There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss. A certain diet might work well for one person and not for another; some people prefer to walk while others enjoy running; some people benefit from a daily weigh-in while others determine progress from non-scale goals. Similarly, there is no one reason people lose weight. Some are looking to be healthier overall, and others may lose weight due to a troubling time. As a result, the various aspects of weight loss can make what seems to be a good thing — complimenting a friend, family member or coworker on their efforts — difficult and nuanced.
“Complimenting weight loss is tricky,” says Shena Jaramillo, RD. “While it is often a welcome encounter, we want to ensure we are not fostering an eating disorder or complimenting someone on a byproduct of troubled times.”
If you want to compliment someone on their weight loss, try these expert recommended tips:
You want to offer someone the opportunity to talk about what’s going on in their life, outside of whatever is happening on a visual level. This may result in them explaining that they’ve lost a few pounds, says Tomko. “You can simply ask something like: ‘How have you been doing?’ or ‘What’s new?,’ which might open up the weight-loss door. If the person fills you in on an illness or stressful hardship, then that’s an indicator a compliment may not be the right fit.”
On the opposite side, if they start talking about a new fitness class or routine, then you can continue to ask questions about it. “Make sure the conversation is bigger than just aesthetics and try to read the room,” says Tomko.
If you don’t have any clues from an initial interaction, there are a few things you can do to make the situation more comfortable for everyone involved. Try checking in with a mutual friend to see if they know anything that’s going on with the person you want to compliment. “Show you are genuinely concerned and being careful not to offend,” says Jennifer Tomko, LCSW, a licensed therapist in Florida. If you don’t have a friend who has insight, perhaps lean into social media, she says — keeping in mind that what we see online only paints a small picture of anyone’s life. “Some people share (or over-share) personal information,” notes Tomko. “The weight loss explanation could be just a few clicks away.”
“This one is easy to slip into when you’re having any health or lifestyle conversation,” says Sergio Pedemonte, a certified trainer at Your House Fitness.” Try to be conscious of inserting statements like, ‘Wow I wish I looked like you’ or ‘I’ve been trying to lose weight forever, too.’ Instead, allow the person you’re complimenting to be the one doing the talking. “Remember, your goal is to say something nice, rather than make them feel bad about their situation.”
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“Rather than going straight to talking about a person’s waistline, a better way to comment on someone who looks to have lost weight could be noting their energy levels or vibrancy,” says Jaramillo. “These are often forgotten traits that coincide with weight loss, but ultimately what those wanting to lose weight are seeking,” she says.
“You might also say to someone ‘you look stunning,’ instead of something like ‘you look so small!’,” suggests Jaramillo. “This is not specifically weight associated, but it can offer encouragement while complimenting the recipient’s lifestyle changes.”
“If you do comment on someone’s weight loss, the most psychologically sensitive way to do so would be to stick to a message that doesn’t imply that the way they were before was less compliment-worthy,” says Sean Paul, an adult and child psychologist. “Make the compliment about how seeing them makes you feel, something like “I’m so inspired by how great you look, what have you changed?’ In doing so, Paul also advises avoiding words like “weight,” “pounds” or “skinny” — which focus on physical attributes; instead focus on how they feel and their health and wellness.
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