Talking about weight and weight loss can tricky, as it's a super personal thing. If you decide to bring up the topic to a friend who's going through their own transformation, you'll want to make sure your word choice is helpful and supportive, rather than judgmental, jealous or cruel.
If you are unsure what to say to someone who is losing weight, you're definitely not alone. Here, experts offer up six things you should never say to someone who's losing weight, along with alternative approaches that handle a situation with care and concern.
1. “Are You on a Diet? You Are Looking so Skinny!”
"People lose weight for a multitude of reasons that often have little to do with dieting," says Melainie Rogers, MS, RDN and founder of Balance Eating Disorder Treatment Facility. "This includes struggling with either their physical or mental health, anxiety, depression, stress or engaging in eating disorder symptoms — [which] can all cause weight loss."
Telling someone that they're skinny could be problematic for two reasons: First, you're implying that skinny is what people should aspire to be when really all body types can be beautiful. It can also come from a place of jealousy or resentment, where "skinny" is spotlighted in a negative light.
"Instead of asking someone what diet they are on, take a step back and think of all the possible reasons someone may be losing weight," says Rogers. "From there, if there is concern about their health or wellbeing, try checking in with them to see if everything is alright."
2. “You Are Looking Great!”
If someone has expressed a desire to lose weight in a healthy way, then this phrase should be okay and supportive. However, if you are't in-the-know of any weight loss goals, it could be a trigger. "For someone who is not intentionally trying to lose weight, this can bring up a lot of body image insecurities and worsen an existing unhealthy relationship with food and their body," says Rogers.
Especially for someone battling an eating disorder, type of comment can send the message that they look better now while engaging in unhealthy behaviors, adds Rogers. Instead of saying weight loss is an achievement to be celebrated, you may want to think of other ways to acknowledge the positive things about them outside of their looks.
3. “You Are so Lucky You Can Eat X and Still Lose Weight!”
If they want to eat pizza or a brownie — let them, without discussing their size. "For someone unintentionally losing weight, this can trigger guilt or a hyper awareness around food that they may not have had before," says Rogers.
For instance, people have different metabolisms. If someone with a faster one than yours or a different body type can eat a slice of cake and not notice a change in weight as much as you do, there's no reason to make them feel bad for just being themselves and eating what they'd like.
For someone with a history of disordered eating, this phrase can also be a trigger for unhealthy patterns. "This could be extremely damaging to someone struggling with an eating disorder as it intensifies their battle in viewing certain foods as good or bad," she says.
4. "You're Fine, You Don't Need to be on a Diet."
"You may not know all of their reasons for being on a diet and it could be a lot deeper than just losing 10 pounds, so unless it's a situation where you feel like the weight loss is unhealthy (like they are underweight or have struggled with an eating disorder in the past), it's important to be respectful of their decision to make different choices for their health," says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. Remember, you would want the same thing in return.
Plus: If someone wants to lose some weight, it's their decision and in-turn, responsibility to speak to a doctor about their goals. Rather than judging their body, size or appearance, say things like "I support you. Let me know if I can share some healthy recipes!" Something with this positive spin keeps them in a health-focused mindset, rather than a destructive, restrictive mindset.
5. "How Much Weight Have You Lost?"
It's not your business as to the number of pounds shed unless your friend wants to share the number with you willingly. "This can make a person feel as though you are monitoring their weight loss," says Robert Glatter, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Northwell Health and attending emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital. "If they haven't loss as much weight as intended or put on some additional weight it can be harmful.
Instead, just ask them how their diet is going and how they're feeling. "Don't ask for specific measurements or numbers. Leave the conversation open-ended," he suggests.
6. “Let’s Get Ice Cream. You Deserve it!”
It is dangerous to frame food as something that one "earns." "As a human being, you are entitled to food – any type, at anytime," says Emmy Crouter, LSW, psychotherapist and licensed social worker. "As soon as food is labeled as something one deserves, you are wading in dangerous waters."
A statement like this could sabotage their efforts. Instead, ask, "Would you rather get ice cream or coffee this afternoon?" suggests Crouter, as this lets them decide and doesn't put an emphasis on their weight loss or dieting. Plus: You're able to be supportive and focus on quality time, whether food be involved or not.
When Should You Say Something?
"In most cases, it's best to keep observations of weight loss to yourself," says Rogers. "If there is an existing close relationship and a concern about your loved one or colleagues wellbeing, bring it up in a way that does not highlight their physical appearance changing."
Try to find examples and evidence outside of weight that may indicate something is "off." Maybe they are withdrawn or tend to avoid plans involving food. Acknowledging that they haven't been themselves in a supportive way can allow them the opportunity to share what is potentially going on, where they feel safe enough to open up on their own terms.
If you do recognize obsessive behavior through interactions, it's time to speak up. If you don't, they might avoid situations where food is present, become nutritionally deficient and develop medical symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, vomiting or drastic changes in physical appearance, says Dr. Glatter. "If you are concerned a person may be developing symptoms of anorexia, it's important to speak up. It's a slippery slope, and your intervention could be lifesaving," he says.