“You’ve lost so much weight, you look amazing!”
In a previous workplace, a colleague came up to me and said this exact thing.
This was not an isolated incident – this has happened many times over the years as my weight and body composition has changed.
The thing is, this weight loss was not always achieved through healthy means. I have followed restrictive diets, had an unhealthy relationship with food, and exercised obsessively to lose weight. My mind and body felt like garbage but it was hard to stop because, when people commented on it and gave me compliments about how I looked, I felt anxious about what was going to happen ifI gained weight back.
If I looked great once I’d lost weight, the opposite must be true when I was at a higher bodyweight, right?
It’s almost automatic to ask someone if they’ve lost weight when they look different, because we’ve been conditioned to believe that we should be trying to lose weight at all times and all weight loss should be celebrated.
But you don’t know why or how someone has lost weight. Trauma, stress, illness, disordered eating, or medication can all cause fluctuations in body weight.
Compliments on weight loss can reinforce unhealthy behaviours. Or if weight loss is a side effect of stress, trauma or illness, people can feel uncomfortable disclosing these details, which makes it hard to navigate comments about their body. It can also feel confusing and hurtful as their trauma is being completely bypassed in favour of complimenting them on having a smaller body, regardless of the reasons how that occurred.
What if the goal is fat loss?
Even if you know someone is actively working to lose body fat, it’s still better to focus on things other than their appearance. You can acknowledge their weight loss and then compliment the behaviour changes they’ve made. Praise them for being committed to the gym or for their improved sleep/stress management protocols. Rather than focusing on their body and tying their value to their body composition, share how you have noticed how much effort they have put into the process.