Human beings are very observant, especially when it comes to each other. We love to comment on what we notice, whether it’s somebody’s behavior, beliefs or appearance.
When it comes to appearance, unwelcome comments can cut especially deep on the receiving end. But for the person giving the comments, this isn’t always obvious. Some of the strongest examples of this instance are the subjects of weight-loss and weight gain.
We explore this topic more below.
Two Sides of the Same Coin
Most of us know that if someone has gained weight, it’s inappropriate to point it out. However, it can be a little unclear as to whether it’s okay to comment on somebody’s weight-loss. Should you pay them a compliment? Can you applaud them for their success?
Even if a common is well-intentioned, it can also have unrecognized consequences:
- Triggering an emotional response if weight is a sensitive subject
- Worsening or contributing to an eating disorder
- Pointing out what may actually be a serious physical or mental health condition
Really, we’re dealing with two sides of the same coin. Commenting on somebody’s weight in general can be tricky territory. Most of the time, however, making a comment in the first place isn’t necessary – unless you are that person’s healthcare provider or a loved one who is concerned about their health.
Why Do We Make Weight-based Comments?
Rebecca Puhl, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who works with the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University. Her research focuses on social and behavioral factors that affect obesity. According to Dr. Puhl, weight bias and stigma in our culture play a role in helping to fuel our “need” to make comments about weight when we notice somebody’s has changed.
Most of us learn to see weight gain as “bad” and weight-loss as “good,” even without considering how that person’s health is involved. If we notice that someone has gained weight, we are often guilty of assuming it’s because of laziness or a lack of self-control.
Should You Say Something?
Nonetheless, you may know someone who is trying very hard to lose weight and may appreciate a compliment. Alternatively, you may know someone who is struggling with their weight and feel concern for their health. These are some tips you can use to navigate the subject.
Commenting on Weight-loss:
- If you are unsure as to how the person feels about their weight-loss, it is best not to make a direct comment about it.
- Keep in mind that weight is not always an indicator of health.
- If someone appears to be healthier and happier, a compliment about their happiness may be better than one about weight-loss.
Commenting on Weight Gain:
- It is best not to comment on the person’s weight at all, especially if you do not know the reason for any changes in weight.
- If you are deeply concerned about a loved one’s health (not their appearance), wait for an appropriate time to talk about it. Then, ask them if they would feel comfortable talking about their health. Express your concern in a loving and supportive way.
- Keep in mind that a healthcare provider is best equipped to have the conversation about weight and its impact on health so they can provide next steps.
If Someone Directed a Comment at You:
Dr. Puhl suggests becoming your own advocate. Learn to identify situations where weight-based comments are more likely to happen. Then decide how to handle the situation in a way that will protect your emotional health.
Be vocal about your needs and assert yourself. If a hurtful comment was directed at you, tell that person that their comment(s) was not appropriate and share the effect that it had on you. This is a good learning opportunity for the other person.
To learn more about the negative stigma of overweight and obesity, CLICK HERE for education produced by the Obesity Action Coalition (OAC).