6 Comments About Someone’s Weight Loss That Can Hurt When They’re Meant to Flatter, Say Experts

Updated: Oct. 17, 2023

Clinical experts say "compliments" about someone else's weight loss can affect them in negative ways you don't realize. An obesity doctor and other specialists weigh in.

plus size female holds measures tape check her waist size
athima tongloom/getty images

When you think a kind thought about someone, you should express it to them…right? Well, when it’s because they look like they’ve shed a few pounds, it might be time for more of us to consider that the kinder thing to say may be nothing at all.

Some experts highlight the notion that these days, it’s important to understand that the decisions an individual makes about their nutrition or exercise routine are personal. Also, there are cases when weight loss can occur due to an undesired circumstance, in which case the person might prefer not to discuss it. “Weight loss can be a symptom of suffering, such as an underlying medical condition, eating disorder, mental health condition, or food insecurity,” suggests licensed clinical social worker and eating disorder specialist Maggie Osinski, LCSW.

Plus, it’s the whole person—not just someone’s appearance—that deserves praise. “Society has taught us to associate weight loss with wellness, worth, and personal success,” Osinski says. “Comments like these perpetuate the ideology that human worth, health, and success is based on aesthetic, weight, and body size.”

Osinski adds that equating someone’s appearance with their worth “stems from a long history of systemic oppression.” In scenarios that involve Western women, for example, the time and focus we have been encouraged to place on improving our looks is now spent earning a living. This gives us more powerful influence in our world than groups like ours have wielded in generations past. Many people would agree that this, along with being healthy, matters far more than being skinny.

With that in mind, here are six comments about weight loss that often don’t land quite as nicely as they’re meant to, even when the intentions are good.

Speech bubble text: "Have you lost weight?"
The Healthy, Getty Images

1. “Have you lost weight?” 

This type of comment might seem innocent, as though it’s simply stating the obvious. However, it puts the individual on the spot to respond—and it suggests you’d previously noticed that they were larger.

Alternative greetings might be an extra-warm hug, or to be sure to look them in eye as you say, “It’s so good to see you.”

Research Says This One Goal Will Motivate You to Exercise—and It’s Not Weight Loss

Speech bubble text: "You look good!"
The Healthy, Getty Images

2. “You look great!”

While this might sound totally sweet, in a way it can be more judgmental than supportive. Says Dr. Rekha Kumar, MD, chief medical officer at medically assisted weight loss program, Found, and practicing endocrinologist in New York City: “Commenting on weight or weight loss fails to acknowledge the complexity of health and weight.”

Further, this type of comment can promote the idea that being thinner is “better” or “more desirable,” says Osinski, adding that it also hints at the subtext that heavier bodies can’t look gorgeous—”which couldn’t be further from the truth,” she notes. 

Speech bubble text: "What's the secret?"
The Healthy, Getty Images

3. “What’s your secret?” 

This might seem especially tempting after someone has exhibited significant weight loss. However, the “secret” isn’t always a positive thing, says eating disorder therapist Mariana Prutton, LMFT: “Comments like this are harmful, as they make assumptions that thinness and weight loss are universally positive.”

In cases when it’s an illness, mental or physical, the method by which they lost weight may in fact be a secret—something they prefer not to discuss.

8 Things To Say to Someone Who Is Depressed

Speech bubble text: "Look how skinny you are!"
The Healthy, Getty Images

4. “Look how skinny you are!” 

Imagine seeing a friend or family member you haven’t seen in ages, when the first thing they say is, “Look how skinny you are!”

For some people, this type of commentary comes naturally—it’s recognizing something positive about others! But it’s important to think about what this can mean for the person you’re saying it to, says Natalie Rose, registered psychotherapist and certified nutrition and fitness coach: “These comments focus on superficial external factors that sort of negate the goal of most social interactions, which is emotional connection.”

She adds that by commenting on appearance, “You’re not showing any interest in their internal experience, which can leave someone feeling unseen or uncared for.”

Speech bubble text: "You look so much healthier now."
The Healthy, Getty Images

5. “You look so much healthier now.” 

Of this one, Prutton says, “Remarks like these are damaging because they equate health with thinness, reinforcing the misconception that being skinny equates to being healthy. It’s important to recognize that one cannot gauge someone’s health solely based on their body size.” 

This is a huge reason the Health at Every Size (HAES) philosophy has gained popularity, as it focuses on weight inclusivity, health enhancement, respectful care, eating for well being, and life-enhancing movement. 

A Formerly Overweight Trainer’s #1 Non-Weight-Loss Reason to Exercise

Speech bubble text: "How much have you lost?"
The Healthy, Getty Images

6. “How much have you lost?” 

Too often, despite a person’s many noteworthy qualities or intellectual accomplishments, it’s their amount of weight loss that we’re the most impressed by. Whether it appears that someone has lost five pounds or 100, that’s not an opportunity to ask about specifics.

Before commenting on someone’s weight,” Dr. Kumar says, “it is important to think about how appropriate this comment is in the context of your relationship with an individual. If you have no business in their health journey, you probably have no business in commenting on their weight.”

Subscribe to The Healthy @Reader’s Digest newsletter and follow The Healthy on Facebook and Instagram. Keep reading: