling that I can eat. Any compliment anyone would give me on it would be greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Darcy,

      That’s absolutely fine for you, but you are a specific case. The advice I’m giving is because not everyone wants to lose weight and we don’t always know what will happen if they do. Also, although you may feel like you look better thin, that doesn’t mean that everyone feels that way. I completely respect your choice to lose weight and your belief that you look better now – but I don’t think that bodies are any more or less beautiful at various sizes and I wouldn’t want to give a false compliment. Also, knowing what I know about the success rates of intentional weight loss, it does not fit in with my ethics to compliment someone on something that they are so unlikely to maintain – thus setting up greater disappointment if it doesn’t work. So I am glad that you are happy and that you are reaching your goals.

      ~Ragen

    • I think Ragen answered that well up above, but here’s a followup. What if you complimented someone on weight loss and the answer is, “Well, thanks; it’s not intentional. I have been undergoing treatment for breast cancer”? Or “Yeah, well, I lost my son last month. It’s amazing how grief makes you stop eating”?

      Commenting on someone’s appearance, positively or negatively draws immediate and often public attention to something they may well NOT want attention drawn to. Unless you know the person’s intentions intimately, it’s a very unwise move. People are extremely sensitive about their appearances.

      For example, yesterday a coworker commented to me – in the presence of another coworker – “Hey, you’re wearing makeup today!” I was MORTIFIED that she would mention that. It made me feel like I was under scrutiny and judgment and that on days when I don’t wear makeup that she thinks I’m somehow lacking. I am certain that is not how she intended it, but that is how it felt in that moment.

      If you choose to compliment someone on weight loss, it says something about you rather than about them. It says that you place an emphasis on their appearance. That’s not necessarily wrong, but it may not be welcome. It can also be viewed as condescending or even arrogant to comment on someone else because it may imply that you think they need your approval. Your desire to say something is based on your need to compliment them, not on their need to hear it. If they need some validation, it’s up to them to instigate the conversation, just as it is up to you to instigate the conversation if you want to be validated.

      One last question – not to be snarky, but to make you think: Why do you need the validation of others to make you feel good about yourself? (I ask this as someone who battles the same question, as you can probably tell from my story above.)

      • Amy,

        Very well said – we so rarely compliment people for being smart, or being funny or for their other accomplishments – but we are quick to compliment their appearance and any weight loss…Hmmmm, I may feel a blog coming on.

        ~Ragen

      • Ragen, you make a great point. Looks are far more likely to receive compliments than anything else. I know I hear more compliments on my looks, even though I have a ton of accomplishments and things going for that have nothing to do with my appearance. I definitely think you should blog about that.

      • Ragen, you go, girl! That will be an awesome piece.

      • Regan,

        I started thinking about why compliments are mostly about appearance, and what I compliment others on (even before you’ve written a blog on it!), and I think it’s partially because compliments on appearance are easy. I mean this in the sense of you can give them right away without finding out what the person has been doing. I was thinking about the compliments I give a 9yo girl I’m tutoring in math – nothing about her appearance, but about figuring something out or even noticing when an answer doesn’t make sense (it’s amazing how many people follow the math steps, but don’t pay attention to the fact that that answer doesn’t make any sense at all!). But this is because I *know* something about her and what she is doing. If I walk up to someone (esp at a party or something) all I really have to compliment them on is their appearance. The other big part, of course, is that our society encourages us to compliment each other on appearance – it is considered the polite thing to do. Hmm, I’ll have to think about this some more – and I look forward to a blog on the subject!

        — Buffy

      • Ragen, I hope you do write that piece!

        It ties in with other things I’ve read recently, about how little girls are primarily complimented on how cute/pretty they are, about how they look: “how cute you look!” or “you are such a pretty little girl!” and not about other things, like being smart or brave or funny. Many times if they do get a personality-based compliment, it’s “you are so sweet” or “you are so nice”, which serve to hold up what society expects from little girls, and from women: to be pretty and nice. I know this isn’t on topic, and isn’t the purview of your blog, but it just got me thinking!

        On-topic: before I found FA and body acceptance, I was definitely guilty of commenting on weight-loss in a positive, congratulatory way. I think back on that and cringe. Now, I try to stay far away from any comments on someone’s body, because it is SO EASY for me to mess that up, even if I mean well. Your body=not my business, unless you make it so. I like to compliment someone’s accessories or clothing, if I don’t know them well, because those are things that they got to choose for themselves, it’s something they have control over.

        I really like “I’m happy you are happy” as a comment if someone insists on looking for kudos on weightloss, or anything else that I’m not comfortable complimenting. It really covers a lot of areas.🙂

    • I think that it makes sense to compliment someone on their weight loss if you 1) know that they are deliberately trying to lose weight, 2) think that’s a good thing that should be encouraged, 3) think they do look better, and 4) have a reason to believe, based on your knowledge of the person, that the compliment won’t be taken as “Wow, you were so fat and unattractive before!” As you can imagine, a lot of people in fat acceptance take issue with point two (and sometimes point three), which weighs in against complimenting people on that specific feature. (I’m sure that, if I got to know you, I’d find plenty of positive qualities that I felt comfortable complimenting you on, and I don’t doubt that you can find plenty of people who believe deliberate weight loss should be encouraged who will be happy to compliment you on it.)

      A bigger issue is the idea that weight loss is always a good thing worth complimenting people on. I’ve seen plenty of people complimented on how good they look after recovering from gastrointestinal illnesses that caused them to loose weight (and joking about wanting to catch these illnesses in order to shed some weight). Complimenting someone on catching the stomach flu doesn’t strike me as a great idea. Neither does complimenting someone without knowing the circumstances and discovering that you’ve triggered their eating disorder, or encouraged them on a dangerously extreme diet, or even accidentally said something that comes off like “Cancer makes you look awesome!” The idea that “You look great, have you lost weight?” should always be a welcome compliment only works when it’s tied up with the idea that looking thinner is always better, which is a big issue for fat acceptance.

      • This blog post is very timely.

        Recently I got a food-poisoning-induced gastrointestinal issue … that might be permanent. During the phase of when I was more acutely sick (so, I wasn’t sure if I’d make it into work and, therefore, everyone at work knew about the sickness), coworkers would say things like “well, at least you have lost weight!” to which I started responding “I’d rather be healthy than skinny.” (This is the first time I’ve tried to insert HAES-like ideas into this social arena, so I’ve been hesitant to just outright address fat acceptance.) What blows my mind is that they would respond “yeah, but I was just trying to look on the bright side.”

        The bright side of being sick is being skinny? I feel like crap and I’m in pain multiple hours a day, but at least I fit the social norm a little better? I didn’t even know how to respond because of its complicated web of assumptions, so the conversation would end there.

        The thing is, I wasn’t even losing weight. I stopped weighing myself regularly about a year ago, but after a couple of these conversations I was curious if I even lost weight – and, I was the same weight as I was a year ago! I weighed myself again a couple weeks later to see if maybe I really had gained weight over the past year and lost it while sick, and again I was NOT losing weight (which was reassuring, because I was scared about being malnourished for a while).

        It still bothers me to this day that 1) my coworkers didn’t see the strangeness of holding skinniness higher in regard than health (even after I outright endorsed health over skinniness) and 2) I didn’t have a better comeback.

    • As someone who has been in a situation of intentionally losing weight, at first I really loved the compliments, but then I found that it started to really irk me. I hated being told how well or how beautiful I looked. Did I look so bad before? And I was someone who was desperate to lose weight at the time and believed I looked terrible fat. I was surprised by how much I came to loathe those compliments.
      I also found that the compliments had another effect. Where before I had been losing weight for me and excited and motivated for myself, once the compliments started coming I started to factor the opinions of others into the equation. I worried that I would lose the good opinion of others if I failed, if I stopped short of the point they hoped for me to reach. I know it seems like compliments are great, they can be very dangerous from my experience.

      • As an “other-centered” person or externalizer (which I try not to be!), I end up tying the compliments to my motivation. In other words, if someone didn’t compliment me, I had failed, and when the compliments and encouragement stopped coming regularly, I lost my motivation to continue making healthy choices. I have to protect myself first, so I try to avoid the compliments and be happy with my own self-estimation.

  4. I don’t comment on someone’s weight. I DO however say, You look wonderful…there’s a sparkle in your eye…something….and leave it up to them if they want to respond.
    People have commented on my recent very noticeable weight-loss and it bothers me because it’s the result of an ulcer I got as a parting gift for my upcoming divorce. I haven’t weighed myself since I left him and honestly have no idea how much, but when someone tries to guess (and lawdy they all take a shot) I tell them that weight-loss due to illness isn’t a consolation prize. I’m ambivalent because on one hand, most of them mean well, but on the other hand there’s this stink of control and approval I didn’t ask for because NOW, to them, I’m a ‘good girl’. Most of the time I’m thinking ‘fuck you’ in my head even when it’s my grandmother.

  5. A very timely reminder, what with the holidays coming up! Thanks!

  6. I find dealing with this really frustrating! My weight has decreased by maybe 20lb over the past couple years due to starting exercise– but it wasn’t intentional, it just happened. (It’s hit a stable place now, thankfully.) Certain people at work comment often about it. Every time, I say “Next time I will give them the HAES spiel,” but usually I just laugh awkwardly, side-eye and run away. It’s really rude of people, but they think they’re paying me the nicest compliment so it’s hard to set them straight.

    • A simple, “I appreciate the thought, but I’d rather it not be mentioned,” should suffice, I would think. You can accompany it with a smile.

      I agree that mentioning a person’s appearance is the height of rudeness, honestly. And every time you THINK about giving the spiel brings you one time closer to when you are comfortable enough to do so. Good for you!

  7. Thank you for writing this — especially “you are the boss of your underpants”! If people comment on my weight loss I usually say “oh I guess I have” and change the subject. But what do you say to people who have had gastric surgery and have discussed it at length before, during (almost), and after? It seems churlish to ignore their good intentions, and when they plateau and their plus-size thighs come creeping back it’s hard to ignore that too. Nope. I just tell everybody they look good no matter what.

  8. Hello everyone. Greetings from the UK. What a great post Ragen…. they all are; thank you!

    I relate to what you’re saying here. In 2007 I did the Lighter Life programme (not available in the USA I think but you can google for more info.) This is a 530 calories a day, primarily liquid diet which is done for 100 days. It’s councellor led programme aimed at breaking old habits. NO real food whatsoever, not even a slice of lemon in sparkling water. I lost 8 stones(112lbs) I found it easy, came off it and didn’t do the management programme which introduces food slowly back into your life. I managed it fine for 3 months and even as Christmas came and went I kept it off. Having been a very large child, going on my first diet at 9, this was the best way of knocking the problem on the head….or so I believed – that was my desperaton level at the age of 54.

    The praise was great, I felt wonderful, yet even 112lbs lost, I was STILL clinically, according to UK charts, 70lbs overweight. For me it was a terrible thing to feel my weightloss would never be enough. I was a regular at the gym 3x per week and my trainer couldn’t understand why I wasn’t losing weight (must point out 530cals for 100 days takes a toll on your metabolism)…. will speed up my story…

    Accident at the gym in 2009 followed by a fall on to my right knee few months later, then Swine flu….. diagnosed with Fibromyalgia 2010 and now recovering from colorectal surgery for cancer…. I have gained ALL of the 112lbs back.

    The purpose of that long preamble is to give background to the variety of reactions from others but mostly, within me. Having lost, it was amazing to feel better about looks, feel it easier to move, get incredible praise and pats on the back for doing so well…. but how odd it was to STILL get ‘that look’ from people who didn’t know me or my journey, seeing me still at 196lbs …. Prior to getting the cancer diagnosis when the weight had come back on (I didn’t manage to be in the 5% who kept it off!) I found I was feeling too ashamed to leave the house, but did it anyway as I could see what was happening. Training as a Body Psychotherapist helped me to see that SHAME was/is the greatest sickness erroding away my/our core.

    The name blame and shame in the UK now is becoming utterly unacceptable. The media, the government, the health ministers are blindly pushing and squeezing the ‘Obese’…. EVEN children. We are marginalised and some members of society decide to take it all verbatim, publically ‘flogging’ us if we don’t fit their idea of health and fitness.

    The general message here is: Fat people don’t know how to eat healthily so we have to show them. We have to educate parents on how to feed their children….. they are barking completely up the wrong tree. If a tap leaks and changing the washer doesn’t cure the problem, you don’t go on changing the washer hoping it will get fixed, you investigate what else might be causing the leak! That analogy is given based on the fact that for some there may be something out of balance; there may not be or you may feel you are just how you want to be anyway.

    Praise being given because you tick a ‘righteous’ box is just the flip side of saying you’re too fat, unhealthy, unfit, make poor choices etc etc. It is all the same thing….. no one allows the non average bodied individual to have a voice. It is stolen from us UNLESS we speak out like Ragen is doing so well.

    Turn what you hear right around…. some of us know scientific research falls short, frequently changing their findings – the general public however, don’t see this…. the bottom line is: Self Love ~ Self Belief ~ no blame and no shame = healthy individuals and compassionate, accepting world.

    • I’m drawn to reading the Daily Mail every morning and they must be in cahoots with Lighter Life because they’re always showing articles about people who’ve lost a huge amount of weight on this ghastly regimen. I keep meaning to write them a letter and say “please show us these people after two years”. Maybe today I will.

      • Good for you Alexie; please do it!

  9. I’ve had a couple of people at work lately ask if I’m losing weight. I just reply with ‘I don’t think so, but its possible that my shape is changing a little or I’m standing better now that I’m doing pilates.’ Which is the likeliest explanation anyway since the last few times I bothered getting on a set of scales that number wasn’t moving at all😛

  10. I left my husband last fall, felt great about it, bought a house, and looked forward to my new life. Then, in January, a bout of anxiety and depression hit me like a ton of bricks. I literally couldn’t eat, for the first time in my life — I had such terrible dry mouth that I could barely swallow anything that wasn’t already liquid. I lost about 20 lbs in about 8 weeks, as far as I can tell — I don’t weigh myself, but my pants got looser and looser, to the point where they were almost falling off. People started giving me compliments about my weight loss. What do I say? I’d been wishing I could lose those 20 lbs (plus about 50 more) for the last 30 years, but I actually felt terrible — weak, frail and debilitated. I didn’t want to lie, and I was so depressed that I couldn’t pretend to be happy even if I wanted to, but I also felt ashamed of how mentally messed up I was and there were very few people I wanted to discuss that with. So I would say something like, “Yeah, I’ve been having some trouble eating lately. This is a side effect.”

    I finally got some meds that worked on the anxiety/depression symptoms, and started feeling a lot better. My mind/body’s wisdom started to kick in and I had the most amazingly powerful desire to feed and nurture myself — some part of me felt so strongly that I was a poor, starving, malnourished child that needed to be coaxed and nourished. Bear in mind that I was still at least 70 lbs from “normal” weight for my height, but my body was telling me that I was starving. It was not my typical compulsive-eating feeling, which is familiar enough, but something quite different — a feeling of compulsion, but with a lot more compassion and nurturing in it instead of self-hatred.

    Anyway, after about 6 months of recovery, I’m approaching the weight I was at a year ago, and my pants are getting tight around the waist again. I’m not really happy about that part, because I like to feel comfortable and I don’t want to run out and buy a new wardrobe, but I feel so much healthier than I did when I was “thinner”. However, I’ve gotten a few comments from people implying sympathy that I couldn’t keep the weight off. Part of me feels ashamed and frustrated that I didn’t maintain the lower weight, but mostly I’ve come out of this whole experience with a lot more respect and affection for my body and its wisdom. So if I get a comment about having gained weight, I’ll say, “Yeah, it’s been great to be able to enjoy food again — I’m feeling a lot better.”

  11. I’ve started exercising and eating better, and with that I am losing a little weight. I hadn’t really thought about how to deal with reactions like this, but now I think that I will just say, “I’ve made some health improvements in my life; the weight loss is just incidental.” And if they persist, to explain the 5% statistic and that I am not willing to yoyo myself through that again. It can be an opportunity for gently educating people, because when people perceive that one is “doing the right thing” because of some weight loss, then they are more likely to hear HAES message and less likely be able to dismiss it the way that most people do.

  12. I love Amy’s suggestion above: “A simple, “I appreciate the thought, but I’d rather it not be mentioned,” should suffice, I would think. You can accompany it with a smile.” Partly because it has the benefit of being true–I do appreciate the thought and I know people mean well, and I’d prefer it not be mentioned.

  13. Thanks for this, Ragen. I find it *truly* irritating that every time I go home, my dad says “honey, are you losing weight?” It doesn’t matter if my weight is up or down since the last time he saw me, it’s always the same question (plus, my weight is stable in a 5-10 pound range). What is especially odd and uncomfortable about this is that I had an eating disorder in college, and my dad would yell at me to eat, tell me I was “crazy,” and basically made my life miserable–we can safely say he did not aid in my recovery. Now I feel that I have a fairly normal relationship with food and exercise and really try not to place value on my weight: sometimes it’s up, sometimes down, whatever. Yet when I see my dad, I just can’t get what the deal is–is he trying to make me think about weight, or obsess about it like I did yea so many years ago? I used to respond with a joke, something to the effect that he must have a mental image of me being especially large, if every time he sees me I look like I’ve lost weight, whether I have or not. This did not deter him. So most recently, I just said that I would really appreciate it if he did not comment on my weight; that I didn’t pay it that much attention and neither should he. I’m wondering if that will have stuck this holiday, or if I’ll get another comment on my size. I mean, it’s weird: I’m working on my dissertation, adopted a pet, have watched some new movies, live in a part of the country he’s never visited. Seriously, there’s nothing else he can think of to discuss with me?

    • Maybe he’s worried that you’re going to relapse back into your eating disorder. I don’t know how long ago college was but maybe that’s it.

  14. I’ve decided that “I hope not, I’ve got such a fabulous wardrobe” will be my answer if anyone asks if I’m losing weight.

    • Love it!

  15. When I was growing up, all of my relatives and parents’ friends had a comment about my weight, but the person that made me feel so good, was the *one* woman in our community who said, “It is always so nice to see you!” That’s it. ‘Nuff said. So I basically say this to everyone. Fat, thin, short, tall, gay, straight…. Sometimes if someone is particularly glowing or radiant or happy looking I’ll comment on that as well.

  16. It seems to be the common way nowadays to greet a woman – ‘Have you lost weight?’ My usual answer is a look of horror, and ‘Oh God, I hope not!’
    Fortunately, most people know better than to ask me.

    • It’s great you love your weight, but words like “I hope not” make it sound like one is good and the other is bad. I’m not sure if you really meant those words or if it was just a way to dodge a sticky situation, but It’s fine to be fat and fine to be thin. It’s fine to gain weight and it’s fine to lose weight. I hope we can all learn to be happy with our weight but not be so attached to it that we fear it changing.

      • To me, Jane saying “I hope not,” means she’s happy with the way she is.

        I appreciate what you’re saying about it being fine to gain or lose weight (although sometimes it’s not always “fine”, but indicative of an underlying health issue–particularly sudden weight loss without dieting), but wonder if your reaction would have been the same if Jane had said “I hope so”, (a common response to the “Have you lost weight?” question), or if the question would have been “Have you gained weight?” (which is commonly considered rude, when the lost weight question is NOT commonly seen as rude, which is INTERESTING), and Jane had responded, “I hope not.” (And we know many would respond this way.)

        I’m not trying to lose weight, and I don’t weigh myself because it makes me crazy, but I still get that little rush when others ask me when I’ve lost weight. I know better, I choose HAES and body acceptance, but as a USian woman, I haven’t yet overcome my years of internalizing the “skinny good, fat bad” message.

        I think Jane’s response might encourage some to question their assumptions, or to help those like myself who don’t WANT to equate their self-worth with their body size, but who fall into that sticky trap regardless.

  17. Hi Regan🙂 I just wanted to say that I love your blog and it has already had a huge impact on how I feel about myself and how I interact with others (especially when they indulge in fat shaming others or themselves). I do have a small doubt though… you’ve talked about how people who manage to lose weight and keep it off are a small minority and that we can’t judge everyone by that standard… I’m wondering if your amazing abilities: your physical fitness, great numbers (blood sugar and so on), flexibility, stamina, etc, are because you are an anomaly! Some sort of goddess who was naturally endowed with super powers by genetics?😉 I kid but I’m also serious.
    What if you are in the minority and most people of size cannot achieve the level of athleticism that you have? Are we putting up too much of an expectation that anyone can be a fatlete? I encountered the “well most obese people have mobility issues so it was caused by their fatness” argument and I wasn’t sure how to answer… Anyway, much love and gratitude for what you’re doing with this blog🙂
    Allison

    • Hi Allison,

      Good question, thanks for asking. While it’s possible that I may be an anomaly because of my physical abilities and health, based on the evidence it’s much more likely that I’m an anomaly because my ability to ignore the messages that society gives me to participate in athletic and not participate in dieting bahaviors. Dieting has been tested thoroughly tested and has a proven and extensive track record of failure including weight regain, weight cycling, obesity and eating disorders. Weight cycling is correlated with almost all the same health issues with which obesity is correlated. That is not the case for fat people and athleticism – in fact all the testing of fat people who engage in physical activity shows that it DOES improve their numbers and health. Everyone does not need to do high level athletics, we’re talking about 30 minutes of walking 5 days a week. There are many, many healthy athletic fat people but you don’t find out about us because showing us in public always gets someone criticized for “promoting obesity”. Based on the current evidence there is a lot of reason to believe that people can be fit and fat and very little reason to believe that fat people can’t be athletic and healthy.

      ~Ragen

      • Thanks Ragen!

  18. I too have received these comments – whether or not I’ve lost weight, or even if I’ve become healthier or not! I haven’t figured out how I want to respond yet. I think I want 2 answers – one for people who I know fairly well & who I want to know that I follow HAES, and another answer for people I don’t know that well and who are basically doing the “how are you?” equivalent and are expecting the “I’m fine”-type response.

    — Buffy

  19. My, Ragen, you’re looking massively intelligent today!

    • Girl, she looks massively intelligent EVERY day!😉

  20. What stinks on ice is, at least with facebook, if someone mentions they’ve lost weight, people start acting as if they’ve won the Nobel Prize. They start marvelling at the person who lost it, no matter whether or not they needed to. How impressive they are! How amazing an accomplishment.

  21. I appreciate the insight on how to deal with weight compliments. I lost some weight a year or so back for medical reasons — discontinuing a med due to side effects and having to have thyroid suppression therapy. I was always tempted when someone commented to say, “Thanks! My secret was thyroid cancer and tardive dyskinesia!” Felt too unkind to go there, though. I was fortunate because neither of these medical issues were all that terribly traumatic for me. I think I would have felt differently if I were facing something imminently life-threatening.

  22. I was at a training once where the water supply turned out to be infected with amoebiasis. Predictably, a high percentage of the trainees got sick (fortunately, only with relatively mild gastrointestinal illness), and most of them experienced the sort of temporary weight loss that one would expect with that particular illness.

    There was a lot of talk afterward about how good it made them look (all of it apparently sincere), and jokes about selling the disease as a diet product.

    So yeah, complimenting people on weight loss can go to scary extremes.

  23. There is a type of “compliment” I don’t know how to deal with. It is when I am told I have lost weight when I am not trying to lose weight and when I’m fairly certain (from the way that my clothes fit) that I haven’t lost weight. It comes from people how know I have been very active recently. All of my movement, playing sport, etc, has come from a desire to be fitter. These compliment-givers assume that any activity I am engaging in must be helping me to lose weight.
    Does anyone have any suggestions of how I can (politely and sensitively) deal with these sorts of “compliments”?

  24. True story about the damaging nature of these thin compliments (and thin privilege more generally): My older sister had always been beautiful, well-dressed, smart, vivacious, fun, and funny. She was comfortable in her skin, and with her size, which fluctuated between a 12 and a 14. She’d never really dieted. But then she went on the South Beach diet to help out her housemates who were doing it, and dropped to a 4. She got so many complements, and so much attention, that she started really thinking her worth was related to how small she was, and when she went on the maintenance phase and stopped dropping dress sizes, she freaked out. In the seven years since, my sister has battled eating disorder after eating disorder, and while she seems to be stable now, she’s still not yet quite the same person she used to be–she’s mostly better, but the obsession still tinges everything she does.

  25. I think sometimes people say “have you lost weight?” because they think they are complimenting me. In my head it goes something like this: “Wow, she’s fat. She must feel really bad about herself. If I tell her she looks thinner, I will make her feel better.”
    In reality, whenever I have lost weight, and people start commenting on it, I got all self-conscious and stopped doing whatever I was doing to lose weight. What it is really telling me is that people are noticing how fat I am or am not. It feels like an invasion of privacy. Especially when I have clearly NOT lost weight. It means they think I’m even fatter than I actually am. And when we know how awful people think it is to be fat, isn’t it kindof like asking someone if they lost some horrible acne? Couldn’t they just tell me I look fantastic, without commenting specifically on something they think is better now than it was before?

    • I hear what you mean about the attempted compliment thing – in fact I think the next time someone tries the ‘Have you lost weight?’ thing on me I’ll go for ‘Are you trying to compliment me?’ in reply, because I am that snarky.😉

  26. I wish I had read this in the morning. I’ve been coming around to HAES after having lost some weight recently (intentionally and in a restrictive and unhealthy way), and I know something has to change because I just can’t maintain these habits. But it’s just so hard when you go to a family get-together, and someone says (as they did this afternoon), “You lost weight! You look great! It’s good that you did it when you’re still young; don’t ever gain it back!” I want desperately to ask people not to comment on my weight at all, but I don’t want them to get suspicious and wonder why I’m asking. Although maybe if they knew how I was losing the weight, they’d be more apt to back off and stop with the comments…

  27. I am currently 32 weeks pregnant and have gained only 6 pounds since the beginning of my pregnancy. (My baby is currently at 5 pounds.) My stomach, however, is about 3 times the size it used to be (thank god, there’s a baby in there!) I have had coworkers say that I should watch what I’m eating because I’m getting too big! I know it’s the flip-side of the coin, but people commenting on my weight at all when they don’t know the situation completely baffles me and I’m never sure how to respond! My typical non-pregnant answer when people ask me if I’ve lost weight is “Who knows, I never weigh myself.” To which they are usually stunned and change the subject.

  28. What I say depends on who is giving the compliment. These days, I just say, “I’ve been sick and that’s what happens”. It also happens to be true.
    In the past, I’ve tried to make it a bit of joke, and said something like, “no I’ve just mislaid it”, or “no, it’s right here under my skirt”, but people never get it. They say, “No REALLY, you’ve lost weight!!!”. Some people just have one-track minds.
    My reaction to other people’s weight loss is 1) shut up about it, or if they bring it up, I ask how they feel about it and say that if they’re happy with it, then I’m happy for them. And then shut up about it.

    @Amy Dobek: ‘yesterday a coworker commented to me – in the presence of another coworker – “Hey, you’re wearing makeup today!” ‘
    One thing you might say is, “I’m not even Amy Dobek! Isn’t it amazing what a little makeup can do?”
    Also “Why do you need the validation of others to make you feel good about yourself?”
    Answer: Because we as humans are wired that way from infancy. We are a social species and we get on better when we get along with the crowd. How do we know what that entails? From a constant stream of positive and negative reinforcement from our environment that starts from birth. Damn straight we need validation. Where and how we get it is more a matter of choice than needing it in the first place.

    @AshleyP: I’d bet you run into the problem of guys complimenting you on your accomplishments even though they could care less, and just want to get into your pants. As you have read, many of us have had our accomplishments belittled because some guy DOESN’T want to be accused of “liking” us. But in both cases it’s still “looks matter most” and belittles the rest of what we’re about.

    @Buffy Joseph: It is easiest to comment on someone’s appearance if that’s all you know about them, and one can use this tendency to one’s advantage. When you’re meeting a group of strangers, wear a conversation piece – maybe an odd ring, or a necklace made of chess pawns and golf balls. Voila – instant icebreaker. (I think Frances at Corpulent has about 2000 or more of these items just stuffed into her sock drawer.)

    @Robin Rintoul: I agree with you. I’d also rather people just say, “Looking good!”

  29. This is quite timely for me. My endo/anemia combo is acting up, resulting in some physiological factors (increased nutritional needs, decreased appetite, concentration, and energy) that are contributing to unhealthy and unwanted weight loss.

    This past week, I’ve had a couple of coworkers comment to me — devoid of any snark that I can tell — “Wow, have you lost weight? That’s great!”

    Which is really upsetting to me. I for sure feel like I’m in worse health right now — fatigue, brain fog, irritability (I think stemming from said fatigue and brain fog). And I think I look worse overall — vacant expression, dark circles under my eyes (and the sudden appearance thereof), slumped posture.

    So I’m guessing that the compliment givers — well meaning as they are — cannot be giving said approval based on how I feel. And they’re likely not giving it on how I look overall. Rather, it seems like the appearance of weight loss tips the scales so far over that is “makes up for,” if you will, all the other visible (not to mention invisible) negatives. In other words, I’m seriously wondering if some people are so greatly conditioned to perceive weight loss as perpetually positive that they fail to see other signs of ill health.

    That’s scary.

  30. Ruth, the way I see it “I hope not” or “I hope so” as a response to the have you lost weight question is the same thing. They are happy with their weight, but they are also hoping that it hasn’t changed, as if the change would be wrong or at least not ok with them. Either way, there is a fear and fault looked at with a certain body size or type, thus still creating an ideal or “one is better than the other” way of thinking.

  31. I love your replies to people saying: ooh you’ve lost weight or some such thing. I had it happen recently, except I haven’t actually lost any… so I found myself saying: oh I don’t think so/no I haven’t… at which point all eyes are suddenly looking my body up and down LOL! Kinda weird.

  32. I make a point of focusing on behavior changes, not the weight shifts, whether weight change is a patient’s intent or not. I emphasize the “what’s in it for them” with changes in activity and intake, as well as eating behaviors.

  33. I get the “Have you lost weight?” questions too; people mean it as a compliment. I strive to keep my weight stable, so it always puzzles me when people think I’ve lost when I haven’t lost at all.

    I try not to overreact to this because I know these folks really mean well. For whatever reason….the outfit I have on, the pose I’m in, my attitude about myself or whatever….I must really look thinner to them. To them that’s a compliment and they want to share it. To be churlish about it would just be rude.

    So I usually just act puzzled. “Nope,” I state with a puzzled look, and then I change the subject. I’m not rude, but I change the subject quickly and firmly. They get the message that it’s not really a subject I discuss with others, that I’m not trying to lose weight, and that it’s not part of what matters to me.

    It’s an interesting phenomenon that I’ve scratched my head over for several years now. I think it’s just people’s way of saying, “You look nice today,” or expressing care for you…..and in their minds, that’s inextricably linked to losing weight. Sad, but I try not to take it personally.

    • As a person who can be triggered by appearance and weight comments (even positive ones), the problem I see with excusing such behavior by admonishing myself not to take it seriously or that they “mean well,” is that it puts me in a position of subjugating my feelings to theirs and accepting the judgment of others. This is unhealthy for a compulsive overeater like me.

      They might indeed “mean well,” but I feel that it is my responsibility to politely let them know that such comments are not welcome in my world. Often I have found that such folks are placing their paradigms on me, but I have the power to reject them. I give myself permission to no longer say “thank you” to casual acquaintances or colleagues for those comments but instead to say with a smile, “I appreciate your sentiment. I really prefer not to discuss weight, however. Thanks for understanding.” If they stammer something about not meaning anything, I can reassure them that they haven’t offended me and we’re still on equal footing. If they storm off in an offended huff, then I know that they cannot respect my choices and I will be more wary with them in the future. Either way, and somewhat ironically, I feel less urge to medicate myself with food afterwards.

      It’s taken a lot of work to get me to this point, but I’m much happier with myself for it. With family and intimate friends I can have a more open discussion, and I still work on letting them know I don’t need their approval, but it’s so much better than it was.

      Some folks may think that I am placing my own feelings above others’ – and they’re absolutely right. I’ve struggled a long, long time to put myself first in a healthy way, and I see this as a positive thing because I live in my body – they don’t.

      • I saw an interesting analogy once — if I back up into you accidentally and bloody your nose, I didn’t mean to, but you still hurt. If I psychically/emotionally bloody your nose without meaning to, it still hurts as well. Unfortunately, sometimes others want us to not be hurt because they “meant well.” When we hurt, we hurt, no matter what the intentions are. I applaud you for being kind, tactful and assertive on this front. It’s a tough balance.

      • That’s an excellent analogy, Ksol. And thank you – I’m still learning!

  34. I have gotten better at handling unsolicited comments about weight. Setting boundaries with people and addressing it “on their level” seems to be a workable solution for me, but because they’re spontaneous comments I don’t always expect them nor do I have my wits about me. I try not to let it ruffle my feathers too much these days, because I know objectively that the other person had no intention to hurt or harm me with their words, they may also not understand that I have a complicated history of eating disorders which spans nearly two decades and my body is slowly repairing itself. It’s not something I advertise. They usually have issues with their own weight. My relationship with food and my body has matured and I am lessening the destructive/chaotic eating and exercise habits.

    I replaced intense gym workouts with gentle exercise, save for a few very occasional slip-ups. I eat intuitively and have no restrictions on what I can eat. I have started painting and drawing again. All of this has helped. I have lost a lot of weight in this process; as an adult my body is finally finding its way to a weight it wants to be. My mum has always been thin; especially in her younger years. I can see how my chaotic “dieting” and destructive eating patterns must have confused the hell out of my body- always thinking it needed to “prepare for another famine”. Now I’ve managed to convince it I am not in famine anymore, there is no need to conserve energy stores so efficiently. It’s very adaptive from an evolutionary perspective; our bodies don’t want us to starve. This is the number one reason why diets don’t and never will work.

    Where other people are concerned, I resent the assumption that I have “starved myself” to lose weight; albeit it has been a rocky road. But what other people think is their issue. They can and never will know the “full story”, and all that matters is how I feel about myself. What they say reflects back on them.

  35. I have recently lost a noticeable amount of weight because I’ve been working with a personal trainer. I work with a personal trainer because he has taught me new ways to exercise that challenge my body and give me increased strength and endurance. Weight loss is not my goal, but it has been a side effect. When people get all excited and ask me how much I’ve lost, I just say I don’t keep track because the scale makes me crazy. When they say how good I look I say, “Thanks! I feel awesome! I have so much energy! Interval training has really given me a lot more stamina” (or something like that), trying to focus on THOSE results instead of appearance. I want people to know that achieving a certain size and/or shape is NOT my focus. More importantly, I need to keep my head in the game so I don’t get sucked into the “OH EM GEE!!! I’M GETTING SKINNY!!! MY LIFE WILL BE SO PERFECT!!!” mindset. I already have enough baggage from that particular mind trip.

  36. /trigger warning/

    My brother was an athlete most of his life but was also a yo-yo dieter/exercise-aholic due to his high school sports: Football (linebacker) in the fall and Baseball (shortstop) in the spring. Mom says (I was away at college) he used to do crazy things to get himself from football weight in October to baseball weight in March. =( including layered sweatsuits and running till you’re exhausted.

    He was 31 when he lost a ton of weight suddenly, with no change in his eating and exercise habits, must have been something like 40#. His doctors actually *congratulated* him, but he was puzzled on account of the changed-nothing question.

    Six months later he was intermittently pissing blood. (that was April ’06)
    He was scared for months, and finally asked his doctor in August if something might be wrong. They ran tests.

    I was getting married August 13. He got his results the Friday before, and *sat on his results* for the whole weekend so I could have a happy wedding. He and his wife only told their pastor.

    He phoned the day after we got married. Kidney cancer. Far advanced. He was crying and scared. I have never held such disparate emotions as my extreme happiness at being married and my extreme grief and sorrow over my brother’s news in the same moment.

    He died the following April after a variety of treatments including removal of one kidney

    My point is, our culture’s fucked up idea that weight loss is always GOOD blinded the doctors, who should have KNOWN to be suspicious of a forty pound sudden weight loss.

    I’m still furious. Five. years. later.

    (exhale)

    • Oh, Elizabeth. I have no words. I am so incredibly sorry for your loss. *hugs*

    • I am so very sorry for your loss, and I appreciate you telling the story here – I’m sure that you’ll help a lot of people.

      ~Ragen

      ________________________________

      • I’m sorry for your loss.

        Was your brother overweight when he got sick? Because if he was, that probably added to the doctor’s stupidity. In a fat person, a sudden weight loss is considered a good thing when the same loss in a thin person would be a red flag.

        Strangely, if a thin person suddenly gets fat, doctors ignore that too. It’s not a potentially life-threatening disease, it’s lack of will power.

  37. I guess I must be an anomaly. Whenever someone says “you’ve lost weight!” or “have you lost?” I just shrug and say “I dunno, maybe.”

    Or, if I’m pretty sure I haven’t, I say: “I don’t think so,” and leave it at that.

    I don’t worry or think about it much beyond that because I figure it was something in their perception.

    I will admit that I am trying to lose. Mainly because I have a thyroid condition and I believe that the weight I gained in the seven years since I first noticed my symptoms and struggled to get a diagnosis, might resolve once I get my condition under control. That my current weight is not natural for my body, but a product of a malfunction.

    So, if someone mentions possible weight loss, it also makes me think I’m closer to remission.

    The only time I have an issue with weight comments really doesn’t have to do with comments. Luckily, people don’t say stuff to my face but looks are another thing. The passive-aggressive stink eye pisses me off. Usually when it happens, I add another weight to the stack and give them the stink eye right back.

  38. One of my highly competitive, Alpha-female friends has a habit of making comments about my weight in front of her husband and other friends. They’re always awkward and backhanded compliments. I am a very humble and soft spoken person generally and I don’t like to draw attention to myself. Weight loss has been a battle my whole life and I am always the designated fat friend in any social situation. So she usually says loudly, when no one else is speaking something like “oh you look so much better since you lost weight” or some such nonsense. All eyes then focus on me and my glowing red checks. I guess I looked absolutely hideous when I weighed 5 lbs more. It makes me want to dump her as a friend but I try to be forgiving. She is probably more insecure than I am about appearances. Love the article!!! Thank you!!


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