What Not to Say to Someone Who’s Trying to Lose Weight

Featured Article, News and Advice, Weight Loss, Weight Loss Plans
on June 12, 2013
How to encourage someone trying to lose weight.

Spry editor Lisa Delaney is one of the rare souls who know what it’s like to be an “after.” This journalist and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl shed 70 pounds—and six dress sizes–and has kept it off for 20 years. She answers your questions here each week.

DEAR FORMER FAT GIRL: My wife wants to lose weight and has started exercising and cutting calories. I want to support her, but it seems like everything I say backfires. What should I do?—Bill

DEAR BILL: If your wife is anything like I was when I started Weight Watchers, you’re smart to tread lightly. I’m pretty cranky under normal circumstances, but when my stomach’s empty, watch out—my vitriol would make Nancy Grace look positively serene.

But enough about me. I don’t have to tell you that weight is a touchy subject even among the most confident people. Some of us, though, are super-sensitive, and can find the most negative angle in the most innocuous comment. I can certainly list some language to avoid, but know that this is a process as well for your wife—part of her journey is to learn to become less sensitive and more accepting, to learn that others most likely view her more kindly than she does. It’s likely that her weight is a central focus for her, and when you’re in that mindset, it’s hard to understand that the same is not true for other people. Anyway, here are some no-no quips and comments—some obvious, some less so.

How did your weigh-in go? Asking about the finer points of a woman’s weight loss program or progress is really tricky. Yes, good spouses show interest in the other’s pursuits and hobbies, but weight is a very personal matter. Asking for the dirty diet details may make it look like you’re nagging or checking up on her. Take her lead—if she volunteers info, go with it. But don’t bring it up yourself.

The pounds must be melting off! This is meant as a positive expression of admiration for your wife’s hard work, right? But that’s exactly not how it comes off. It sounds like you’re saying that dropping the weight is effortless, when she is working hard—both outwardly and inwardly—to stay on track. Pounds don’t MELT off, mister. Don’t you forget that.

Are you sure you should be eating that?/Weren’t you supposed to work out today? Ooooh. I can’t tell you how many times I heard this.  No one likes a nag. You have, really, no idea what choices your wife is making over the course of a day—that burger or those fries or that sliver of pie may be something she’s been working toward all week; or that rest day might be prelude to a really tough workout the next day. It’s none of your (or anyone else’s) business. Be confident that she knows what she’s doing—that’s the best way to support her.
I had a friend who did diet X/workout Y. She lost a ton, but gained it all back. This may seem like a super-obvious no-no, but I have also heard this many times. Frankly, it’s one of the reasons why I tell people to keep their plans a secret. Why invite comments that call into question the program you’ve been so diligently following? Unless you think your wife is doing something dangerous, keep your anecdotes to yourself. If the plan she’s chosen doesn’t work for her, for whatever reason, her efforts won’t be wasted. Even if a diet or fitness program doesn’t give us the results we want, we still learn valuable lessons that will help us find one that will.

Come on—you can have a small piece, can’t you? Never. NEVER let these words pass your lips. You have no idea how complicated and all-consuming the inner conversation in your wife’s head is. It’s like the old devil on one shoulder and angel on another. She needs your help to stay strong, not your encouragement to cave. If there’s a treat on the table, trust me—in her head, she’s all over it. Don’t tip the balance; keep mum.

I like you with some weight on you. Argh. My father-in-law, who I love, said this a few times early in my marriage. I let it pass—having been at a healthy weight for more than 20 years, I don’t get worked up about this stuff anymore. But this kind of comment could be damaging to someone who’s trying to lose. So, what are you trying to say—you won’t like her if she loses weight? It’s not YOUR body, it’s hers. Butt out!

You look so skinny! We need to all agree that the word “skinny” is not a compliment. Skinny is not attractive—nor is it HEALTHY, more importantly. That emphasis on skinny could in turns be discouraging or fuel an unhealthy obsession to lose more, more, more at the cost of your wife’s well-being. Tell her how fit she looks. Tell her how strong she is. Tell her you’re proud of her running or cycling or whatever. Tell her you love how much energy she has. Don’t applaud her because she’s skinny.

Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and Spryliving.com. Ask her your question here.