How Do You Talk To Someone About Their Weight? (Advice, please!)

by Charlotte on July 24, 2011 · 61 comments

Times sure have changed, huh?

Awkward: “Wow, you’ve sure lost a lot of weight!” Worse: “You’ve gained a few – you know the freshman 15 doesn’t count after college, right?!” Worse-r: “You’re too skinny, eat a sandwich!” Worst: “You used to be so pretty; aren’t you worried about your health at all?” (The last one is the worst because it can be said for everything from morbid obesity to anorexia and every weight in between. For some reason “health” is the ultimate trump card in all weight conversations.)

I hate talking about weight – mine, yours, anyone’s – because I never know what to say. And because I’m so uncomfortable I usually say something really lame or stupid. (“Oh HAI! U look different! U can has no more cheeseburgers?!1!”) Maybe it’s just a reflection of my issues or maybe it’s endemic to society as a whole but I’d rather talk about Amy Winehouse’s death than discuss how many pounds you’re down this week. It’s not because I don’t care or because I’m not proud of all your hard work; the truth is I care (too) deeply and my first instinct is to grill you about all the details because if you lost weight then that means I need to too, obviously.

Yes, I know my brain is as ridiculous as Charlie Sheen’s new Anger Management show. (True story: Our car broke down once in nowhereville and the guy who picked us up spent the whole ride to the tow shop telling us about how he was on his way to anger management classes for “throwing a taco” at his girlfriend. He’d even made a poster about it and everything. If that doesn’t inspire confidence in someone’s rescuing skills, I don’t know what does! Sure he might have violently killed me but at least the police would have had a puff-painted poster diagram as evidence.)

I recently had a friend lose a lot of weight and she looks fantastic. She really does. And there’s no denying that losing a lot of weight takes a lot of discipline and hard work. Plus she’s all happy and glow-y and it’s so awesome to see her so happy. And yet I worried all day before I saw her next because I knew I should say something about her weight loss but I didn’t know what and I just knew I was going to stick my foot in my mouth. It seems like everything we say about weight has a subtext:

- “You’ve sure lost a ton of weight! You look gorgeous!” also means “You weren’t pretty before and thinner=gorgeous-er so keep going!”

- “Look at you! You sure have worked hard to lose all that weight!” can also mean “Glad you got past that fat, lazy slob phase!”

- “ZOMG! You look AMAZING! You’re so THIN now! Wow! I’m so JEALOUS!!” also means “Don’t ever gain weight again because you’ll lose all this love and respect and kindness that people are heaping on you. FEAR the CARBS! Muwhahahah!”

Me overthink things? Never! Usually I end up saying something loony and nonsensical like, “Wow, you look beautiful! Not that you didn’t look beautiful before because I always thought you were beautiful but now you look so happy and confident, not that you couldn’t be happy and confident when you weighed more but ANYHOW yeah, awesomesauce!” Then I have to grit my teeth to keep from asking them for tips.

And then there’s the reverse. If you think talking about weight loss is awkward, talking about weight gain ranks right up there with those vagina-hand-puppet commercials (you have seen those, right?!) for uncomfortable. A recent study published in The American Journal of Preventative Medicine says that even doctors avoid talking about weight gain, especially when it’s a lady doctor talking to a fellow lady-bit possessor (no puppets or funny accents allowed but weird euphemisms are totally cool).

I recently had a close friend ask me, very earnestly, how to talk to his spouse about her obesity. “I just want her to be healthy and happy! I don’t want her to have a heart attack or get diabetes or die young! How do I tell her she needs to lose weight?” he plead.

“You don’t,” I answered bluntly. I could tell he really did care about her and had good intentions. I also knew that his wife did happen to have some medical complications due to her weight (she is pre-diabetic and her movement is functionally limited) so his health concern wasn’t superficial. He thought she was attractive, he loved her and he wasn’t derogatory to her in any way that I’ve ever seen. And yet I still couldn’t think of any way that conversation could happen that would get the desired result.

He didn’t take my advice, a fact I discovered a few days later when she called me sobbing… to ask what diet pills I’d recommend. Egads.

And we won’t even start with all the snarky, backbiting or back-handed comments people make when talking about someone else’s weight: “She’ll gain it all back, just give her 6 months.” “She’s totally anorexic now.” “He’s so lazy – if he just counted his calories and exercised he could drop the weight.” I get shaky just thinking about it.

Seriously, please help me out with this one! Anyone else freak out talking about weight? What do you say to people when they’ve lost a lot of weight? Have you ever told anyone they’ve gained weight/need to lose weight? Does the person’s gender change how you talk to them? Anyone else afraid that they’ll come out with man-business sock puppets next?!

{ 61 comments… read them below or add one }

Sara July 24, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Someone with more “Emotional Intelligence” than me (everyone) suggested saying “Your weight loss really suits you”- but that sounds so fake. Me, I am a huge fan of “Ohmigod you gorgeous thing, you look even MORE fabulous” just because that is what I want to hear!


Laura July 24, 2011 at 11:11 pm

This is tough. My mom and I are honest with each other, especially when we notice that the other is starting to make poor choices. She was honest with me when I looked like I had gained a few, and it was a reminder that I need to clean up my eating. I was honest with her when I noticed that she wasn’t putting any effort into her work outs and was backsliding into her old realllly unhealthy habits. I like our relationship because it is a non-judgmental kick in the butt to get back on track.

On the other hand, when I met my husband as a Marine out of bootcamp (i.e. the fittest of his life) and have watched him put on weight and develop horrible eating habits. It’s hard to watch him have so much pain from his weight gain and always feeling sick because of how he eats. I’ve tried to cook healthier things and encourage him to join me for walks but he won’t eat anything that he hasn’t prepared himself and has sworn off physical activity. He recently has his VA physical and I was hoping they would say something, but they didn’t. He tells me that his whole family is obese, they all have type 2 diabetes, and they all have back pain, so he will too. It’s really sad to watch and I wish I could say something but I can’t.


Katie July 24, 2011 at 11:20 pm

Such a hard situation, but one I’ve been in it in all forms and variations, like most people I imagine. I’ve told both my parents that I was concerned about their weight. They are both overweight (very) and I am honestly worried about their health (my mom is on cholesterol medication and her doctor said it was too high to even attempt to control with diet alone). I think they both took it hard when I talked to them separately, but in the end I felt peace of mind that I’d at least said something.

i also have an aunt that is severely overweight and she’d lost a bit the last time I saw her. I didn’t say anything for the reasons you mentioned above, but then a few days later I emailed her and she was so HAPPY she called and thanked me. She said her resolve was waning since no one was saying anything and that those comments keep her going. Me being really thin, I usually don’t want to say anything, fearing the negative backlash, but there was nothing like that at all.

Weight. Such a touchy subject.


Azusmom July 24, 2011 at 11:21 pm

I like what Sara said!
I never know what to say. I always felt awkward being on the receiving end of the “OMGyou’resoskinny” comments, especially when I was anorexic and having anxiety attacks. Now that I’m chubby, I often find myself not wanting to meet up with people whom I haven’t seen in a while, who haven’t seen me since I’ve put the weight on. Which makes me sad.
If I were to give your friend Advice, the best I could do would be to say start with how much he loves her, tell her she’s beautiful and he’s crazy-attracted to her, and his ONLY concern is her health: thR he wants her around for a long time, and he’ll support whatever (healthy) action she wants to take.


Liz July 24, 2011 at 11:37 pm

This one’s definitely tricky. Just this evening my 20-year-old cousin said to me, “Look at this picture – I can’t believe I thought I was fat then!” She’s struggled with various debilitating health issues for a few years now and feels very self-conscious about her weight, but how can I say anything to that without inadvertently insulting her? Should I go with “You’re right – you were once so thin!” or “It’s okay, the weight gain is because you’ve been too sick to work out?” I told her she has always been beautiful, but we all know how hard it is for people to believe that about themselves. Not sure it was the right response and I’ll be interested to see what the other commenters have to say.


Paula July 25, 2011 at 12:29 am

My best friend and I discuss our weight all the time, but that’s OK because that’s what we have always done. Neither of us are actually overweight so we are only discussing vanity pounds.

These days everyone knows that being very overweight is bad for their health, you can’t avoid knowing, it’s everywhere – TV, magazines, books. So what’s the point in mentioning it to someone, I’m sure they feel bad enough already and in my experience they will only do something when they are ready to, whatever you say.

As for obvious weight lose, I always say “hey you look great’ and leave it to them to mention the weight lose before I discuss it any further.


Deb (SmoothieGirlEatsToo) July 25, 2011 at 1:37 am

Tricky. I think that “you look great” is nice and neutral, but for someone who has lost a lot of weight, maybe it isn’t enthusiastic enough. But maybe in stead then it’s ‘you look GREAT!”

When I was obese my husband never, not ever, not once, not even hinted ever ever about my weight. Can you even imagine? What a saint. And SUCH the right thing to do. It hurt me deeply when anyone stated the obvious (that I was fat) even if it was for my own good or for health reasons. I almost never spoke to my grandfather again after he told me (newsflash) that I was fat. My mom was so upset that he did that, we just cried together. Even my Dad used to bring it up, which definitely sent me the message that I wasn’t lovable enough if I wasn’t thin (not his message, but the one I would feel deep down). Of course when I lost the weight and a few more pounds ‘as insurance’ my mom was riding my ass for being too thin. So I always had a gauge that if my mom started getting worried about my weight (being too thin) I was in the right place ;-P


The Original Drama Mama July 25, 2011 at 8:25 am

You are so right, my grandmother (gone 7 years this week) was the most important, beloved, person in my life – and I will never ever forget the day she casually mentioned she thought I was getting chubby (I think I was 8 or 9 years old at the time) – she did it out of love for me, she and my mother have both had lifelong weight issues, but like you said, saying it doesn’t help, it hurts…and hurts bad, and the message it sends is almost never the one the sender intended.

Yay for great husbands! :)
I am still struggling to lose some pounds but I have a husband who tells me how beautiful and attractive I am every single day.


Emmy July 25, 2011 at 3:10 am

i have one friend that have struggled her whole life with her weight, when she looses some she wants the praising and i unfortunately rarely even notice. i just don’t watch my friends figures all that close! and after a few times i felt happy about that, because this girl either looses weight from depression or intense dieting (and/or eating disorder tactics), i really don’t want to be the one that praises mental instability and i hate when women make jokes about how pretty they look after this and that happened to make them loose their apetite… this is really a difficult issue. i gained some a few years ago, like alot more than i felt comfortable with, everyone must have noticed but no one said anything and i managed to turn it around. i have heard now after a few years how people did notice, like “i was quite big a few years ago bla bla “yes i know, that was weird” and it makes me happy that they kept silent. however, if i had had problems turning it around, i would have needed some support. most support available seem to be just obvious comments though, like “you’re fat”. we need to find a way to support without shaming? mentioning someone’s weight might not be meant for shaming, but we all know how it feels…

and this friend i mentioned, now have a one year old baby that she feeds brownies and sugary drinks. it makes me wanna cry. so much money spent on different diets throughout the years and NONE have been able to teach her about what real food is and what is not real food! and how do you say THAT to a single hard working mom with a fear of being a bad mom – and she really isn’t, there is so much love beaming in both directions in this little family – for god’s sake, give the baby some real food!! she just doesn’t know better, and no one will tell her and how should i tell her? can i? but i mean, i must, there’s a cute baby involved now?


Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga July 25, 2011 at 4:29 am

Omg this is such a great post…I truly believe that it’s such a tricky situation on both sides of the fence…Trying to tell a heavy person to lose for the sake of their health just ISNT going to go over well…and trying to tell a thin person to gain isnt going to happen either, or saying something about how thin she’s gotten lately could make her go into ED territory if she has those tendencies, i.e. she ends up feeding on all the newfound attention and she takes the weight loss too far.

It’s just really hard.

I basically NEVER address someone’s weight. They clearly know their own size and weight. I dont need to bring it up with them.

And I admit, if it does warrant discussion, it’s one of those areas in life I am more than happy to let someone ELSE handle with that person as no doubt, if I am thinking it, someone else has said something, so I will admit to being happy to just dodge it.


Josh July 25, 2011 at 4:43 am

Yes, you absolutely need to acknowledge her weight loss. And if you really are happy for her, celebrate it. I work the front desk at a gym, so I see people over time get changing their bodies big time –typically, I put the punchline on them, letting them know I’ve noticed, and that I’m happy, but I want to know how they feel. Something like (with a smile, of course, because I love seeing noticeable changes), “Oh, wow! You’ve lost a lot of weight. How do you feel?” And the conversation usually turns to their goals and where they are on their way and how they’re going to maintain if they’ve reached their goal.


Rebecca July 26, 2011 at 3:34 pm

I think this might be easier for you because of your context–
you are in a gym, where clearly, most people are going in order to become healthier.

I still think complimenting the weight loss itself is not the wisest route to go–
maybe compliment their muscles, strength, or longer time that they’re putting in instead?

Because the goal should be health,
not a smaller number on the scale, yes? :)


Miz July 25, 2011 at 4:55 am

hmmm tricky tricky.
I tend to focus on what they are doing physically. YOU LOOK SO HAPPY IS XXX REALLY THAT FUN? (running yoga crossfit etcetc) or, if it is something I DO a remark along the lines of how it “agrees” with them.
now, as I type this, Im realizing that most times I end up with YOU LOOK SO HAPPY and leave it at that.


skeptigirl July 25, 2011 at 5:14 am

I have no idea how to comment on a woman’s weight either. When a man you know is excercising and working hard to lose a few pounds you just compliment him. Women are complicated and therefore hard to compliment.


Patricia July 25, 2011 at 5:29 am

I also have an obese husband and it’s difficult. When I met him, he was living an active, healthy life style and had lost a significant amount of weight. It wasn’t until we were married that I discovered it was all to meet a woman and it was no longer something he was going to put that effort into. His family is all obese (including aunts and uncles) and his mother and sister have both suffered from eating disorders.
I live by example. I workout regularly (we have a great home gym) and cook healthy meals while occasionally indulging. I don’t buy junk food to keep in the house so if we really want it, we have to go get it. I do get frustrated when he brings in junk that I don’t want in the house, but given that I buy most of the grocery’s, I’m sure I’ve done the same to him when I decide that I want to indulge.
About once every year or two I will gently let him know that I’m concerned about how his lifestyle is impacting his health, but I keep it short, don’t nag and simply let him know I am concerned. The conversation usually lasts about a minute at the most and he always understands that I am coming from a place of concern, not judgment.

I worry that he won’t be around to see our daughters grow up, but other then providing him with the opportunities to make healthy choices, there isn’t a lot that I can do. He needs to decide for himself when he is ready to make changes.


Julie July 25, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Sounds like a real bait-and-switch.


Crabby McSlacker July 25, 2011 at 5:37 am

I love that there are so many people carefully considering this issue, when I get the feeling that most folks out there just blurt out whatever comes into their head no matter how offensive or inappropriate.

I just go with “you look great” to anyone I like that I haven’t seen for a while, even if they may look a bit older or fatter or whatever. I just hope they’ll translate it to “nice outfit” or “good haircut” or whatever they personally feel is working for them. And it’s actually sincere, in that what I’m saying, in my own mind, is “it feels great seeing you, so to me, you look great!”


Louisa July 25, 2011 at 6:03 am

Growing up with a mother who was obsessed with her weight (and mine), I hate talking about weight– loss, gain, any of it. I never bring up weight gain with people. They know! and if they’re in denial, it’s not my job to get them out of denial. If someone has lost weight, I’ll say, “You look so vibrant!”


Naomi/Dragonmamma July 25, 2011 at 6:13 am

I usually say “Hey, you look great; what have you been doing?” Then he/she can talk about diet or exercise or a hair-cut or whatever.
Gaining is definitely trickier territory, and it depends who you’re talking to. I had this discussion with a gym buddy just yesterday; she’s gained 20 pounds in the last few months from bad diet, and she knows it. I simply commiserated with her on how hard it is to stay away from goodies and kept the focus on how blechy it feels while moving around rather than how it looks.


Molly July 25, 2011 at 7:17 am

In my experience, people who have gained weight are painfully aware that they’ve put on a few, so I don’t find it necessary to say anything. If someone specifically brings up her weight gain, I’ll say something along the lines of “Even if you have, you still look fantastic” if she has indeed gained a bit or “Crikey, if you’re fat I’m Jabba the Hut” if she hasn’t and is fishing for compliments (that drives me BANANAS).

Weight loss is less tricky, but I think “You look great!” is definitely the safest, especially if you’re not good friends with the person. I once had the rather thin mother of the kids I babysit comment on my weight loss, and while flattered I also felt extremely self-conscious. However, it got me thinking about how thankful I am that I didn’t grow up in a body- or weight-conscious household. Some of my school friends dealt with unbelievable scrutiny from their mothers (one even had the gall to tell my friend how my smaller Mommie Dearest was when she was in high school), while the prospect of me losing an ounce is enough to send my little Russian-Jewish parents into a pancake- and brisket-feeding frenzy.


viciousminx July 27, 2011 at 1:00 am

agreed. no-one needs to be told they’re fat. they know it, and it’s up to them to make the journey to health on their own.

if you have a friend who has been working hard to lose weight, tell them they “look well”. because after all, isn’t that what it’s all about. being healthy rather than skinny?


Victoria (District Chocoholic) July 25, 2011 at 8:13 am

You could just note that you noticed, and ask how she is feeling. She probably feels a lot better.

Or ask if she wants to go clothes shopping. I mean, either way, you aren’t saying she wasn’t beautiful before.


Anda T July 25, 2011 at 8:18 am

You look great is always a good fall back. Also, “You look so healthy! What’s your secret?” is a good one, too. I try to keep the words skinny, weight or size out of it. They may not be done with their goal, so I tend to keep those out of my vocabulary

As for the other side of the coin, this is much harder. BUT there are great ways to encourage movement or at the very least, begin moving towards a healthy lifestyle. My goal to begin my journey wasn’t to lose X amount of points by X amount of time. It was simply to get healthy. I took the goals off my head and just made small changes. I started walking with a friend. This friend was amazing. I love her. She said she had to go slow and stop often, so it was easy to walk with her. God love her, she didn’t have to at all. She did it for me, so I didn’t have to feel embarrassed at how slow I walk, or how often I have to take a break. (She was smart enough not to ever let me know. It wasn’t until much later did I realize she did it for me.) I started doing yoga, which is great for arthritis and joint pain, and requires minimal movement. I picked up a cooking light magazine and chose ONE recipe to try. Just one. It was all these little things that culminated into what became a much healthier lifestyle. You can talk until you’re blue in the face, but it won’t make a difference. If you want to see someone close to you be healthier, then resolve to do it with them. Make it a healthy lifestyle, NOT a diet.


Anda T July 25, 2011 at 8:21 am

And by points, I mean pounds. Ugh. Typing before coffee is dangerous.


Holly @ The Runny Egg July 25, 2011 at 8:21 am

Weight is so tough — I hate when people comment on mine. Usually it is “have you lost weight” — when in reality I gained a few pounds. I just don’t want people looking at my body — and Jason will tell me if he can see muscle definition because he knows that is what I’m working on!

I have talked to my mom — and yes we used the “for your health” excuse — but to be honest, we were being honest! I could care less what she looks like, what her body looks like, but when I see her struggle to walk up the stairs, to go get the mail, to get in and out of her car — I feel sad. And I feel scared that I will lose her. My sisters and I talked to her — and maybe we did that more for ourselves (peace of mind) but I felt as though I could not live with myself if my mom were to get very sick and we never said anything. Talking with her didn’t make her magically lose weight and become healthy, but it did get her to the doctor (a place she hasn’t visited in over a decade) — so for that I’m happy we talked to her.


Rachel July 25, 2011 at 8:41 am

Such a hard issue! The only thing you can do for an overweight person is to cook healthy food for them, exercise, and make sure you are being the inspiration for them that they need. If you live with them, do not buy their trigger foods or foods they tend to eat too much of. Say you want to make healthy changes but do NOT talk about the weight! Everyone is right when they say that there is just not a good way to talk about this. I wish this conversation could occur rationally, but you know – most people who are overweight, know they need to lose weight. Your talking about it will only make them feel bad about themselves. I know – I’ve been there.

And if someone loses weight, I usually just say, “You look great!!” And leave it at that. If the person wants to elaborate, fine. If not, that’s good too, and at least you haven’t really been invasive about it.


Melissa July 25, 2011 at 8:58 am

Another great post! My oldest daughter (almost 21) has steadily climbed from a 6/8 to a 14/16 over the past few years and I have not said ONE THING but it’s been very, very difficult to keep my mouth shut as she makes poor choices and sits around doing no exercise. However, I can still vividly remember just about every”innocent” comment ever said to me when I was heavy. So, I’ve just kept my mouth shut and quietly replace her clothes as she grows out of them. I don’t know what else to do. People have said to continue to say nothing and keep modeling good behaviors (I maintain a healthy weight and exercise daily). I wish I knew how to handle this better.


Dr. J July 25, 2011 at 9:29 am

The short answer is, “You don’t!” However, I never take my own advice, :-)

Tell them you carer about them and are worried about them, and you better be setting a good example at the time.

I really wish we could talk more to others in need.


Kevin Grant July 25, 2011 at 9:31 am

Here goes:

1. Don’t tell a heavy person that he/she needs to lose weight. Trust me, he/she already knows. No good can come from that.

2. When someone has lost weight, just say, “Wow, you look great.” There’s no need to elaborate. If you don’t want to make it sound judgmental, maybe add, “did you change your hairstyle?”

On the topic of doctors’ reluctance to discuss weight, I’ve heard that some veterinarians are avoiding telling clients about their pets’ need to lose weight. It’s uncomfortable to have that talk with a client who is grossly obese as well.

I dunno, maybe we need to stop worrying about feelings and just speak the truth. Brutal, but maybe that’s what we need. Then be sure to offer support, of course–no hit-and-runs!


Colleenzo July 25, 2011 at 9:52 am

Honestly, I think when its truly spoken out of love, you can’t go wrong. Sure, the person might initially be hurt or taken aback, but they’ll eventually come around. I’ve talked to good friends about both weight they’ve lost and weight they really need to lose, and our friendships have always survived. If i’m not close enough to the person to be saying it out of love, then i have no business saying anything.


Satu July 25, 2011 at 10:03 am

I was eyeing Geneen Roth’s When You Eat At the Refrigereator…” on Amazon when I got a feeling I need to visit your blog. I’m glad I did. :-)

I have a similar problem right now – my mother retired a few years back and since then her physical fitness has really deteriorated. The weight is not that much of an issue but having barely enough physical strengh to carry yourself around is! :-(

We’re a family that respects each others right to live the way they live, but I’d like to tell her I’m worried about her.

Re speaking about the weight issue, I really liked Sara’s suggestion, i.e “Ohmigod you gorgeous thing, you look even MORE fabulous” :-D


Marste July 25, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Regarding “When You Eat at the Refrigerator . . . ” – I have it. It’s amazing. Order it; you won’t be sorry. :)


Satu July 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm

Thanks for the recommendation, Marste. I got the book (I have a Kindle) and visited your blog. Great reading. :-)




RegularCinderella July 25, 2011 at 11:04 am

Oooh…I started typing my reply and also started crying. Since I’m at work now, I think I’ll wait until later to put in my two cents.

Okay, Just a little thought on complimenting someone’s weight loss. ;-) (Surely, I can make it through that.) I’ve struggled with my weight for years and yo-yo dieted for a really long time. I’ll never forget one time I “fell off the wagon” after losing 30 pounds or so, and a friend said to me (later, after I’d probably gained back more than half of what I’d lost) “I really hoped you would stick with it this time. You were doing so well.” She had NEVER, not once, said anything about my weight loss as I was losing, and I couldn’t help but wonder if she had, if I would have been inspired enough by the encouragement to keep going. (Not that her opinion was the only one that mattered to me…but there are so many times that I think it would just be SO MUCH EASIER to stay fat. I know it’s a horrible thought, but, it’s the truth. )


Amy July 25, 2011 at 11:30 am

I am a yo-yo dieter, too. I also agree that sometimes it’s easier to stay fat. . . esp. when I have to work SO HARD to be “just overweight” instead of almost obese.

I hate reading when people criticize people’s pant size/weight. . . it makes me want to cry, too. I want to shake them all and scream that while I’m not perfect, I’m doing what I can while still enjoying life to stay a size 12 instead of a 16/18! Doesn’t that count for anything? When that happens, I usually end up backsliding. Such a vicious circle.


RegularCinderella July 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm

I got my “baby update” email today for Little Brother. As I was reading about 11 months, 4 weeks, it hit me that the next update will be for my one-year-old, and I started bawling. Since everyone at work has already seen me crying today, I feel more comfortable continuing my comment. ;-)

Taking compliments is really hard, and I think it is for everyone, not just those of us who are overweight. It took me a long time to swallow whatever rebuttal I had for nice things people said to me–”Are you KIDDING? I feel so fat today!” “I haven’t lost much, it’s just this shirt that’s so slimming.”–and just smile and say, “Thank you. I’ve been working really hard.” (And to be honest, I’m still working on it.)

I agree with Anne below that if I tell you that you look great, it doesn’t mean I think you look awful the rest of the time. I also don’t feel that if someone compliments me at a certain moment in time, they aren’t being derogatory of what I look like at other times.

As far as talking to others about their weight gain…I am personally struggling with this and my comment started to get novel-worthy, so I deleted it. Yes, people who are overweight KNOW they’re overweight, but I think they need encouragement, too. It’s hard to get the nerve to even TRY to start losing weight if you don’t believe in yourself. If it’s someone you really care about it and you can do it with love, it is possible to broach the subject. If it’s not something they want to hear or talk about, you can be sure they’ll let you know…but even planting the seed that you care enough to be concerned about them could be enough to help.


Amy July 25, 2011 at 11:27 am

I think that talking to someone about weight gain is very difficult. Having always been a bigger girl, trust me when I say that fat people know they are fat. They don’t need anyone telling them this, whether it’s a doctor, loved one or the media/society in general. The people where it gets to be a “gray” area is the people who have slowly gained 10-20 pounds who were small before – they may not realize that that smallish weight gain has pushed them over the edge from small/average to borderline overweight. Even then, however, I’m sure they realize the weight is there and still don’t need anyone to point it out.

Like RegularCinderella, I too have yo-yo’d through the years. I hate gaining it back, because I feel like people will be disappointed in me. I recently lost 20 pounds from an all-time highest weight ever (minus pregnancy) and people have barely noticed or said anything without (I’m ashamed to admit) a bit of fishing. Yes, I’m still 15 pounds over where I’d like to be, but doesn’t that loss count for anything? It makes me feel really bad, that all this hard work wasn’t worth it, because apparently they still think I’m too fat to say anything about the loss.


Anne July 25, 2011 at 12:11 pm

I agree with the previous posters – if you want to compliment someone on their weightloss, just say they look great. Let them offer details if they want to.

On a side note, it’s kind of sad how telling someone they look great can be walking into an emotional minefield. If I say someone looks nice, I don’t mean “and the rest of the time I have seen you, you’ve barely passed as human.” I don’t mean anything more than, at that moment, you look nice. But I know that what I say and what someone else hears can be vastly different things.

I think this is why so many people complain that no one notices their weight loss. People notice, they’re just so afraid of saying the wrong thing, they err on the side of caution.


Linteater July 25, 2011 at 12:36 pm

I’ve been on both ends of this. Last year when I was struggling with undiagnosed hypothyroidism I put on about 10 pounds, my unhelpful husband would voice concern over how much I was eating. When we found out that it was actually medical, his brilliant response was that “well, just because it’s harder doesn’t mean you can’t do it.” Almost killed him for that one.

Then there’ are my inlaws, who are morbidly obese. I see them making terrible decisions (sedentary lifestyle, poor eating choices) and want to say something, but have no idea how to bring it up. Guess I’m a hypocrite. : p

So yeah, I’m not really sure what to say eever, other than “You look great!” and let them take it as they want.


Abby July 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Wow, I think I could have written this post almost word for word. “…the truth is I care (too) deeply and my first instinct is to grill you about all the details because if you lost weight then that means I need to too, obviously.” is so me too.

Honestly, I run away (far and fast!) anytime weight comes up in conversations. Even someone telling me “You look great” is fodder for hours of mirror obsession. A few weeks ago though a friend said to me “You seem so happy these days. I’m really glad.” It was simple and didn’t mention weight or appearance at all even though we’d just been talking about my ED struggles. From now on that’s what I’m saying to people.


Michel July 25, 2011 at 1:06 pm

Telling someone or showing someone that they need to loose weight can either work or backfire. I’ve seen my husband do a complete turnaround with his food and working out when I showed him a picture of himself that I knew he would not like. He’s more self conscious than I am. But it’s worked. He knows he’s not happy when he’s larger.

On the other hand I can try to talk to my sister who is morbidly obese (wasn’t always this way) who is self-medicating herself with food because she’s basically a single mom taking care of two kids who ONLY does stuff for her kids and not herself that it’s not healthy and she’ll end up like our grandmother a couch potato who had to have both legs amputated because she didn’t USE them. But she’ll say I know, I’m doing this and I’m doing that but she doesn’t see that she has underlying issues as to why she is heavy.

So it can work or it can well not really backfire but just sit out there and you don’t know if the person saw the light. Food can be an addiction. And we all know addicts can’t be forced to quit or change their ways if they don’t really want it.


TS July 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm

When I lost weight, I felt awkward that people were complimenting me on it. Was I that bad before? My mom told me after the fact that I needed to lose weight. Uhhh, thanks for the heads up? And she’s usually brutally honest. Not even a prompt to go on a morning walk with her.

The simple fact is that I NEVER talk to anyone about losing/gaining weight. I’ll talk to them about exercise, eating healthy, sharing junk food recipes (omnomnom – wha? better to make than buy), invite them to a class or to exercise together, compare how much we can bench, but I would never say to anyone that they need to lose weight. That’s actually how I started to be a health nut, when someone casually invited me to the gym. Spread the love and lifestyle.

I would never compliment someone on any weight loss. I will compliment them on choosing flattering clothes (oh, wow, that shirt certainly compliments your boobies!). The closest I’ll compliment someone is “wow, you’ve got great quads! Look at those!” Someone said to me “wow, you look great.” This was after I had a 105 degree fever for 3 days. I was miserable and sick. BUT I GOT SKINNY, and SKINNY IS ALWAYS GOOD, no matter how you got there, or whether you were even able to eat 3 bites, right???? *urgh*

And guys are so much cooler about talking about bodily functions. I wish girls were this open and we didn’t need sock puppets. Then again, SOCK PUPPETS!


ShinyGoldSun July 25, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Hi Charlotte,

I can suggest asking someone who you know has lost some weight, this:

” I see you have lost some weight, how are you feeling, if you don’t mind me asking?”

Those who want to comment, will. Some may want to elaborate, etc.

I made the mistake of asking someone for her “diet tips” after I noticed she had lost quite a bit of weight over the summer. It turned out she had cancer…. YES, I felt horrible and said I was sorry to assume, and she understood. (thankfully she is much better).

Hope this helps!


Julia July 25, 2011 at 3:21 pm

This reminds me of Bridget Jones. One character will call people and trill “You’ve lost weight!” sight unseen. The fact of the matter is that there is no good way to talk about weight, but sometimes you have to, especially when health is involved. It will hurt people, and you’ll have to do everything you can to minimize that hurt.

I’m Chinese-American, and I think it’s fairly common for parents in Asian cultures to be brutally honest. They don’t do it out of any negative place, and they just don’t think about things like eating disorders. When I gain weight, my parents call me out on it. And I’m talking about a weight gain of like 2-5 pounds. My father has type 2 diabetes and this is something that’s on their minds. The thing I need to remember with my parents is that they are doing it out of love. And I take it all in stride.

I have talked to someone I was dating about his weight gain. His lifestyle was awful- binge drinking, no sleep, excessively unhealthy food (he was in business school). I didn’t mention weight once- I just said that his lifestyle was freaking me out. My father not only has type 2 diabetes, but he’s had 4 (!) heart attacks, so lifestyle+health has touched me personally and I explained all of this. So anyway, this guy I was dating asked for my personal trainer’s number and hasn’t looked back.

And when someone’s lost weight (healthily) I just say, “wow, you look amazing” every time I see them. I hope they’re not over thinking the implications- they should be proud of themselves.


becca (bellebottoms) July 25, 2011 at 4:11 pm

ugh, such a tough subject! and I’ve been on BOTH sides! I’ve had people tell me to eat a sandwich , and I also had amy college soccer coach tell me that I’d run faster if I lost 10 pounds…yeah, he was a tool. :)

since I have such a sensitivity to the weight issue, I usually steer towards saying stuff like, “wow! you look great! what have you been doing?” or complimenting their outfit or hair, (skirting around the weight thing) or saying that there is something different about them, but that I can’t figure it out, but either way, they look great! If the person has GAINED weight, I just don’t say anything…I mean, unless they needed to gain the weight, what good is going to come from me talking about it? usually none…


Ali (Student On A Health Craze) July 25, 2011 at 5:11 pm

Weight discussions are such a dodgy area; if someone has lost a great deal of weight, then it’s difficult to not acknowledge it, yet it’s hard to compliment them without making it sound as if they were ‘lesser’ before.


Shevy July 25, 2011 at 7:23 pm

You know the other day I wrote to you that here in Jamaica you would be considered thin. And I wrote this in regards to you talking about your waist and you know what I felt after that? Guilt. I don’t even know you but I felt that the comment had an undertone to it that I hadn’t intended it to have at all. Sorry about that Charlotte.

So, I personally would rather not talk to anyone about their weight. Its just too murky. Instead I think its nice to pay a compliment. I like your shoes, your hair, your earrings…Etc. And also to work on loving people for who they are cause if I approach someone with love this will be more than enough.


Susannah August 1, 2011 at 7:17 am

Amen, amen, amen! I’m going to remember the way you phrased that Shevy- “if I approach someone with love it will be more than enough.” That is so wise.


Kirsten Jones July 25, 2011 at 9:07 pm

Why mention the weight at all? Why not just say, “You are glowing!” and leave it at that? She’ll know it’s from the hard work she has done to be comfortable in her skin and you will have acknowledged that she is living the life she wants to live to be happy.


anna July 25, 2011 at 9:32 pm

When I was 12, I was told by my health conscious parents that I had gained weight, even once “to get off my fat***” It hurt me, it still does, I have dealt with anorexia, bulimia, and compulsive overexercising, but honestly what is the right way? I dont know either


Jenn (GH) July 26, 2011 at 1:03 am

I steer away from the weight conversation as much as possible. As a trainer, my clients will bring it up. I let them dictate the conversation and reassure them they are beautiful. If they have a lot of weight to lose and want to continue talking about it I try to keep the benefits focused to the health related stuff.

It’s gets trickier when it’s a family member and you see how it is affecting their health in a negative way. Even then I keep my mouth shut and try to lead by example.

BTW I love this post. You have such a way with words that is so honest and yet non-threatening at the same time.


Kelsey July 26, 2011 at 8:45 am

Oh man, Charlotte, this is a tough one. And funny you bring it up, because I’m just starting to do some 1-on-1 training with close friends (since I’m in the health and fitness biz now – WOO!) and it’s hard to be positive and gentle, but still face the facts and tell people (your clients/friends) the truth. I think I’ve resolved to asking where they want to be and trying to steer them from a number on the scale to thinking bigger-picture: What do you want to accomplish? Being able to complete P90X DVDs? Run a 5K? Do Insanity DVDs? Drop your cholesterol numbers? Work on weening yourself off (insert food here)? I know it doesn’t work for all situations… like most of the ones you mentioned above… but I’m finding that focusing more on strength and health is the way to go.

As for telling someone who’s lost weight that they look good, well, I guess the simpler, the better: “You look great!”


kirsten July 26, 2011 at 10:52 am

Ha! Your nonsensical foot-in-mouth-ness is awesomesauce, Charlotte. Unfortunately, I can relate all too well…


Bee @ B*tchy Bee July 26, 2011 at 1:48 pm

Oh man, I am with you! I never know what to say. Because yes it is a compliment in one way to tell someone they look amazing, but is it saying they DIDN’T before?! Always a tough subject. I just like to say “You’re lookin good” every time I see a friend, that way it’s nothing new when I tell them they look good now that they’re down a few.

Always awkward though…!


Rebecca July 26, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I usually just stick to the, “You look fabulous!” and leave it at that.

I FIRMLY believe that concern over weight gain should pretty much never be expressed–
if it must, then only if you are a parent *and your child is underage*, or if it’s your spouse/partner.

That’s it.

And even then, for heaven’s sake, phrase it with, “Hey, let’s go for a walk! There’s a really neat _________ I want to show you!”

Or use your own health, “You know, I’ve been considering adding more [insert healthy food] into my diet. Vitamins and nutrients are awesome, and I don’t think I’m getting enough of them.”


Rebecca July 26, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Ooo, I also love the compliment a Safe For Work bodypart:

“Dang, your shoulders are so strong!”

“You have amazing calves!”


Charlotte July 26, 2011 at 4:19 pm

To the first question, I think the best option is something like “It’s great to see you so happy with your body” – since after all, how she looks is much less important than how she feels about her looks.

(Aside: I recently had a friend greet me with “You look great! You’ve put on weight!” which was completely sincere and also true and I was happy about it. Then she got all flustered and apologetic and kept saying “Not that you’re fat! Just healthy! Oh but you weren’t unhealthy before!” and it all got a bit silly.)

As for the second – it’d be very difficult, in this society we have, to be overweight and not be aware of the fact. So whatever barriers exist to someone being a healthy weight, ignorance of the problem is vanishingly unlikely to be one. So there’s probably more harm than good to be done by raising the issue.


Sara July 26, 2011 at 9:21 pm

There was a time that I recall where someone had complimented me on my weight-loss. It was after the death of my mother and I had stopped eating. It was odd and I had no clue how to tell her what the real deal was. Which made me feel worse and yikes. So instead of focusing on when somebody is gaining weight, I take it a step further and tell them that I’ve noticed they’re looking happier , more so than usual – what’s the secret? As for one who has gained weight, I don’t say anything – they know it, and what I do say is – hey, I need a friend, wanna go walking sometime? Something that is non-threatening. You know?


TJ July 27, 2011 at 9:09 am

I’m replying to this a few days after the fact, but funnily enough it’s because I was out of town where I saw a ton of friends I haven’t seen in person for a while….and I’ve lost 98 pounds over the last 3.5 years. Some of the people I saw this weekend have seen me a bit in the interim, but there was at least one person there who hadn’t seen me since before I started losing weight, and he didn’t recognize me, and OH MY GOD I WAS EMBARRASSED. And he was also embarrassed, but….it just made me horribly self-conscious.

Anyway. All that is to say that if you think a friend who has lost weight is like me, and is happy with how she’s looking but isn’t really the type to want to chat about weight loss, a simple “You look great!” is perfect. I know what you mean, you know what you mean, but it doesn’t make me feel self-conscious or like I need to explain myself in front of people. If it’s just the two of you, or if she might be more comfortable talking about it, then more is fine, but I actually prefer when people say something that doesn’t explicitly reference weight loss.


Susannah August 1, 2011 at 7:13 am

I believe that you shouldn’t talk to someone about their weight at all. It’s totally reasonable to say, “Wow, you look so confident and glowy these days, I’m loving it!” but because weight is a hot potato of a topic, it’s just too dangerous to even bring it up. Particularly if you or the complimentee are in a community of restrictive or eating-disordered folks, no matter what you say about their weight, it will reinforce their awareness of their weight. And I believe most middle- and upper-class white women live in such a community; certainly reading women’s magazines or watching TV frequently means a disordered relationship with our bodies.


Sarah August 15, 2011 at 11:13 am

Weight is a touchy subject an in the case of your friend and his wife your advice was completely wrong. Denile of his wife’s obesity isn’t going to fix the problem and in marriage people are suppose to be able to talk about everything (in a respectful manner). If she’s already suffering from obesity relates problems it’s only going to get worse. If he approached her in a loving wAy and committed to making changes with her,exercising together, making healthy changes in their diet etc then I don’t see why he couldn’t talk to her? I can’t imagine that it’s healthy for a marriage for a spouse to be secretly stressing out and confiding in friends rather than just talking to his wife.


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