Surprised by Someone’s Weight Loss? Be Quiet About It
I used to share a before and after photo every time I completed a new workout program and on the anniversary of the day I began my “weight loss journey.”
The Internet opened wide to pour out affection and accolades from my friends and admirers. They were so proud of my diligence, my tenacity, my commitment.
A comparison selfie regularly resulted in a thread of a hundred comments or more, wishing me heartfelt congratulations on my progress toward becoming the best version of myself.
“You look amazing! What’s your secret?” they asked, wanting to replicate my hundred pound weight loss in their own lives.
I told them my secret was making exercise a daily habit, following a healthy diet (but I wasn’t “on a diet”), and drinking a daily meal replacement shake.
The real secret was deeper, darker, and buried in shame: I had an eating disorder.
People tend to overlook fat people with eating disorders.
After all, we’re fat.
We need to lose weight. Being in a large body is unhealthy and sets us up for disease and shorter lives. It is in our best interest to eat less and move more. (These are lies, by the way).
If my “before” photo is your worst nightmare, of course you’re excited when I turn away from it. But you know nothing of the lack of sleep, the body aches, the dizziness, and the mood swings. You know nothing of the obsessive counting and tracking. You weren’t there lacing up your running shoes to do a 5k before the sun came up even as you stumbled over your own feet from exhaustion.
“You’re not tired,” my workout DVD told me. And so I told myself.
When you compliment someone on weight loss you know nothing about, you could be complimenting their illness, eating disorder, depression, or trauma. They might be so stressed, grief-stricken, and anxious that they don’t remember to eat — or can’t keep anything down when they do.
Sure, they’re smaller, but they’re miserable. Your well-meaning words may as well be a slap in the face.
“Congratulations on being sick,” you say, “You’re glowing.”
“Wow! Great job with that depression, something must be working,” you remark over lunch.
“Leaving that abusive marriage has done wonders for your waistline,” you beam, “Why ever didn’t you leave sooner?”
If you’re surprised by someone’s weight loss, keep it to yourself.
Compliment things people control. Their hair. Their makeup. Their tattoos or piercings. Their smile. The way they’re always there for you or finding the humor in a stressful situation. Compliment what makes a person them, not what makes them thin.
Start noticing the way you comment about bodies — your own and other people’s. It will be tough at first, because bodies are easy to see and make judgments about. But check yourself every time you want to make a comment about weight loss, feeling fat, or congratulating someone on a body change they may not have wanted.
When you focus on the things that make people who they are instead of what they look like, and appreciate them for those things, you will spread joy instead of judgment.
We will notice it.
And we will feel safe with you.