The Tricky World of Weight Loss Compliments

What Will you DefendThis topic has come up a lot this week, so I thought I’d talk about it. It is definitely tricky! Let’s examine two scenarios: 1.  You are interacting with someone who has lost weight, and 2.  someone is talking to you about your weight loss (either real or perceived.) As always, these are just suggestions and your mileage may vary.

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.  If we want to opt out of a world where some bodies are seen as better than others, then not suggesting that somebody’s body is better because it’s a different size is probably a decent place to start.

Often when this happens people are really excited and expecting a compliment. I know that there is an extremely high 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 vast 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 something like “I’m glad that you are happy” or “You were beautiful before and you still are” or something that is as neutral as possible.  While it’s important to me that people be allowed to make choices for themselves including the choice to attempt weight loss, it’s also important to me that I not perpetuate and praise diet culture or make it seem as if I think a body is more valuable or in some way better if it is currently smaller than it was before. Other people feel differently about this, choosing to celebrate other people’s weight loss and of course that’s their right.

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!”  On my IRONMAN blog I recently talked about what I would do if I lose weight as part of the training.

If you have lost weight intentionally and you want to support Size Acceptance, from my perspective it would be awesome if you said something like “I’m smaller but I still love my body just as much as before.” or “It’s so weird, I had no idea how many people were keeping tabs on my body size” or “I wish we lived in a world where body size wasn’t a topic of conversation.”  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, or that you deserve to be treated better now that you are thinner.

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

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Published in: on February 14, 2015 at 7:29 am  Comments (34)  

34 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Thank you for this post. It’s great to get the reminder to not compliment weight loss (aren’t we, as a society SO BrainWashed into doing just that?). Ugh, it’s almost like a knee-jerk reflex, a bad habit, someone is beaming with pride, smile on their face “Hey! I lost 40 pounds” and you automatically start to congratulate them. I’m glad you wrote about this, because that’s a habit that definitely needs to be broken.

  2. Excellent and helpful post on a very tricky topic.  Thanks!

  3. It really is a knee-jerk thing. If someone thinks you look good, dollars to donuts they’re going to assume it’s because you have lost weight. It blows their minds when people say I must have lost weight and I smile broadly and say my clothes still fit the same so I must not have.

    • I think people even do it if you look happy. You look happy, and you’re fat, so you must be less fat, right? What else do you have to be happy about?

  4. Ugh, my mother does this every time she sees me. It’s become kind of a weird little ritual… “You look like you’ve lost weight!” “Nope, not even a little bit!”

    • Hey, just tell her you got taller.
      (with straight face)

      • She’s steadily shrinking, so this might actually work…

    • My snarky reply to this is “you look older!”

  5. This happens to me far too often, where coworkers (who, for the most part, I have to assume are well-intentioned and also completely caught up in their own body/weight dissatisfaction) make comments to me on whatever changes in my body they perceive. I hate it. It absolutely raises my hackles and makes me feel scrutinized. My usual reaction is to do what you do, Ragen, and say “Nope!” as cheerfully as I can muster through my actual agitation, but I would LOVE to start saying “Wow, I had no idea how many people were keeping tabs on my body” or “*sigh* I wish we lived in a world where body size wasn’t a topic of conversation.” I want them to understand that I don’t find it complimentary, my body has NOT in fact, changed, and if they really want to say something nice to me, then tell me that you like how I look in my outfit, or you like how friendly I am when I pass you by in the hallways.

    I’m gonna start practicing these alternative phrases and hopefully, it’ll be a reflexive action the next time it happens. Thanks, Ragen!!

    • Yes, it makes me feel scrutinized. It’s so uncomfortable!

  6. I changed my eating habits in the fall for health reasons and in acknowledgement of my numerous food allergies and sensitiviites. (Pause to note that even being able to manage that requires a fair amount of privilege in terms of having adequate time or money, is not required for anyone and is unfortunately not even possible for some who might want to). It healed the specific thing I was going for and made me feel SO much better in so many ways. I am very happy to be free of aches and post nasal drip that leads to colds and stuff like that. My mom gave me some shade about my “crazy diet.” But then complimented me later because I happened to lose weight from it. I wanted to say…something…like, wait, how I look is more important to you than how I feel? But I settled for just sort of not responding/shrugging it off.

    • I too changed my diet several yrs ago, and found big improvements in how I feel. I no longer have the nasal drip either and can sleep at night. Of course I actually gained weight, probably because I was getting nutrients for the first time in decades.

  7. I guess I’m lucky, I’ve never lost a single pound in my life so I’ve never been complimented on weight loss! I would definitely tell that person to leave their stupid comments in their pocket!

  8. I try to emphasize how absolutely unimportant it is to me…

    someone else: “Have you lost weight?”
    me: “It’s possible, I don’t really track such things.”

  9. I lost 80 lbs. (surprise, have gained a lot back) and got so many compliments and they made me so angry! And remarks about how much healthier I was when I was healthy at both weights. I have a lot of resentment for some relatives that felt the need to comment on my weight at all. Hello, same person here at either weight.

  10. I have a few family members that tend to use “you look like you lost weight” as their go-to compliment. I’ve tried a few different responses, but they are just so determined to “compliment” me! Even if I just flat out say “no”, they insist that I look good and therefore must have lost weight. It’s a bizarre argument to have. They don’t seem to even realize that they are telling me I can only look good if I’ve lost weight?
    I keep trying to remember to say that I just look good!

  11. Due to diverticulitis on New Year’s Eve, a recurrence of same not long after, ensuing heavy doses of nauseating antibiotics, and the basically disordered liquid and low-fiber diet that went along with it, I lost fifteen pounds in just over a month. I was talking to a sympathetic coworker about it, and another coworker happened by as I was saying I lost fifteen pounds in a month. Her knee-jerk reaction? “Good!!” Not maliciously, you understand, just encouragingly.

    I’m not sure it’s ever ‘good’ to lose fifteen pounds in a month, and I’m pretty sure if I overheard someone saying something like that I would express concern (under these circumstances; we’re pretty close-knit at work. Otherwise I would keep my nose out of the conversation, in re: Underpants Rule). I told her it happened while I was mostly lying in bed, eating starvation amounts of food I don’t like to give my guts a rest, and being too nauseated and/or in pain to want to eat. I’m pretty sure a lot of that weight was muscle mass, and I am still feeling really beaten up.

    “Well,” she said, “you still look good!”

    • Wow. I had a teacher once ask the class if they would rather be fat or have cancer. The overwhelming majority said cancer. There’s no dealing with people like that.

      • I think these people/kids don’t understand that cancer is a drag, extremely painful, and you get humiliated with chemo or surgery. My grandma had breast cancer and leukemia, but it wasn’t a problem until a few yrs before she died, and she got her breast removed.

        Being fat doesn’t mean I’m in pain or in hospital. It’s the culture now that deems fat as gross.

        • Kids certainly don’t understand when they’re asked if they’d rather lose body parts or parents than be fat; it’s rightly hypothetical to them and they’re just giving the response they think the question invites. If you actually had their parent at knife point or began amputation procedures, I suspect most kids would change their tune…why even ask such a question? Is it asked in a classroom with fat kids in it? WTF?

      • Exactly! I admit I put her in a spot, but it ws good for her.

        • Sorry, my reply was meant to go to Lindsey.

      • Wasn’t there a study that said that fat people were more likely to survive cancer?

  12. I actually had my very first experience a couple weeks ago where didn’t have a gut reaction of saying “oh, thanks!” Very much thanks to Ragen, who’s was the first voice I came across that didn’t spout at me that losing weight was the only goal I should think of having.

    So, a fellow choir member came up to me and in a really happy tone said “Oh you look like you lost weight!” and I just kind of looked at her, a bit confused (because seriously, I really don’t make a habit of talking about my weight with acquaintances), and said “Nope! I mean maybe, I don’t really keep track.” She just looked confused back and said, “Well it looks like you did.” and I just said “oh, okay.” Then she mumbled “Maybe it’s just your outfit.” and walked away. It felt pretty awesome. I’ve never responded to a compliment of losing weight with “oh, ok” before. I much prefer it.

  13. ‘Hey, you lost some weight!’

    “Really? Oh, no! Can you help me find it?”

  14. I think some people say these things to me because they have a mental picture of me as being bulkier than I am, or if I’m wearing something that fits differently than when they last saw me. But I usually say, “No, I don’t think so.” Tangentially, when I tell people how much I weigh and/or what size clothing I wear, I think they are usually shocked in some way — either that I could be THAT big (because they think of a size 18 as being so enormous) or that I would admit it without shame.

    • Once I had a conversation with a lady who was concerned about her sister’s weight. ( I was an unwilling participant and on the clock, so I did not speak up.) how vastly overweight and huge she was. To drive the point home, she said, “she must weigh 250 pounds!”

      I did really want to tell her that, at that moment, I tipped the scales at 253, because I’m pretty sure she had no idea that I “weighed that much.” People don’t really know what weight or size looks like, and it varies so much from build to build.

      Which is another reason not to get judgy, of course.

  15. Yes, yes, yes! Everyone on Earth should get this reminder on etiquette!

  16. OMG, YES to the passive-aggressive asking if you’ve lost weight to point out that you haven’t! My SIL just did this to me a couple of months ago, and was so masterful about it that I didn’t even realize it for a while. I just kept thinking, “Is she blind? I’ve clearly gained.” It was so enlightening when I realized, no, she’s not blind, she just wanted to make sure that I knew that she knew that I’d gotten fatter.

    Also, my mental health situation allows me a retort to genuine weight-loss comments that truly shuts people up: Them: “Hey, you look great, have you lost weight?” Me: “Yes, I have. Crippling depression will do that to you.” Needless to say, they rarely have a follow-up comment.

  17. This is so helpful. My sil has lost a lot of weight in the past 4 years. She makes sure everyone knows. It is very triggering for me when she talks about it and I never really know what to say. Now I do. Thank you!

  18. “Weight loss isn’t always welcome”

    I lost a lot of weight from an illness; I’m regularly “complimented” on losing weight. Some days, I receive this as neutral, and some days it’s extremely upsetting. I interact with my family on our blog regularly and have been sharing this aspect of my life, including how deflating comments about the weight loss can be. Over the holidays, I saw my sister for the first time since getting sick and had just spent the two previous days in bed due to fatigue. Her first words were literally, “Wow, you look really good.” I made a face which was somewhere between pain and being flustered, and she quickly added, “I know you said it bothers you when people say that, but you look really good”

    No. Weight loss isn’t always welcomed.

  19. This made me think of my cousin who had brain cancer, which she struggled against for ten horrifying years before enduring an incredibly painful death. She was heard to say more than once that for the first time in her life, she felt physically confident, because she was so thin, due to a combination of chemo and the fact that her throat was partly paralyzed, so she really couldn’t eat. Even now, ten years after her death, it hurts me to realize how uncomfortable she’d been in her own body, long before the cancer.

  20. I tried to leave a comment before it didn’t work. So here’s a very short note to say that this statement is awesome:

    “I wish we lived in a world where body size wasn’t a topic of conversation.”

    I’m going to remember this one so I can use it in the future. Thank you!


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