We need to stop giving compliments when someone loses weight. This is what we can do instead

Body dysmorphic disorder and eating disorder can go hand in hand 3:22 (CNN) — If your friend has recently lost weight, you might want to tell her how great she looks. You might also tell her that you wish she had her body or her self-control or ask her how she managed it. Perhaps you have received such a “compliment” in the past.
These comments, while well-intentioned, can have unintended negative consequences. “In that case, we are unintentionally exacerbating or affirming the ideal of thinness that our society tends to emphasize and idolize,” says Alvin Tran, an associate professor of public health at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, who researches eating disorders and body image. “We have to be very cautious when approaching conversations around someone’s physical appearance, especially her weight.” This is especially important when talking to people with eating disorders or serious body image issues, as such comments can make your situation worse. Compliments about a person’s weight loss or thinness perpetuate society’s ingrained dieting culture, according to Tran, and the idea that being thin is inherently good. “We tend to act [como si] we could somehow look at people and, based on their body size, determine if they’re healthy,” said Tamara Pryor, senior fellow and director of Research at ED Care, an eating disorder treatment center in Denver. “We have plus-sized people who are undernourished, as well as extremely short people who are undernourished, and people of standard size, but who are still severely affected by an eating disorder. People can’t look at them and notice.” But if you’re pleased or amazed at how someone looks, shouldn’t you give them a compliment? What’s okay and what’s not okay to say? CNN asked Pryor and Joann Hendelman, director of National Alliance for Eating Disorders clinic. The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity. CNN: What makes complimenting someone about someone’s weight loss or thinness problematic? Tamara Pryor: It’s indiscreet. Who has the right to make that judgment, especially expressing it verbally? We can look at people and judge them, but we have to keep it to ourselves. I come from the second wave of the feminist movement, where it was “my body, my business”. That is still like this. CNN: How can people who receive it feel? Pryor: If someone said to me, “My God, you look great. You’re losing weight,” I’d ask myself, “What did you think of me before? Wasn’t that acceptable?” I can imagine the pressure the recipient of the “compliment” would then feel to maintain that weight or lose more weight in order to receive more praise or be accepted. of who I am as a human being?” There are significant physical and psychological consequences that are perpetuated. Joann Hendelman: If you don’t get that compliment, then it becomes, “There’s something wrong with me. I’m not good enough.” CNN: What should people consider when they want to compliment someone’s slim appearance? Pryor: Any question related to appearance tends to be a trigger, and it’s more of a trigger for people with eating disorders. because they have a heightened sensitivity about how they are being judged based on body shape and size. My patient and her mother went to a clothing store. She is extremely underweight and anorexic, and had just start treatment. Inside the dressing room, her mother is shocked to see her daughter trying on clothes and realizing how extreme her weight loss was. An employee walks in, hearing the mother say, “Oh, honey, I’m sorry.” I’m so sorry. I had no idea your weight had dropped so much. I’m so thankful you’re in treatment now.” The clerk says, “Are you kidding me? I would die to be so skinny. How did you do it?” So the patient gets this mixed and conflicting response: She can sense her mother’s real concern, but on the other hand, she’s getting a compliment. Hendelman: I’ve met and worked with people who had cancer or other reason why their bodies were thin. For them, the compliments are very uncomfortable because they know they have this horrible disease, and yet people compliment them on the weight loss they would give anything to not have. CNN: What can you say? people instead? Pryor: Finding ways to relate that don’t include comments about their bodies. If someone needs to lose weight for health reasons, complimenting them on their tenacity in achieving that goal isn’t the best thing. Because then it’s like, “Oh What if I fail or gain the weight back?” That sounds like a lot of pressure. Instead, if someone mentions recent weight loss, ask them how they feel about the weight they lost or what caused them to do it, instead to judge you. Hendelman: Compliment her on what she’s wearing or say something like, “Your eyes are so bright today,” that kind of thing. If a friend is still so attached to thinness to get compliments, and I tell him how awesome he is, I’m supporting him focusing on his body size and I’m really not doing him a favor. CNN: How can people stop perceiving weight loss or being thin as something ideal and inherently good? Pryor: Think about what it means to be healthy and what your body can do for you, like getting the nutrients you need or gaining strength. Hendelman: If we could all accept that our bodies take us from one position to another, and that it’s not about what we look like, but what’s inside, it’s amazing how much our bodies can give us. It is important to accept who we are and our uniqueness. We have to accept our genetics. The more we accept our body, the healthier we will be. It is believing that our body knows what it is doing.