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Why Compliments On Weight Loss Make Us Feel Worse
When commenting on someone who has lost weight, the assumption is that the comment will be taken as a flattering remark. This is the result of the implicit belief that was ingrained in our brains: ''Being skinny is more favorable than being at a higher weight''. Accordingly, when someone ''compliments'' us on our weight; they mean well (at least most of the time!) They expect us to feel better about ourselves and to have a confidence boost. But in reality, compliments on weight loss make us feel worse, especially in the long term.
"It's a compliment, how do you twist a positive remark and make it a negative one?" I can already hear many people wondering. I will explain to you how a brain struggling with an eating disorder works.
''Oh my god, did you lose weight? You look great'' disguises itself as a pleasing comment. The first few seconds within hearing it, you feel good about yourself. You tell yourself ''See, all the hard work paid off!''. You feel seen, recognized, and important.
However, in a minute, the good feelings are replaced with negative ones: ''Wait… they see me… they see my body…''. And for someone who is battling with an eating disorder, it is a terrible thing to realize that people can actually see their body. It may sound counterintuitive but that was how I felt. As self-centered as it sounds, I felt like people around me were constantly watching me and analyzing each and every part of my body. When I weighed myself every morning, I felt like I stepped on the scale in front of everyone I knew. I was scared that they would see my body just the way I saw it: too big and disgusting. I hated that idea, I just wanted to be myself without feeling pressured to look a certain way. I wanted to feel seen, recognized, and important because I was being myself, not because I was losing weight.
When I heard ''Wow you look amazing, I wish I had more self-control like you'' from one of my friends, I was having coffee as dinner to suppress my appetite, in order to lose weight before New Year’s Eve 2015. What you see as self-control from the outside may actually be self-harm for the other individual. You never know if you are complimenting someone's eating disorder. It is important to recognize that the underlying belief here is ''Losing weight is only about having self-control and if you cannot stick to a diet, then you have no self-control''. Having self-control is seen as virtuous and honorable, while not having self-control around food is considered to be negative, almost equal to being greedy. It is dangerous to have such strict beliefs around food. The moment you do not conform, you experience strong negative emotions like shame and guilt when you eat. Put shame, guilt, and food together, it is the recipe for an eating disorder.
It is also difficult to assess whether someone's weight loss is coming from a disordered mindset or not. Even when you think you are complimenting ''hard work'', again, you never know whether you are congratulating an eating disorder or not. If the person who is praised is susceptible to an eating disorder, complimenting their weight loss will contribute to the development of one; as they are applauded for their unhealthy behavior. If the person is already struggling with an eating disorder, compliments will help maintain it. They will feel pressured to keep up with the weight loss and when they can't, they will crack under the pressure. You will be giving them the message that it does not matter if they are sick or not, as long as they are thinner, their current version of themselves is much better. Is this the kind of message we want to give to people around us? That they should be skinny at the price of their mental health?
You may find these thoughts extreme, but I am sharing exactly how individuals with eating disorders see the world. So please, please, the next time you have the urge to comment on someone's weight (loss), think of what effect it may have on the other person. Because sometimes even with the best intentions, we may hurt others with our ''compliments''. So unless the person explicitly asks for it, it is best to not make any unwanted remarks on someone's weight.