Talking to someone about their effort to lose weight can be tricky. It’s easy to unintentionally say something upsetting in your quest to offer support or learn more about a person’s diet.
If someone close to you is making healthy changes to their lifestyle, it’s important to learn the right way to talk to them about their weight loss journey.
Here are a few things you should never say to someone who is trying to lose weight.
“You don’t need lose to weight.”
This is a common reaction to the news that a friend is trying to lose weight. Though the comment might be intended to assure someone that you care about them no matter what the scale says, it actually can serve to negate a person’s rationale for losing weight.
“Even if – in your opinion – they are ‘fine,’ I recommend supporting their efforts with positive reinforcement – comment on their successes,” registered dietitian Jenna Bell told US News.
As Bell pointed out, someone might be trying to lose weight for reasons other than appearance. They could want to become more athletic or reduce the chances of developing a medical condition that runs in their family.
“Have you tried [specific fad or trendy diet]? It worked so well for me.”
Suggesting that someone try a specific diet can be problematic because it encourages people to favour extreme weight loss solutions over tried-and-true healthy lifestyle alterations.
“This suggestion often comes from friends who don’t really know how unhealthy yo-yo dieting can be for you long-term,” Frances Largeman-Roth, RD, health expert and co-author of “The CarbLovers Diet, told Health.
A comment like this presents a simplistic view of weight management and might be insulting to someone who feels like they have tried everything to lose weight with little success.
“Didn’t you try to lose weight last year?”
Reminding someone of their past attempts to lose weight can imply that you believe they have fallen short before and won’t be able to reach their goals this time around.
“Such pessimistic feedback can take all the wind out of someone’s sails and discourage them. It reminds them of past failures and negative experiences,” Leslie Heinberg, director of behavioural services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, told US News.
Instead of commenting on how difficult someone’s diet or weight loss plan seems, try offering positive words of encouragement and praising their dedication.
“Why are you eating that? Aren’t you on a diet?”
Being the food police isn’t going to win you any fans and it certainly isn’t going to help your friend or partner succeed in their weight loss journey.
“All food decisions are theirs alone,” registered dietician Keri Gans told Fox News. “The best thing you can do for your partner is be supportive.”
Unless you’d enjoy having all your food choices critiqued, try not to comment on what’s on anyone else’s plate.
“Having curves is more attractive than being skinny anyway.”
This kind of comment is problematic on a number of levels. First, it perpetuates the damaging idea that there is an ideal weight or body type for everyone. It also implies that the dieter is trying to shed weight in order to be attractive or appeal to their partner, which might not be the case.
It’s not necessary to devalue one kind of body to praise a different kind. Opt to support someone’s weight loss efforts by accepting their goals and offering them encouragement when they need it.
“How much have you lost so far?”
This innocuous sounding question might actually be upsetting to someone who hasn’t lost weight as quickly as they intended or has regained a few pounds. It could also make the dieter feel as if you’re keeping tabs on their appearance and progress.
Instead, try asking how their weight loss efforts are going without pressing them for numbers or specifics, registered dietitian Lisa Garcia suggested to US News. This shows that you’re interested and supportive without steering the conversation in a potentially stressful direction.
“You’re barely eating anything. Are you sure you’re healthy?”
Dr. Sejal Shah, medical director of the Medi-Weightloss Clinics, told Health that a comment like this usually comes from a well-intentioned person who does not understand the new eating habits of their dieting friend.
This kind of comment can make a dieter feel self-conscious about their new eating choices. It also can undermine a weight loss effort by framing it negatively or pressuring someone into eating more to “prove” that they’re healthy.
“What can’t you eat?”
This might be a well-intentioned question. After all, you might not want to offer someone food that they will be obliged to turn down. However, by phrasing the inquiry as a negative, you’re forcing both of you to focus on a dieter’s restrictions.
“It can actually make it harder for that person to shift from having to give something up to exploring – and enjoying – the foods they can eat,” Garcia told US News.
This kind of comment can also make someone feel like they’re being perceived as a picky eater or a difficult dinner guest. Instead, try asking what kinds of meals that person has been enjoying lately rather than making them list the foods they have eliminated.
“But I made these brownies/cookies/burgers just for you!”
If you’re on a diet, the wave of guilt and temptation that can wash over you when faced with a plate of grandma’s cookies can be overwhelming.
Health reported that a full 56% of dieters say that loved ones and friends have pressured them to eat food that was not part of their diet.
If someone has clearly communicated their intention to steer clear of certain foods, offering them those foods is thoughtless at best and can appear to be intentional sabotage at worst.
“No one will notice if you’re just a few pounds lighter.”
Losing even a few pounds can have a profound psychological and physical impact on a person. It’s best not to make assumptions about how weight loss will change someone’s life.
Greg Hottinger, MPH, RD, co-author of “Coach Yourself Thin” told Health that dieters should expect this kind of response from some people who don’t understand someone’s motivation for losing weight.
This kind of comment also implies that the dieter is trying to lose weight for the sake of their appearance, which might not be true.
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