Are you guilty of saying this one message from diet culture?

December 9th, 2019 by Sara Upson

Imagine if it was your funeral and you got to watch or listen in…what would you want people to say about you?  Take a second and think about it.  How would you want to be remembered?  If you have a minute- jot your answer down.

I highly doubt that being thin, your body size, 6 pack abs or anything along those lines is on your list. I’ve done this exercise many times with clients and I’ve actually never had a client say that they wanted to be remembered for being the thinnest person or for having a thigh gap.

What you’d like to hear at your funeral are your values or what really matters to you.

Your true personal values are often very different than our culture’s values or diet culture’s values.   It’s really easy to get lost in diet culture values.   Because it’s the cultural norm- it’s reinforced almost everywhere you look. Especially at this time of the year (the holidays) but in reality- all the time.

Diet culture has a fixation on weight and body size. In fact if you ranked diet culture’s values then body shape or size would probably be at the top of the list.   

Because of this, complimenting someone on their weight loss or weight has somehow become one of the highest compliments you can give someone.

  • You look great, have you lost weight?
  • You look so good!
  • You’ve lost weight!
  • You look amazing!

Are all diet culture value based compliments that are so common.

white background with blue swish of color at the top that reads "what does it say about our culture that weight has become the "best compliment" you can give someone?

These compliments are a reflection of diet culture values and of someone stuck in diet culture.

But here’s the thing to know.  Weight loss is not a compliment. Complimenting someone on their weight might be common in diet culture, but that doesn’t make it a compliment- or okay.  

Complimenting someone on their weight says that weight is a value or priority- when in fact for most people it’s not truly (when you look at their true values)- it’s just the cultural value and it’s harmful.

On top of that, you never know what you’re complimenting When you compliment someone on their weight you may be complimenting something very different. You may actually be reinforcing eating disorder behaviors or “complimenting” someone about their illness- not a compliment at all.

Some things you might actually be complimenting: cancer, eating disorder, ibs, crohns disease, autoimmune disease, depression, grief, illness, digestive disorder, trauma, major life event, or mental illness. Diet culture reinforces weight loss at all cost- even to the point that when someone is dying of cancer their weight loss is celebrated.

Image with white background that reads what you might actually be complimenting when you compliment weight loss.  There are 9 light blue circles with other factors that could impact weight: an eating disorder, cancer, a digestive disorder, grief, depression, trauma, an auto-immune disease, illness, a major life event.

Furthermore, when you compliment someone with an eating disorder you may unintentionally be reinforcing the eating disorder and harmful eating disorder behaviors.  I can’t tell you how many eating disorder clients I’ve had who were complimented on their weight loss. Their doctor or family members told them to “keep doing whatever they’re doing” (without ever asking or considering what they might be doing).  When in fact they were engaging in disordered eating behaviors and on the path to develop a full blown eating disorder.

You may be wondering- when is it okay to compliment someone on their body or weight?  NEVER.

white background with a box that reads Q: and the following question "when is it okay to compliment weight loss."  Then an A inside a box with the answer "never."

It’s never okay to compliment someone on their weight loss.  Weight isn’t a compliment.  Weight and body shape is the least interesting thing about someone.

If you want to give a true compliment there are so many other things you could say.  Literally almost anything.

You might be thinking- but what about someone who is intentionally trying to lose weight? Even then, weight loss isn’t a compliment.  Here’s why…

Complimenting weight loss:

  • Reinforces good/bad, healthy/unhealthy eating patterns and the diet mentality- which is harmful.
  • Infers that someone didn’t look good before.
  • Sends a message that if they regain the weight or their body changes then they no longer look good or are no longer being “healthy/good.” (which research says that 95-98% of people will regain the weight with 66% gaining more.)
  • May be reinforcing disordered eating and harmful behaviors.
  • Prioritizes weight above the person as an individual reinforcing that the most interesting and important thing about them is their body.
  • Reinforces that your body is an object and something to control- when in reality weight is complicated, multi-faceted and you have much less control over it than you think you do.
  • Is diet culture and harmful.

You might still be thinking- but what if I want to encourage them or let them know I see their changes? Don’t.  So many other people- the people still stuck in diet culture (aka the culture at large) will compliment them on their weight loss. 

Complimenting someone on their weight loss doesn’t validate their effort- it validates that their effort earns them value or worth- which isn’t true.  So instead of jumping on the diet culture bandwagon of complimenting weight loss- try connecting with them- ask them how they’re doing or feeling, give them an actual compliment, or as Fiona Sutherland says- “greet the person, not the body.”

One way to give an amazing compliment is to give a compliment in line with the other person’s values.  Think about if- if their values are the very thing they want to be remembered for and you give them a complient about something that is truly most important to them- then you’ve really given them a gift.

If you don’t know what someone truly values you could ask, or here are some ideas of anti diet culture/ non weight based compliments.

non appearance based compliments: your'e so calming to be around, you make everything more fun, you have the best smile, I can tell you anything, you have the best ideas

And because you “look great have you lost weight” has become so common place that it’s just the thing you say when you see someone you haven’t seen in awhile- here are some other things to say when you’re greeting someone: I’m so happy to see you, it’s been too long, you give the best hugs.

non weight based greetings and compliments including I'm so happy to see you, it's been too long, you give the best hugs

What’s the best compliment you’ve ever received?

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