Recovering from an eating disorder is like taking the red pill in “The Matrix”: You feel free from the constraints and expectations of an image obsessed society, but most of your peers took the blue pill while stuck in this paralysis. , Vapid world. You are alone in your freedom and yearn for the company of others.
When I started offering intuitive eating advice in 2015 to recover from an eating disorder that has lasted for years, I had no idea what I was for. Much of the program is designed to rewire my mind and teach me how to trust my body, its hunger, and its desire for nutrition, not hunger. I had to learn not to diet, stop my weight, and give up comparing myself to the famous women I wanted to look like.
But what the Intuitive Eating Program also taught me is how to change my conversations about losing weight.
I was surprised when my therapist told me that I should not commend people for losing weight. No matter how obligated or pressured I felt to assert someone about changes in their body size, it was my duty to carry the torch and not contribute to a dysfunctional conversation about body image in our society.
Do not supplement someone on losing weight? This seemed counterintuitive with everything I knew. I was the girl who grew up watching clips of Oprah Winfrey’s wheel fat in a red flyer radio cart to show how much weight I lost on a liquid diet – 67 pounds. Marie Osmond hock watched flavorless, and meal deliveries so subscribers could lose weight at home. I joined Weight Watchers at the age of 13 so that I could lose the pounds that result from puberty naturally. Why has it suddenly become unacceptable to praise people for losing weight? That was all I knew. That was all I had ever seen. What should I do?
It took me years to understand the true scale of this rule and why I and others should not continue losing weight.
When someone I know loses obvious weight, I’ll see compliments on social media like, “Wow, you look great! Keep up the hard work!” Or, “I’m so proud of you for taking your health seriously!” I don’t want to be stupid, but I know that complimenting losing weight is a losing game, for a number of reasons.
First, it affirms the old narrative that smaller is better, thin is ideal, and achieving a slim is better than plus size. Obese people are unattractive, so obesity is your fault.
How do we stand up for body positivity and inclusiveness if we continue to celebrate weight loss? We can not.
And what happens if the person we’re checking regains the weight? Are we supposed to punish them? Did they fail? Were they more successful when they were younger? Is validating their self-esteem ending simply because they’ve gotten bigger?
And who says losing weight was his intention? My mom’s girlfriend was undergoing chemotherapy as the compliments on her weight started pouring in. She hasn’t told many people she is sick and receiving cancer treatment. For years, she’s been following a restricted diet to be leaner, even though it has never shown anything to keep the weight off. However, when she was dying, she was somehow seen as more beautiful and successful, as someone who had finally achieved her goals.
After giving birth to my son in 2019, I was breastfeeding, getting very little sleep, struggling in my relationships, and barely living my career. I never saw friends because I was too afraid to leave my son at home with his caregivers. Little did I realize that I had lost so much weight during this difficult time.
One morning, when I was wearing a milky dress with my eyes open, someone said to me, “Wow, you look great! I’ve dropped all the baby weight and then some of it!” I was younger, not because I wanted to be, but because I was struggling mentally and physically. I was suffering from malnutrition, sleep deprivation and depression, yet losing weight meant success for others.
I’ve received praise because it’s hard to explain in a fleeting conversation why the weight loss compliments are inappropriate. But this compliment triggered myself before a recovery that had been a weight obsessed for many years. Even in the post-recovery mindset, I felt fulfilled.
It’s also why you shouldn’t compliment anyone on losing weight: They are probably in recovery and hearing that the compliment undermines their hard work to stay there. As someone who tortured her body for years in order to be considered beautiful by her peers, I didn’t need validation. I needed a nap.
Or what if the person you’re praising is still in the midst of an eating disorder and needs help, not confirmation?
At some point in my late teens, at the height of one of my eating disorders, a teacher stopped me in the hall and told me that my fellow students were talking about how great I looked now, and that I should be proud of myself at achieving my weight goal.
What you didn’t know was that I was consuming no more than 500 calories a day, that I was chewing sugar-free gum to ward off the cravings for fainting, and I always felt like I was on the verge of fainting, and that my period stopped six months ago because I was starving. I didn’t need anyone to encourage my illness. I needed someone to save me from myself.
So before you supplement someone on losing weight, stop and ask yourself, “What am I really carrying here? Am I part of a bigger problem?” In a society that’s finally starting to advocate for body acceptance and inclusivity, it’s time to move past this type of lipophobia.
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