Congratulating someone on weight loss can seem harmless and even encouraging, but it’s really time we stopped commenting on other people’s bodies altogether. Sometimes, seemingly positive comments about someone's size can do more harm than good, as you can never really know what someone's going through. Medication changes, mood shifts, and illnesses can cause people to drop sizes. However, even if someone is working out more and eating better to become healthier, and weight loss is just a byproduct, praising them just for the way their body looks is inappropriate. Focusing on weight loss over health and happiness when complimenting someone for losing weight is problematic because it can reinforce a lot of really toxic, fat phobic ideology, and even lead to unhealthy fixations on body size. I know, because that's what happened to me.
Our society correlates weight loss with health, but being thinner doesn’t automatically equate to being healthier. You simply can't tell how someone's feeling or how healthy they are just by looking at them. Being put on the wrong dose of amphetamines once caused me to lose a huge amount of weight in a really short amount of time. Everyone in my life assumed I was getting healthier, but the opposite was actually true; I felt absolutely terrible. People praised me for my weight loss, and all the congratulations I received were nothing but completely detrimental to my mental health. All the congratulations even led me to develop disordered eating.
I have ADHD, and about five years ago, my then-psychiatrist put me on a dose of amphetamines that was way too high for me.
Don't get me wrong; Adderall has some positive benefits. I'm still on it to this day, and I really benefit from it. However, I was initially put on a really high dose that was way too much for me to handle. Being on such a high dose of Adderall right out of the gate caused me to completely lose my appetite, develop chronic insomnia, and made me so energetic that I worked out twice a day just to try to release some energy and calm down. I'd always been between a size 20 and 24, but I lost an enormous amount of weight within the span of about three months. At my smallest, I was wearing size 12 jeans.
Everyone in my life kept congratulating me on my weight loss, but I was absolutely miserable. I was frequently dizzy and nauseous, and I couldn’t sleep more than an hour or two per night, if I managed to sleep at all. I only ate a meal every two days or so, my hair started falling out, and I developed erratic mood swings. When I told my then-psychiatrist how poorly I was functioning during our monthly meetings, he'd look me over and tell me to “keep it up!” He said I’d get used to the side effects and keep losing weight. He didn't seem to care about how awful I felt. He ignored my concerns and was completely focused on my weight loss, apparently using it as the only barometer to judge how well the amphetamines were working for me.
I felt like I was going through life in a stupor.
Not one of my friends, family members, or coworkers seemed alarmed by my rapid weight loss or any of the obvious signs that I wasn’t OK. All the focus was on my appearance, and I quickly became addicted to the constant praise I was receiving. Before long, I developed disordered eating. I started feeling guilty and disappointed in myself for eating anything at all. Soon, every skipped meal felt like a victory.
I ended up losing my insurance and couldn’t afford psychiatric visits and medication any longer, which is what brought me out of my downward spiral. As I slowly ran out of Adderall, I started getting decent sleep. My appetite returned and I started eating semi-regular meals again. The dizziness stopped, my mood improved, and my hair stopped falling out after a while. I felt like I was waking up from a dream. After a month or so, I could think clearly and was functioning again.
With the return of my happiness came the return of my weight.
Despite feeling better than I’d felt in months, everyone in my life was disappointed in me for gaining the weight back. I could see it in their eyes, but a lot of them even said it outright. “You were doing so well,” people would say, visibly forlorn. In truth, I hadn’t been doing well at all, but all they bothered to notice was my shrinking frame.
Now, I'm seeing a different psychiatrist, and he has me on the correct amphetamine dose to manage my ADHD. I'm doing really well. I still sometimes feel that old tendency toward disordered eating creeping up on me, especially when people comment on my body. Every now and then, I lose a bit of weight, due to chronic illness, and the the praise starts. This sometimes triggers episodes of disordered eating. On the flip side, I frequently receive insults for the way I look on social media. These comments get to me every now and then, and I start feeling guilty for eating meals again. I have to work really hard to nip these invasive, toxic thoughts in the bud. I wish people would stop commenting on my weight altogether. I am so much more than my size.
There are so many things you can compliment people on without making it all about their size. It's possible to be supportive and encouraging without reducing people to the way they look. If they're feeling great, comment on how happy they seem. If their moods have improved, tell them they're glowing. Commenting on people's bodies at all is something that needs to become a collective, firm no in our society. Please remember, happiness comes in all shapes and sizes.