Why It's Actually Rude to Compliment Someone's Weight Loss, According to a Dietitian
When someone we know or care about has a change in their body size, it can feel natural to comment on it. Especially if someone has lost weight in a way that is noticeable, it might feel like something to congratulate them on. However, even if you are intending it as a compliment, making a comment on someone's weight loss is actually rude. Here's my take as a dietitian on the reasons why you should avoid these comments.
Why It's Actually Rude to Compliment Someone's Weight Loss
It can imply they didn't look good before.
First off (and most obviously), telling someone they "look so great" after they lose weight can imply that you didn't think they looked great before. Even if that's not what you mean or think, it can make someone feel like their worth to others is related to their appearance. All of us are so much more than meets the eye. Everyone has different genetics, a different background and a different situation. Commenting, even if it's meant in a positive way, can feel like a judgment based on appearance (... because it is).
It can perpetuate diet culture.
We can attribute the urge to compliment someone's weight loss, at least in some ways, to diet culture and the impact it has on our society. For as long as many of us can remember, there has always been a high value placed on achieving a smaller body. Smaller bodies are often viewed as "more attractive" and "better" than larger ones. This viewpoint has created interest in fad diets or trends that will "help you lose weight fast." Unfortunately, they usually never do, or if you do lose weight, it's likely you'll gain it back soon after. (Read on to learn more about why quick weight loss doesn't mean lasting weight loss.)
As a registered dietitian, I have several issues with the mindset diet culture perpetuates. The U.S. weight-loss and diet-control market is a $79 billion industry (yes, that's billion with a "b"). In order to keep profits high, people need to be willing to try a diet or supplement for weight loss. However, if someone actually was able to sustain a weight loss, they would no longer need diet products or information. In short, diet culture profits on locking people into the mindset that they need to lose weight, without any intention of actually helping them lose the weight.
Ultimately, complimenting someone on their weight loss can reinforce the ideas that diet culture perpetuates—thus propelling diet culture and unhealthy habits even more.
Losing weight doesn't always mean that someone is healthier.
Having a smaller body or achieving a lower number on the scale is not synonymous with being healthy. Read that again. There are several factors that influence our body size, many of which we can't control (e.g., genetics). And there are several markers of health that might not even be related to our body weight, like how well we sleep, our hydration level, how active we are, our mental health, how we manage stress, our eating pattern and more. You can make a healthy lifestyle change that is sustainable and, even if you don't lose any weight, it can still improve your health. On the flip side, there are several ways to lose weight that are not healthy and don't make you healthier, like developing a disordered eating pattern or exercise addiction. Grief can also lead to weight loss at times. Or weight loss, especially if unintended, could be a sign something else is at play.
There are several organizations, like the Health at Every Size community, that are working to foster a more inclusive and, frankly, more realistic view of what it means to be healthy. Just like how every person is different, every body is different. And being "healthy" does not look the same for everyone, for a lot of reasons.
What to Say Instead
While briefly complimenting someone on their weight loss might not feel rude, it can have unintended consequences for the individual and the culture we foster within our communities. And there are plenty of other things that are worth complimenting, especially if you're talking to a close friend, family member or colleague. Instead of focusing on their weight, try another compliment that isn't related to their body. Maybe say something like, "You seem really confident lately," or "You look happy." Even telling someone you're happy to see them is a compliment people love to receive. Or ask inviting questions like "How have you been?" and "How are you doing?" This gives someone space to bring up what they are comfortable sharing, about weight loss or life in general.
The Bottom Line
Even if someone has been trying to lose weight, commenting on their body might do more harm than good. It can insinuate that you think they didn't look "good" before or that they have a higher value now that their body is smaller, even if that's not how you are intending your comment. Plus, people have so many attributes worth complimenting, and we all could probably use some positivity right now. Focus on comments that are not related to someone else's weight, body size or weight loss.