Almost everyone has tried to drop pounds at some point, whether it's post-baby, to get healthier or for a special event like a wedding or a reunion. But even if you've dabbled in diets yourself, that doesn't mean you should comment on other people's efforts. "You may think you're being supportive, but weight loss can be an emotionally charged topic for many people," says Michael R Lowe, PhD, professor of psychology at Drexel University and research advisor to Weight Watchers. "Offering unsolicited advice is seldom welcome." Here's what not to say to anyone trying to lose weight.
"But I made this treat just for you!"
This puts your friend or family member in an awkward position: She may not want to hurt your feelings if you prepared one of her favorite dishes, but she doesn't want to be pressured to eat. This comment can also make someone feel as if you're trying to sabotage her hard work. "The danger with pushing food is that a temporary lapse can turn into a permanent lapse," explains Brooke Bailer, PhD, clinical psychologist at the Center for Weight and Eating Disorders at the University of Pennsylvania. It's fine to ask, "Is there anything else I can get for you instead?" but don't insist that she indulge.
"Just have one bite!" or
"One little piece won't hurt!"
As a person learns to make smarter food choices, it can be easy to derail her. "'One little piece' in the afternoon may lead to an evening of poor choices," says Jen Emmert, who blogs about her nearly 100-pound weight loss at Prior Fat Girl. "People who are fighting to be healthier need to be vigilant all the time." Like the first comment, this may seem innocuous, but it could push her into a lapse she'll regret, which certainly doesn't help her. Skip this kind of talk, and let her find her own balance.
"Let's celebrate by going out to dinner!"
Not all social events have to involve food. If you know someone is trying to lose weight, "offer an open-ended suggestion," suggests Edward Abramson, PhD, clinical psychologist and author of It's NOT Just Baby Fat: 10 Steps to Help Your Child to a Healthy Weight. "Ask 'what should we do to celebrate?' and let her decide." There are countless ways to spend time together without eating. Try a movie, play, museum visit, trip to the park or pedicure.
"Are you sure you should eat that?"
"When the waitress brought a sundae for me to share with the table on my birthday, a family member suggested I wait for fruit at home instead," says Sarah Krise of Anthem, Arizona, who's lost 50 pounds in the last six months. "It's annoying to be told how to eat." While reminders may be attempts to help, "they treat the person like a child, which no adult enjoys," says Lowe. Just hold your tongue under these circumstances, even if you think your fellow diner is making a mistake.
"You don't need to diet.
You look fine the way you are."
Perhaps you're trying to reassure your pal that she's attractive at her current size. Just remember: "Weight-loss goals aren't always about looks," notes Jennifer Swafford, who blogs about her nearly 100-pound weight loss at It Sux to Be Fat. "Maybe she's battling high blood pressure or diabetes. She needs encouragement, not your opinion." While it's true that a person who's losing weight may be excited when she's making progress, refrain from remarking on her appearance. Instead, focus on the change in her behavior, says Bailer. Ask something like, "How are you doing it?" or "What changes have you made?"
"Have you thought about trying the XYZ diet? Or supplements? Or surgery?"
"There are many different ways to lose weight successfully; it's about individual preferences," says Bailer. "Questioning a person's choice may make her second-guess herself, which isn't helpful." Plus, no matter how you word it, the implicit message is insulting, says Abramson. "These questions make it sound as if you know more than she does or that she isn't capable of making her own decisions." A better way to offer encouragement: Ask how you can support her. And be sure to let her make the suggestions; again, no one wants to be told when or what to eat.
"Dieters aren't any fun" or
"Why can't you live a little?"
"Being healthy is about living," says Emmert. "It's what might help a person live longer." Besides, a person trying to lose weight probably doesn't expect you to skip seconds or dessert every time you're together, so her restraint shouldn't ruin your good time. It's still smart to consider food-free activities you can do together, whether it's biking, scrapbooking or taking a day trip.
"I tried that diet and gained
back all the weight."
You accomplish nothing with a gloomy comment like this. "Just because you couldn't keep the weight off doesn't mean your friend or family member can't," says Emmert. "Words are powerful. Build the person up; don't break her down." The bottom line: The old adage your mom told you holds true. "If you can't say something nice, say nothing at all," says Lowe.