Health / Weight Loss

Is It Ever Okay to Comment on Someone’s Weight?

You may have good intentions, but making remarks about someone’s weight isn’t a good idea.

We all have that friend or family member who can’t help but make remarks about your physical appearance—especially when it comes to your weight.

Most of us know that pointing out that someone has gained weight is socially unacceptable. However, many still think that making comments about weight loss are compliments.

According to Dr. Lauren Muhlheim, a certified eating disorder specialist and director of Eating Disorder Therapy LA, they’re anything but okay.

“I don’t think it’s ever OK to comment on someone’s weight,” Muhlheim says. “Why do we assume that losing weight is good, and gaining weight is bad? We live in a diet culture that suggests that, but being thin is not necessarily ‘good.’”

Below we talk to experts to learn more about why you should never comment on someone’s weight, as well as how you can start to change the conversation around weight loss and diet culture.

Why shouldn’t you make a comment about someone’s weight?

Because of society’s obsession with thinness, commenting on weight loss reinforces the idea that looking a certain way is “better” than another, Muhlheim says.

This can be harmful to people’s self-perception. Suggesting that one version of their body is more attractive can lead to disordered eating habits, or an unhealthy relationship with exercise.

“I think [that] most people are aware that there’s this cultural value in thinness. I think when people start commenting on it, it just brings it to the forefront,” Muhlheim explains. “And, certainly in people who are sensitive or predisposed to eating disorders, these comments really stick.”

Plus, people have different relationships with their bodies. You don’t know the reason behind someone’s weight gain or loss.

There could be health issues at play, or they may be dealing with a personal issue that’s affecting their lifestyle. “Someone may have lost weight due to an illness, and being larger is not necessarily bad,” Muhlheim says. “We’re all meant to have different sizes and body shapes.”

It’s also important to keep in mind that weight is not always an indicator of health.

Someone may weigh more when they’re eating well and exercising regularly compared to when they were sedentary and eating poorly.

Also, keep in mind that the human body is meant to fluctuate and change its size throughout our lives. Acknowledging that and not fixating on the number on a scale can shift our attention to what matters most: our health.

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Comments About Weight May Be a Trigger

Like Muhlheim pointed out, people who have a history of disordered eating may be even more affected by weight remarks. The National Eating Disorder Association estimates that 20 million women and 10 million men in the U.S. will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives.

If someone is currently struggling with an eating disorder, telling them that they’ve lost or put on weight can be damaging.

Also, keep in mind that you shouldn’t offer someone unsolicited diet advice. “It’s important to be careful not to reinforce diet messages that there’s a right way to eat or a right way to be,” Muhlheim says.

Even if you avoid commenting on weight, and instead say something like, “You look healthy,” a person dealing with an eating disorder likely has a different perception of themselves, and can misinterpret your words.

“Some people may interpret ‘healthy’ as meaning [that] they’re fat,” Muhlheim explains. “They won’t hear it in the way that you meant it. They’ll hear their own distortion of what you’ve said.”

She adds, “You really can’t win with an appearance [comment] with someone who’s in the middle of an eating disorder.”

How to Change The Conversation

Making an effort to avoid commenting on someone’s weight helps change attitudes around dieting and food, which is important.

But, what should you say if you’re on the receiving end of weight comments? Muhlheim suggests that you politely say that you don’t want to have this conversation, and, if you feel comfortable, tell them why.

“You can say, ‘I don’t enjoy talking about this,’ and change the topic,” she says. If you find yourself in a conversation where a friend or loved one is commenting on another person’s body, you can shut that conversation down, too.

Society’s views on weight won’t change overnight. But we can take small steps to help shift the way we talk about bodies.

Muhlheim says that in order to stop putting thinness on a pedestal and to break away from unhealthy diet culture, we need to reframe the way that we see ourselves and question why we’re obsessed with losing weight.

“We need to be careful not to reinforce [the idea] that there’s a ‘right’ way to have a body, and start showing respect for all body types and respect for all kinds of foods,” she said. “We need a position of kindness and inclusivity.”

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