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Eating Disorders

Weight Comments Can Hurt

Commenting about weight can do more harm than good.

As the warm weather approaches less clothing triggers all kinds of issues relating to body image. Having the perfect body is a huge part of our culture. Many people struggle with their weight and are well intentioned in their attempts to do something about it. And with those attempts come the comments by well meaning and sometimes not so well meaning people. I work with eating disorders and can’t believe the stories people tell me about comments made to them by even strangers about their weight, whether it’s regarding weight loss or weight gain.

Particularly hurtful are the comments made to those with overweight issues. I’m referring to the comments that come disguised as concern for health--the “I’m coming from a good place” comments. People with weight problems are usually hyperaware of their bodies and have struggled with trying to lose weight as well as feeling badly about all kinds of issues relating to weight.

I’ve researched and worked with eating disorders for years and food management for some is very complicated. I hear stories about the comments or looks that people get on a bus or train when they have to struggle to sit in a seat. I’ve heard consistently that they feel judged and ridiculed and with that comes shame and hurt. Or when they move slowly or bump into someone how often insensitive comments are made. I’ve had patients who are working on their eating problems come to me with the following story time after time. They make an appointment with a medical doctor and the first words out of the doctor’s mouth is that they need to lose weight. One went to an internist with flu-like symptoms recently and that’s what was told to her, completely disregarding what she presented as symptoms.

That’s not to say that weight is sometimes a serious medical issue but the assumption should not be immediately made and kindness in the approach would help. I’m suggesting rethinking the message and a kinder, more empathic delivery.

Commenting on how thin someone looks is also a problem when oftentimes thinness is the byproduct of an eating disorder some of which have life threatening consequences. And “the you look great you lost so much weight” comment is not always well received. The implied message can be misconstrued to mean “you look so much better now and you looked not so good then when you weighed so much more.” These are the comments that ruminate with people with eating disorders and can trigger episodes of restrictive eating, binging and bizarre dieting.

So when you think that it might be helpful to bring to someone’s attention that you notice a weight difference, please reconsider saying instead, "you look great because you’re you."

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More from Maria Baratta Ph.D., L.C.S.W.
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