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3 Tips for Avoiding the Trap of Weight Loss Compliments

A few months ago I began typing up old journal entries, starting with ones from almost 20 years ago. (I’d already typed up the ones before that.) I’m now in early 2002, when I’d probably lost around 75 pounds, and several entries reminded me of something I’d forgotten that often comes with weight loss.


I couldn’t go anywhere without someone commenting on my weight loss and how good I looked. Even walking down the street, a woman I didn’t know but who had seen me out walking over the past year stopped me to say how good I looked.

Compliments probably aren’t a direct reason for people to lose weight, but they can become rather addictive. This causes problems for a couple of reasons:

· Once you stop losing weight, the compliments stop too, and you might get depressed and use that as a reason to overeat

· It keeps the focus on weight and appearance

Plus, this can backfire for those whose weight loss is due to medical reasons. A former coworker of mine was very sick at one point and lost a lot of weight in a short amount of time because she could hardly eat anything.

People kept telling her how great she looked, and she got really upset because she didn’t feel great, but the comments made it seem like her appearance mattered more than her health.

I started wondering if there was a way around this, to avoid the trap of those compliments and keeping the focus on weight. I came up with a few ideas.

Focus on how you feel

The first suggestion relates to what my former coworker experienced. Instead of thinking about numbers on the scale, focus on how you feel.

Now I’ll admit that it can be easy to equate being thin with feeling better because some of the things that make you feel better – such as regular physical activity and eating balanced meals – are things many of us do in an effort to become thin.

But in reality, it’s your actions that often impact how you feel more than your actual weight.

For example, back in early 2002, I still weighed around 185 pounds, and since I wasn’t a bodybuilder, that qualified me as being significantly overweight. Most people who didn’t know me probably looked at me and thought I overate a lot and was a couch potato.

I felt quite good, though. I went for walks of one to two miles just about every day, I was generally mindful about what I ate, and I had plenty of energy for the things I wanted to do. (In fact, looking back, I’m amazed at how much energy I had!)

The only times I didn’t feel good were when I wasn’t being very mindful and ended up having too much food that didn’t sit well with me. For example, over two days, I had:

· Pizza for lunch since work provided it (normally I brought my lunch)

· Chinese food that night for a special occasion with my family

· Cake at work the following day for someone’s going-away party

As I wrote in my journal on the second day, “When I got home, my stomach felt icky from too many days of too much food, so I cleaned for an hour, and being moderately active did help.”

The key is that I was focused on how I felt, rather than feeling bad about overeating, and I took steps to help me feel better.

Believe in yourself

Another reason most of us like compliments is because they provide external validation. It’s nice to have your efforts noticed and to know that people are thinking well of you.

That’s all fine unless that external validation is your driving force. If your whole reason for acting a certain way or trying to change yourself is only to make someone else happy, it’s usually going to backfire.

You’ll do much better if you believe in yourself and what you’re doing. If you want to change so that you’ll feel better physically and/or mentally, then keep your focus on that. If you can, the compliments are nice to have, but they’re not as significant.

In my case, I found it rather ironic that my grandmother complimented me a lot on my weight loss and told a lot of people that she was proud of me for it. It was ironic because for a long time I would have been happy to hear her praise me for anything – my grades, my flute playing, my writing – rather than having a negative focus on my weight. But when she finally did compliment me, since it was still about weight, it was kind of nice but it also rang hollow to me.

Find other reasons for compliments

Finally, see if you can look for a reason to compliment someone that isn’t about their weight.

You could tell someone they have a nice smile. Or maybe that their outfit brings out the color of their eyes, or you like their new hairstyle.

Even better, go beyond appearance. If someone was kind to your or went out of their way to help you, tell them how much you appreciate their being a kind and thoughtful person. Or once we can start hugging again, maybe tell someone if they give really good hugs (something I still remember about my mom).

This will likely make the other person feel good, and it will remind you that there’s more to focus on than weight.

Don’t get overly attached to weight-related compliments

Getting compliments feels nice, but if you get too attached to ones related to your weight, you’ll feel bereft when they stop, and you’ll stay focused on the weight.

Instead, think about how you feel, make changes for yourself, and look for other ways to compliment someone. That will help you work toward the goal of feeling good, rather than being good, and you’ll be happier all around.


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