Monday, February 6, 2012

What Not To Say To Someone Who Has Lost Weight

So you're NEVER going to have cake again?

As nutrition clients make progress with their eating and weight loss inevitably people start to notice. At times, these clients come in delighted with the changes in their bodies and the feedback they are getting. Occasionally, remarks by others can sting or leave them puzzled.

A classic careless comment is “you look soooooo much better”. The subtext here is you really looked like crap before. This type of statement results in people feeling “I must’ve looked worse than I thought.” There’s no need to feel poorly when you’re making positive changes.
Motivation: Nasty

If you want to know which friend is not really your friend, lose some weight. When you really start to look fit and feel fantastic the “friend” who utters, “you better not lose any more weight” is completely jealous, cannot be happy for you and secretly hopes you’ll gain it back. These faux friends can also say things like “how are you going to keep the weight off?”
Motivation: Jealous

And just because someone has lost weight doesn’t make their food choices open for evaluation. If someone is having success, chances are they have some system they are using to assure sound selections. “Are you allowed to have that” never leads to the person saying, “oh you’re right I am going to throw it out.”  Instead, it makes them feel scrutinized and sometimes guilt-ridden. Well-meaning mothers voice their opinions in this manner. It’s far better to ask about food choices when someone isn’t eating their meal. As annoying as food policing is, enticing is just as bad. “Don’t be so rigid, just have a little” (insert treat food of choice) insinuates that the person is overly rigid. The last time I checked, skipping cake or pizza isn’t all that rigid.
Motivation: Controlling

Finally, there are the amount observations. You know, “I didn’t realize you had than much weight to lose.” Or, you’ve lost a lot of weight, how much 30, 40 pounds?”
Motivation: Clueless or Insensitive

As tempting as it is to match thoughtless comments with a snide comeback, there’s another option. There’s a chance, with some of these examples, that the person making the remark has no idea it’s hurtful. If you can say “asking if I’m allowed to eat that makes me uncomfortable when I’m trying to enjoy a meal.” Or, “when you tell me I look better it seems to suggest I didn’t look well before” you then have the opportunity to explain yourself. This may prevent the person from saying such things in the future.

If you have a friend, coworker or family member who’s losing weight and want to encourage them “you look great” always works.
What’s the most upsetting thing anyone has said to you about your weight? Any classic “what not to say” comments I omitted? Do you think the motivation is jealousy, malice or ignorance here?
PS Did you see Xbox's childhood obesity commercial during the Super Bowl, that made me almost as excited as the Giant's exciting WIN!

34 comments:

  1. I missed that commercial!!! Darn it!
    Ok, so this post was great because I have definitely seen ALL Of these take place!! I am working with one of the chefs where I work and he has lost close to 100 pounds, and he keeps telling me that people are saying "you look so great!" and he feels like he "looked awful before", and the WORST is when he tells me that people tell him he shouldn't lose any more weight. UGH. That drives me INSANE! I have him tell them that he has 50 more pounds to lose in order to even be in the "healthy weight" category, so they can just DEAL with it! And you're right, those people are typically jealous (and often overweight themselves).

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  2. Thanks Gina, you see people have important weight to lose and others play with their minds. If only people could come out and say "I have weight to lose too and wish I had the drive/motiation/work ethic you do.

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  3. Ugh, the passive-aggressive, jealousy-latent comments are the worst! My colleague once complimented one of our clients on weight-loss, going so far as to say, "I wanted you to know that I noticed because I know that when I lose weight I like it when people notice". So I made a mental note to compliment her if and when I see reason. Which I have. Conversely, she has never once said anything to me except to call out my food choices at work events saying things like "She never eats" and "you can see why one of us is skinnier". It is so annoying. I have actually broken down and eaten things that make me feel like crap just to shut her up. The funny thing is that I have lost a good deal of weight over the past couple years and she's never once complimented me, so I think that she has issues with me with regard to weight. It's odd and can be unsettling but I try and let it roll off my back. And I only caved to bad food once and it didn't shut her up...for long. So, now I just eat what I know is best and ignore her.

    People are weird. I think this is a subject that will always be tricky because people wrap so much of their self-worth up in their body image. And by nature, we are competitive and insecure. Or, many of us are...

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  4. I totally get it Cameo and yes our comments reveal where we are with our self esteem and weight. There are times though that I just don't think people get the ramifications or connotations of their comments. A compliment isn't a compliment.

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  5. I've always stayed away from commenting on people's weight other than to say "you look great". I've always been aware of my health and eat well and exercise. I'm 5'6" and about 125 pounds. What always surprises me is how overweight women will come up to me and say, "you're so skinny". I'd like to answer them back with "you're so fat" but I don't want to hurt feelings. I'm not at all skinny. I do have faux friends that tell me to "have a donut" but my health is more important than to put junk in my body. What I don't understand is why people feel they have to comment at all. I think it would be great for friendships if we all had each others best interest at heart. Wouldn't that make for a great friend?

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  6. Anonymous (so mysterious) I agree size comments can sting regardless of being large or small. Having someones best interest is a marker of a real friend; however, I think comments can be part of a friendship. There's nothing wrong with saying something positive and some people are too stingy with praise. I also think you can comment when feedback is asked for.

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  7. Missed the commercial!
    I think of all the types the controlling type makes me most frustrated.
    When people say things like "it's just one day, live a little"... I just want to cringe.

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  8. Lauren, I totally agree. I posted by anonymous because I've never posted before and don't know my URL. I'm not sure how to publish it otherwise. Debbie, Ft. Myers, Fla.

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  9. Loved this post! It ticks me off when people say things to each other like, "I hate you, you're so skinny." Good call on just telling someone they look great rather than mention size or weight loss specifically. I mean, maybe they just look great because they feel good and it doesn't matter how much weight they've lost or how much they still have to go.

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  10. Exactly Jess, great is great whether it's because someone looks happy, rested, confident you name it. Debbie, thanks for commenting. No problems with anonymous though sometimes it's because people want to say something controversial (which I welcome).

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  11. I enjoyed this post. I have had heard the "oh please don't lose any more weight" and "oh just indulge today". The funniest was how when after I lost all my pregnancy weight I had a few people say "You had become soooooo big when you were pregnant". Keep in mind that while I was pregnant I was told (by these same women) "You look amazing!It's all belly!"
    It didnt bother me at all because I knew I was big and that that was normal. I just found it funny that people became "more honest" after the fact!

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  12. I gained quite a bit of weight in grad school and lost it right afterward. So people who knew me before, but didn't see me during grad school, often think I was always the same weight. But when I see people I went to grad school with, they sometimes comment on my weight loss (which has been many years now). I've gotten quite a few of the above comments, and it can be awkward... Also, since I wasn't overweight for very long, I sometimes almost forget that I've lost quite a bit of weight...

    I think saying the person who has lost weight looks great is perfect.

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  13. So you've lived it Andrea, I'd be curious if certain friends responded differently to you heavier vrs thinner etc. Sam, I don't know about those friends who "go both ways" but the key is that you had it in perspective. I dislike "now that you're small I'll tell you how big you were" yuck.

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  14. This couldn't have come at a more appropriate time - I was at a bday dinner over the weekend. Everyone except for myself and two other women (another runner and a triathlete) was at least 20lbs - 30lbs overweight. They are my friends and I adore them for who they are - I never make comments about what they eat, their exercise habits, etc. I always feel like it's their decision and as long as they are happy with themselves, so am I.

    However, as we sat down to eat, the comments that were tossed our way were astoundingly insensitive: "Oh look at the athletes. Just picking at food as usual." and "Typical, the skinny ones have practically empty plates." and "Oh seriously, you can afford to have more than a few bites of cake." (no, I can't).

    1. I consider myself normal and healthy. I am certainly not anorexic. I watch what I eat and go to the gym as much as I can fit into my insane schedule because it makes me feel better and helps me deal with general stress (not because I am "obsessed")

    2. My plate had food on it. A very reasonable size portion of food.

    3. I can only imagine what the reaction would have been if I had made similar comments about how much the others were eating or suggesting that a few hours at the gym might not be a bad idea after consuming a giant piece of cake.

    I was surprised at how much it bothered me and the next time it happens, I am definitely going to (politely) remind people that it's really uncalled for.

    But, none of this comes close to the time a former co-worker said to me "My god, you are so skinny. Are you sick? Do you have cancer?" in front of a roomful of people. I kid you not.

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  15. J-thinism exists. Do people think it's ok to say because you are thin. Or, once again does it come from a place of envy? I have said to people, "I don't comment on what other people eat and I think it's a good rule to follow". Calm but clear.

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  16. Great post Lauren! I don't usually bring it up at all, except to say "You look great!". And if they bring up their weight loss, then I'll add: "But then, you've always looked great."

    Worst thing anyone's ever said to me? GRABBED my stomach and asked me when the baby was due. Bahaha! I still laugh out loud every time I think about that. Luckily, I'm not TOO sensitive about my weight or my body.

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  17. I'd like to think, in most cases, people are well-meaning and simply ignorant with the stuff they say-not trying to be hurtful or not being jealous. I agree that compliments about losing weight can be construed as "Oh, I guess I didn't look so good before." "You look great" is probably the best thing one can say. Oh, and somehow I missed that commercial-I must have been making more lava cakes, which, yes, are acceptable to salivate over :-)

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  18. EA, I'm so glad someone things people have good intentions. At times they do. Who saw obesity commercial starting to think maybe local? Stephanie, I had a doorman ask if I was pregnant, well before I was. My husband joked "if he only knew he was saying that to" wow.

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  19. I like to err on the side of not making any comments because I have stepped in it a couple of memorable times. I promise I wasn't trying to make a point or be nasty or jealous. Just stupid, I guess. People don't like when you do comment and don't like when you don't comment...I admit: it makes me nervous!

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  20. I know this may sound weird or maybe like I have more work to do, but my least favorite thing to hear as someone who is losing weight is being called skinny. Such as "Hey skinny girl!" etc... And I think it is SUCH AN EXAGGERATION! I mean, I'm freaking 260 pounds! I'm not skinny. I don't feel skinny, and even though I've lost 50 pounds, I am definitely not fitting in the "skinny" category yet...

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  21. I've been on both sides so it can definitely be a touchy subject. When I was a freshman in college, I gained 5 pounds and while it was all healthy weight, when I went home (and was later diagnosed with low blood sugar), my doctor saw the 5 pound increase and blamed my symptoms on that and kept asking me if I exercised. I was, 5 days a week!
    Later, when I was sick with an eating disorder, I was always told how good I looked so I wanted to stay sick. When I got better because I wanted more for myself, it was always a tough balance because some would say, "My, you've gained weight" (thanks, that helps me) while others would try to push me to eat (after I had had a decent, satisfying amount) or tel me they wish they were me. All were hard to deal with.
    Now that I'm healthy and strong, I can deal with anything that comes my way, but I still am at a loss of words when people call me thin. I'm naturally on a thinner side for my height, but it's a strong, healthy number now so that's all that matters to me.

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  22. I totally relate to this on both ends: After being a stick my whole life, I gained about 30 lbs. People would come up to me and say "Wow, you look so great! What have you been doing?" And it was more of a "what did you do so I don't do that" mixed with "you were so thin before -- it made me jealous"
    The real reason why I gained weight was because I was sick. Sometimes I'd tell people the truth, other times just skirt around it.

    I think people are just silly and not completely with-it...I hope nobody is intentionally hurting someone based on their success and health!

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  23. I had someone ask if I was pregnant, and then my BF at the time said "she's not pregnant, she's just fat".

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  24. Anony- I think BF comment is worse, expect more from them than stranger. Lauren "what did you do so I don't do that" I've totally seen that. Also "I care about you but i care about myself more." Jacquie- thanks for comment I think when people know there's an ED they feel they can police because a known problem. If anything, stay out of someone's food and support them elsewhere. Jen, I think people think exaggeration is cute and flattering but it wreaks of "who are you kidding" a little condescending. Caron, it's totally personal but I'd say a) give opinion when asked for b) when unsolicited stick to honest, positive comments "you look great/happy/so fit" etc. We don't have to watch every word we just have to be thoughtful. And when you "step in it" apologize/discuss.

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  25. I agree that this sure is a way to find out who your friends are. I had lost a bit of weight in high school and I definitely had received comments like that as well.
    I love just saying, You look great! That is a great place to start.

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  26. Anyone who is even a semi-friend should be thrilled when you make positive changes. There is definitely a competitive element to all of this.

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  27. Missed the commercial too...
    I can see how comments can be hurtful. I stick with "you look great" or "you look healthy" and avoid giving my RD advice whether they should lose more weight or stop unless I'm asked. I have a friend who looks perfectly healthy but people often come to her and say "you're too skinny" and now she wants to gain weight. NO! She's also the type of person who loses her baby weight/belly in less than 6 month so totally jealousy here. I had someone ask me when I was due AFTER my baby was born.
    Advice to people everywhere: NEVER ask a women if she's pregnant or when she's due!

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  28. Amen on the pregnancy comments. My husband did this to our new neighbor (right after she had twins) and for years I thought she hated him (I would've but she was too nice). Nour, I think many RDs side on saying less than typical person or at least I do because I feel people feel "watched".

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  29. When I encounter intentional (and welcome) weight-loss I'm genuinely curious to know "How did you do it?" This question is usually very welcome.

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  30. I've been fat, I've been thin, I've been in between. I don't want anyone making any comments about my body at any stage. These comments can be received in so many ways that it's just best to avoid entirely. And people seem to make comments only about weight, but rarely about other body issues. No one made comments about my sister's obviously new boobs. No one commented on my mom's eye job. But gain or lose a few, and the whole world wants to say something.

    And never never ever ask if a woman's pregnant unless you see that kid crowning. Just poor form all around.

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  31. Ugh! Yeah, I've been told I looked "unhealthy skinny" or "anorexic skinny" when, I was healthy and fit!

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  32. Lifestyle Not A DietSeptember 15, 2013 at 8:37 PM

    The strangest one I encountered after a 60 lb weight loss was, "Wow, you look great. Is everything still okay in your marriage?" Huh!?!

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  33. "Are you sure you want to those more? Don't you think that's enough?" There is nothing wrong with having an optimum goal. Just because I've reached a point in my journey where. one can readily tell I've lost weight doesn't mea I'm done. To ask this implies that I have bad judgment or would knowingly jeopardize my health.

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  34. You have written good blog post to encourage someone instead of demoralizing. One of my friend used Garcinia Cambogiato improve your immunity and controlling weight along with light workout and its worth.

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