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Don’t comment on someone’s weight loss — even if you mean well

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Singer Adele ended 2019 with over a decade full of achievements, including 15 Grammys, millions of records sold worldwide, and welcoming a son.

But, instead of celebrating such milestones, the year ended with much media attention around her recent weight loss after she posted holiday photos online.

Many people complimented the British performer’s “transformation,” saying she looked “gorgeous” and “skinny.”

Others pointed out that praising weight loss is fat-phobic, and potentially harmful to not only the person who lost weight, but others, too.

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“Commenting on her weight really just boils all of her talent down to her appearance,” Rachael Hartley, a South Carolina-based registered dietitian told Global News.

“She was a majorly talented force before losing weight and still is.”

READ MORE: Instead of putting kids on a diet, teach them healthy habits, experts say

The interest in Adele’s physical appearance also highlights a serious societal problem experts say we need to move away from: commenting on people’s weight loss altogether.

“It’s a really peculiar way of complimenting someone because if you say, ‘Oh, you look great because you’ve lost weight,’ that implies they didn’t look good before,” said Dr. Valerie Taylor, the head of the department of psychiatry at the University of Calgary.

Why you shouldn’t comment on someone’s weight

Aside from implying thinner bodies are more attractive, Hartley says commenting on someone’s weight loss can be harmful for a number of reasons.

Oftentimes, people’s weight goes up or down without others knowing “what’s going on behind the scenes,” she says. Someone could be sick, for example, or struggling with a condition that has caused them to lose weight.

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Depression can also cause changes in weight, as can personal issues like experiencing a death in the family or divorce, Taylor adds.

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If someone is dealing with an eating disorder, complimenting their weight loss can reinforce unhealthy and dangerous behaviours, Hartley says. Even if you don’t have a diagnosed eating disorder, hearing others discuss weight loss can be triggering.

“I think about all the people who have lived so much of their life chronically dieting and trying to get back to this body size in which they feel like they were perceived to be better because of compliments other people gave,” she said.

What’s more, Taylor says people can get incredibly uncomfortable with too much attention on their bodies.

READ MORE: 4 unscientific — and sometimes dangerous — health trends of 2019

“I’ve seen lots of people in my work … get really overwhelmed with all of the comments from people who constantly mentioned their weight and weight loss,” Taylor said.

“[It can] actually derail them from getting healthy because they’re not comfortable with the focus always being about their weight.”

How to talk about weight in a healthier way

Hartley says it’s important to talk about weight and weight loss in a way that does not make people feel bad about their bodies.

If you know the context of someone’s weight loss, as in they’ve been openly trying to lose weight, it’s OK to acknowledge it in a healthy and sensitive way, Taylor says.

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They may be proud they’ve adopted new lifestyle habits and welcome conversation, but you still need to take their lead.

“[You can say], ‘You look well-rested, has something changed?’ and then let them direct the conversation,” Taylor said.

If you don’t know a person well or they’ve never discussed weight with you, it’s best to not comment on their appearance at all. Again, it comes back to not knowing the context of their weight loss.

READ MORE: 4 health myths that need to disappear in 2020

If someone comments on your weight, Taylor and Hartley both suggest simply saying “thank you” and changing the topic, if that’s what you’re most comfortable doing.

You don’t need to give any further reaction or explanation for your body.

The important thing to keep in mind?

“Weight loss, regardless of whether it’s intentional or not, is not necessarily equal to health, and it’s not necessarily equal to happiness,” Taylor said.

“It’s important to be healthy and happy — those are priorities — regardless of your weight.”

Laura.Hensley@globalnews.ca