Dealing with Unwanted Weight Loss Compliments

The world is messed up you are fineA reader wrote in with a question that I’ve been asked before by a number of people who have lost weight unintentionally – through illness, or grief, or some other reason, and I thought I would address it today:

Now my friends are asking me for tips on how to lose weight.  I don’t know what to say.  But when I say that I wasn’t trying to lose weight, people don’t believe me.  They don’t believe me when I say that I was just as happy with my body when it was heavier.  But I really was. Do you have any advice about what to say?

When your body size has changed and you become smaller, people’s unwanted comments can range from annoying, to rude, to incredibly hurtful (I hear from lots of readers who are complimented on weight lost following the loss of a loved one, or an illness – one reader with stage 4 cancer had a co-worker tell her “cancer looks great on you!”)

To me, the most important thing to realize is that the problem here isn’t the person whose body is smaller, it’s people who are making inappropriate comments about it and the culture that tells us that everyone wants to be smaller than they are, that smaller is better, and that it’s ok to comment on each other’s body size without invitation.  So once again we have an issue that isn’t our fault, but can become our problem.

Nobody is under any obligation to do activism/education etc. so each person who deals with this gets to choose how to handle it.  On the other hand you might consider that, whether you ask for it or not, having a less-fat body in a fatphobic world means that you may have access to more things (clothes, spaces, etc.0 and people may treat you better.  You probably didn’t ask for this and you can’t really give it away, but you can use this as an opportunity for activism, and when you do it is much appreciated.

So here are some options for replying if people make undesired weight loss compliments.

Responses that invite a dialog

People keep asking me that – do you think they are assuming I tried to lose weight on purpose?

Oh, I’m not interested in weight loss.  My body size may go up or down and I’m fine with that. Isn’t it odd that we are so fixated on thinness as a culture?

I believe in Size Acceptance and practice Health at Every Size, I’d be happy to tell you more about that.

Responses that don’t invite dialog

I don’t engage in diet talk.

Diet talk makes me really uncomfortable, how about that local and or college sportsballing team?

Can’t help you – I don’t pay attention to my body size.

Responses to shut that shit down

I didn’t know that you were monitoring my body size, please stop, it’s hella creepy.

What a strange and inappropriate question, I’m curious – what made you think that was ok to ask me?

How are your bowel movements? Oh, sorry – I thought we were asking each other inappropriate personal questions.

Remember that, no matter how you handle this, you are not the problem.

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24 thoughts on “Dealing with Unwanted Weight Loss Compliments

  1. Thanks for this post. I’ve lost large amounts of weight twice in my life due to major illness. The dumbass ignorant remarks I’ve gotten from people have been so hurtful and enraging. My original body was just fine, thank you very much. And I’m glad to be growing back into it.

  2. I work in an office where one unit of colleagues in particular, are incredibly body-disparaging, fat-phobic and thin-centric. They make unsolicited comments ad nauseum:

    * when someone on maternity leave comes to visit their coworkers and brings their adorable, fat baby along and we’re gushing over how cute and fat and squishy said baby is — “Oh!! don’t call him/her FAT! Don’t worry, little one, you’ll grow out of that!” (sadly, I’m not making this up);

    * when we take unit photos for broader branch or divisional meetings and the first thing that people say is how ugly they are, how the photographer “needs” to photoshop/airbrush their face/body to make it more attractive;

    * at the shared kitchenette while I’m getting my morning coffee and the ultra-thin, swanky-dressed manager is fishing for compliments by complaining about how the swing or empire-waisted dress she’s wearing makes her look pregnant.

    Though every fiber of my being wants to shake the crap out of my coworkers each time one of these examples happens, one of the things I think about is choosing my battles wisely to preserve my sanity points. You have to carefully consider what comments you make in certain contexts. This manager, for example, works with a predominantly thin staff complement; however, there is one fat woman in another unit on our floor and I automatically think about her when comments like these are said so carelessly and thoughtlessly. I plaster my workspace with body positive signage so that it’s obvious that I want nothing to do with that kind of discourse, but I don’t hold out much hope for the hardcore fatphobes that I work with, to change.

    I think, if push came to shove, I’d probably be honest and say, “Y’know what? I find all this body-disparaging talk to be really hurtful and harmful and there’s no reason for it. Please stop.” As a mere plebe in the hierarchical work structure here, that’s as far as I would likely go with the thin swanky manager (luckily, she’s not my manager).

    1. At my work, there is another woman who I think has more advanced lipedema than me. She follows some wacky diets, and has been doing them for longer than I’ve been working there. Kinda hard when her main focus is on food and what the recent magical thing is.

  3. I need some information free of the usual diet talk blahblah, so I thought I’d better ask the question here.

    Due to assorted non-weight-related issues, I have come to the conclusion that giving up sweetened foods six days a week (not all the time or I’ll binge; I know myself) may be beneficial to my health. I started yesterday. I’ve already been warned about possible constipation during the adjustment period, because sugar is a known move-things-along-er. I’ve also noticed that I’m a lot hungrier, but also less sleepy during the day. Is there anything else I should expect?

    1. I generally limit my sugar intake to one dessert a week. It works well for me, I look forward to my treat, and it doesn’t trigger cravings. I would suggest upping your fiber intake, through whatever method works best for you, to help avoid constipation. When I was eating a more high protein diet, constipation was a problem, but since I’ve added more carbs it’s no longer an issue.

      As to hunger, I simply eat whenever I’m hungry. It’s no different to me than scratching an itch-no need to attach a moral judgment to eating. Just experiment and find what works best for you, adjusting as you go. For me, getting off the weight loss merry-go-round has been the key to happiness, with better health as a bonus.

      1. Fiber! I knew I was forgetting something.

        Yes, I’ve been eating whenever I was hungry; I just had no idea how much of my hunger was being fed with sugar. My eating was getting seriously out of whack. I wonder whether some of my health issues will improve just because I’m eating nutrient-dense foods more often now!

        1. After you stop sugar it’s normal for your appetite to vary, when I quit I had no appetite at first and then was SO hungry for about a week, and then it gradually subsided to ‘new normal’ levels. I tried to drink plenty of fluids (herbal tea <3) during this time especially, it helped with digestion. Definitely listen to yourself and eat when you feel the need to 🙂

    2. I’ve had to change my eating patterns for health reasons several times. I developed type 2 diabetes and discovered a wheat gluten allergy. There was certainly a learning curve and an adjustment period after each change. Hang in there! I’ve found that making adjustments in nutrition to improve my well-being were quite easy compared to all the stupid weight loss crap I’ve danced through in my life. Focus on the positive and keep ovine that body!

  4. Boy, can I relate. I am a so-called “normal weight” person. Last year I had surgery and lost about 20 lbs., which frankly left me looking rather sickly and very, very thin. I was sick for weeks. I couldn’t eat and could barely drink. This lasted more than six weeks. I was weak and irritable and felt awful, as you might imagine. I had to continue working. I received so many comments about how great I looked, how thin I was. A nurse called me skinny.

    I was dehydrated and starving and I am sure I didn’t look healthy, yet our culture considers thinness a prize above health, comfort, and well-being. It is sad.

  5. I went through weight loss due to serious illness. My reply to the ‘you’ve gotten so slim, what’s your secret’ sort of comments was pretty blunt. “I had cancer. You don’t want it.”

    1. My husband has lost about 80 lbs due to stage 4, chemo and radiation resistant cancer. More people than I can rightly count have complimented him on his new slimmer look – including one nurse(!) who said that at least he was getting one benefit from the cancer. Every time it happens, I feel like a saint for confining my reaction to bitter sarcasm, instead of giving into the urge to shake people until their teeth rattle.

      1. That’s like saying “you look better dead!” Truly awful, that the only positive they can derive from the situation is that he looks thinner. I think I would be more concerned that nothing is working, and we have say good bye soon.

      2. Instead of bitter sarcasm, how about holy wrath? “How DARE you body shame a cancer patient? GET OUT!”

        Because that’s exactly what these “compliments” are: body shaming. They are shaming the body he had before, before the cancer started killing him, by complimenting the cancerous body, and it’s NOT OK.

  6. I’ve tried explaining the nature of my circumstances, but only once have I been met by a complete recanting and an ‘I’m so sorry.’ Most of the time, there’s some variation on the silver-lining ‘at least something good came of this’ reply (including a particularly memorable coffin-side moment–WTF!?).
    Now, I just usually go with the raised eyebrow I’ll-overlook-your-faux-pas-this-time look or, if I’m feeling punchy, responding to “Have you lost weight?” with “Why, have you found some?”

    1. Oh, that’s good. Reminds me of my reply to “Have you found Jesus?” “Is He missing AGAIN?” Hope I remember yours for the next time I get asked that.

  7. Perfect timing, Ragen – I’ve changed my diet to help control symptoms for an autoimmune disorder, and I’ve dropped some weight. The motivator has been to decrease pain through eating anti-inflammatory foods, and so far it is helping tremendously with the pain. I literally don’t give a flying fuck what my weight does…..I just want to stop hurting or hurt significantly less. I have already gotten a few weight related comments and I haven’t known what to do with them. I don’t want to feed into thinness obsession, and I am not interested in giving out diet advice. It has taken me a long time to get here. Thank you for your post.

  8. When we went through a period of unemployment I lost weight because we couldnt afford a lot of food and depended on my parents a lot. An aunt asked me what I was doing and I said, “spending $15 week at the store because that’s all the money I have.” She stopped talking.

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