Let me state firstly, a lot of the time complimenting someone on their weight loss can be a good thing. I’m guilty of doing it. Recently I saw a friend of mine after not seeing him in months and noticed he’d lost some fat from around his stomach. He took the compliment and didn’t seem phased said it was a result of not having anytime to eat with his stressful life. But afterwards, I thought about my strong ‘stable’ friend and thought, yes he always seems so emotionally stable but I honestly don’t know what’s going on in his head. Was my compliment a good thing? Was it worth bringing up? It has made me thing twice about saying this again.
My Weight Loss Journey
So months ago I decided to go on a diet because the pills my doctor had prescribed me for my mental health were working but I had noticed a side effect was weight gain. I wanted to stop gaining more weight and to be honest I didn’t mind loosing some fat as well. I started to loose weight. I was exercising again, I was cooking for the first time in two years from scratch and I had a routine in place which made me feel like I was doing more.
But the thing I was dreading was, when people around me started noticing I had lost weight. The compliments. Sometimes the way people can compliment you can make you feel like before you must have looked rubbish. “You look good, you look like you’ve lost some weight!” What is this person saying? That before I lost the weight I didn’t look good?
The thing about weight loss is not everyone intentionally set out with a positive goal to loose weight. I know it feels like the right thing to do, you see someone you notice the weight loss and you think “How can telling someone I’ve noticed their hard work and they look good as a result be bad?”
Factors That Can Cause Weight Loss
When doing some research on this subject, I learnt that some chronic illnesses can result in the person being limited on what they can eat therefore one of the side effects can be weight loss.
Bowel Rated Illnesses
Crones, IBS and Colitis for example, can result in lots of painful bowel movements which basically means their body is attacking what they eat. The illness can cause malabsorption which is where they are unable to absorb nutrients from their food. There is also nutrient losses due to constant diarrhoea too. A way to tackle this, is to go on a restrictive diet which can feel really depressing and limits their social life as it makes going out so much harder. Going to restaurants can be a nightmare that people would rather avoid because figuring out what you can have on the menu gets so tricky.
So when you see a person after months of not seeing them, you might not know that they have been battling with a stressful illness and that’s why they look thinner.
What Does Complimenting Do When Someone Has an Illness?
It reminds them of the illness they’re struggling with. At this point, they feel torn between correcting you while explaining it wasn’t intentional and it’s actually a bad thing or, accepting the compliment but inside they feel awful because they don’t want to talk about what’s wrong and you have just reminded them about it.
Commenting on someone’s weight even though you see it as a good thing can reinforce an eating disorder if that person has one. A compliment would encourage them to keep going, it would show them that everything is alright and that it’s not a problem. It would actually motivate them to keep loosing weight and validate that thinner is better. I spoke to many people in recovery, who all said the same thing.
Change In Medication
Antidepressants, other similar medications like antipsychotics and contraceptive pills for example have side effects of weight gain. Although they are meant to improve the persons life sometimes this side effect can be too much to bare so they have to come off it. As a result they may loose the weight but they don’t feel stable or in control of their life. Other medications taken to control a chronic physical illness can have nasty side effects that can take away a person’s appetite and it this point they maybe struggling to eat anything.
Rachel: “I have very bad health anxiety and recently I was diagnosed with a chronic liver related autoimmune condition. I cut out alcohol immediately and as a result I lost weight. Lots of people complimented me on how slim I was looking. This almost tipped me over the edge, I thought I had lost weight because I might be dying but in any event the references to my weight exacerbated my health. Even now I feel like I have to justify why I have lost weight and inevitably end up talking about the diagnosis which I know doesn’t make for a positive mindset.”
Attention and Social Anxiety
Some people don’t mind attention and enjoy taking compliments. But others may suffer with social anxiety and would prefer to fade into the background when they socialise. Commenting on their weight can lead the to feeling like they are in some kind of spotlight where everyone is looking and judging.
“For me it backfires because then I feel pressure to stick to carrying on loosing weight to justify the compliments. It also makes me realise that people notice my weight, that it’s not just something I do for me. All of which adds pressure to carry on losing weight, and pressure causes me to overanalyse what I eat, which often ends up causing me to stress so much that I give up.”
What is a backhanded compliment? A compliment which seems to compliment but actually ends up making you feel bad and insulting you.
Family members might say things they think are helpful like, “You’d look so nice if you only lost a bit of weight” or “Why don’t you try and loose some weight, it will probably help you get a boyfriend.” These comments usually leave lots of negative energy in the air.
Weight loss could be a result of a tragedy like a horrible divorce, grieving a love one, stress of loosing a job. Like an illness they may feel put on the spot to explain why it is. More questions for weight loss tips, like asking them what’s their secret? May actually try an expose their painful secret. You’ve heard the expression, you never know what goes on behind closed doors.
So What’s The Conclusion?
I bet you’re thinking now, too much political correctness these days and everyone is a bit too sensitive. How was I meant to know the person is going through all this, I just wanted to give them a compliment, everybody likes a compliment!
So the point of this article was not to come off as judgemental or telling you what to do. It was to get you to think about the possibilities that resulted from our negative society that views skinny as more desirable and that you don’t know what is going on in people’s heads. I’ve actually received compliments from people I consider very mental health sensitive and who are employed in mental health fields. I did accept the compliment but then quoted my research I was doing for this article, although, these people did know I was trying out Weight Watchers at the time, so with this fact there is room for complimenting people. I think this is ok because that is the intended goal of being on the program, so it shows their hard work is paying off.
So to concluded I would just take a moment to think when you see a person and consider complimenting them, an ask yourself is this coming from a positive and productive place and so do I really know all the facts about what is going on in their life?
What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments.
photo of tape measure - siora photography
Scales photo - I yunmai
Photo by Thought Catalog - all from Unsplash
Names were changed for privacy.