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Do you applaud weight-loss? Here are 5 reasons why you shouldn't

‘Well done you lost some weight!’, ‘You look great!’, ‘You have amazing willpower’. Does that sound familiar? I am sure at some point we have all uttered something along those lines to a friend, colleague or family member. It’s just a compliment, right? I completely believe you when you say that it was meant as such and nothing else. Applauding someone for intentional weight loss, which we perceive as commendable, and which is actively pushed by healthcare professionals can surely only be a positive thing?

Unfortunately it is not. In fact, it can be very harmful. Do you want to know why?

Here are my 5 reasons why applauding weight-loss can be problematic

  • It reinforces weight stigma. Weight stigma is discrimination against people who are in larger bodies. It involves stereotyping based on someone’s weight, hurtful comments about larger bodies, disadvantages higher weight people experience due to things not being accessible or available for them, and problems accessing health care due to a focus on weight rather than the real health concerns. Yes, healthcare professionals often show a huge amount of weight stigma by recommending weight loss as a ‘magic solution’ when the person’s health issue is completely unrelated to weight. This means that people in larger bodies may avoid going to see their GPs, might not get the same care they require, might get misdiagnosed or not diagnosed at all. There are some amazing Instagram accounts you could follow if you want to learn more about weight stigma, have a look at my resources list for some ideas!

  • Someone may have lost weight due to a disordered relationship with food, illness or even an eating disorder. People don’t usually broadcast these things so they stay hidden from everyone around them. We just assume it was a diet that led to weight loss. If someone lost weight because they e.g. had an eating disorder, telling them that they are doing great will add fuel to the fire of the disorder and reinforce that what the sufferer is doing is ‘the right thing’. Dieting doesn’t necessarily lead to eating disorders (although they can be a precursor) but the majority of eating disorder sufferers have a history of dieting.

  • Intentional weight loss doesn’t usually last long term. Most studies that claim successful weight loss strategies don’t actually follow people long term, use statistics that have been made to sound significant but are based on very small effect sizes, don’t account for drop-outs, and don’t report on the weight gain that happens to 95+% of dieters after about 1-2 years.

Given that long-term intentional weight loss is so difficult (read my blog for why that is), it is most likely that the

person you applauded for their determination and weight loss results will be back to their previous size after a

year or two, feeling like a failure and being ashamed of ‘letting everyone down’ after being heralded as a dieting

role model.

  • Complimenting someone on their physical appearance can be problematic in itself, and in particular when it comes to weight loss. Positive comments and compliments feel good in the moment, but when the dieter puts the weight back on, does that mean they go back to ‘ugly’, ‘unworthy’ of compliments, ‘not interesting’, ‘weak’? What does it mean when you get lots of lovely comments on your looks when you are slimmer, but not when you are bigger? People will feel less deserving of love and less lovable.