How to respond to others’ comments about your health choices, weight, and body
In a world that is so consumed with how people look, it seems impossible to avoid commentary or conversations about the body. Whether you’re starting a health journey, have been on one for some time, or are moving through life just as you are, it seems that someone always has advice to give or a comment to make pertaining to weight, diet, and/or body.
Navigating conversations around food and your body with yourself is something that comes with its own set of challenges. But, navigating these conversations with others is a whole other story. This is especially true of those in our lives who feel the need to share their opinions on what you eat, what you look like, and what they think you should or shouldn’t do. More often than not, people “mean well,” and think they are being supportive. Other times, people say things without thinking or being considerate of others. And sometimes, people are just downright rude and insensitive.
Try not to get upset or frustrated. Remember this: what people say or do says WAY more about them than it does about you. You do NOT owe anyone an explanation or justification as to why you do the things you do. Luckily, there are certain things you can do to create stronger boundaries with others and better respond to unsolicited comments about your weight, body, and diet.
Create and honor your boundaries
Create boundaries around food and imagine conversations. When you set boundaries for yourself and express them to others, you show others how you expect to be treated. Boundaries you set are also a practice of self-love. Committing to that practice will help you not only navigate through the social situations but also remain consistent and in power of your inner peace and well being.
Some of the most common statements people often make are either an “observation” about the food choices you are making, be it to choose more greens over potato salad, or choosing potato salad over some “healthier” options. And then there are those comments about how you have either lost weight, or gained weight, or had some change in your body they “can’t quite put a finger on.”
“It’s the holidays — enjoy yourself, eat more!”
When you are adhering to a plan to make healthier-for-you choices, others around you tend to notice and comment on “the diet,” often followed with unwanted commentary. Here are some things you might hear, and what you can say instead of tolerating it or getting upset over it.
If they say…
"Oh, come on it's just one more drink," "Nothing will happen if you have some more," or "It's a special event, just eat what you want, you'll start again Monday."
"I might have some later, thank you" (this is to divert attention), "No, thank you, I'm good with what I have. I'm sure it's delicious, enjoy!" or (when they’re being especially pushy), "Thank you. I am really happy with my current choices, and your support means a lot to me."
"You're insulting me by not eating this."
This can sometimes happen with family and friends, either overtly or subtly. They took the time to prepare food for you, and feel you have an obligation to eat it, whether you want to or not. If one of your loved ones feels offended or insulted by you turning down food, here are a few things you can say.
If they say…
“I made this just for you and now you won’t eat it?”, or, “Is there something wrong with my cooking?”
“I do not mean to offend you, and I appreciate you offering me (item), but right now this is not something I will eat. I am enjoying our time together, and am grateful to be here,” or, “Thank you, I am very grateful for this meal, and am good with what I have right now. Maybe I’ll have some more later.”
Then, redirect the conversation to something else.
“Should you be eating that?”
Then there are those people that come out of nowhere and ask you dumb questions when all you want to do is enjoy yourself without worrying about what’s on your plate.
If they say…
“Are you going to eat all that?” or “Well someone is hungry, huh?”
“I can eat whatever I want, and hope you do too.” Then smile, and walk away or change the topic.
If they say…
“I heard that you should avoid eating X if you’re trying to lose weight.” or “You know what you should eat is…”
“I appreciate your perspective, and I’m glad that you are making choices that you know are best for you,” or, “Thank you, but I am very happy with this meal and would appreciate it if we didn’t discuss dieting tips today. Maybe we can talk about this another time.”
“You look great! Have you lost some weight?”
It is very common that when people see someone they haven’t seen in a while, they make a statement about how they look—and very often mean it is a compliment. Without giving it much thought, they might say things like, “You lost some weight, it looks good on you!” Doesn’t sound terrible, and it’s a compliment...except it isn’t.
The thing is, we never know the circumstances of someone else’s weight loss. Maybe they have been under a significant amount of stress, or have been ill, or are experiencing depression. There are many ways to compliment someone without mentioning weight (loss or gain) or their image. Unless you know for a fact the person you’re speaking to has been actively putting in work and effort to make changes and developing a new lifestyle, comments about a person’s body might be a sensitive and even triggering topic.
If you have experienced changes in your body due to stress or difficulties, you owe it to yourself to not engage in the conversation if you don’t want to. You do not owe anyone an explanation. Here are some positive ways to respond to these types of comments.
If they say…
“Have you lost/gained weight? You look great!”
“Thanks, but I would appreciate it if you did not make comments about my body.”
If they say…
“Jeez, I was just giving you a compliment!”
“I realize that but you do not know the circumstances of this change, and it would be helpful if you refrained from this topic. Thank you.”
And if you have been actively working on health, and weight loss or gain was part of the process, you can say…
“Thank you, I am very proud of my efforts.”
Sometimes, comments turn into comparison, and what started off as a compliment becomes an awkward exchange.
If they say...
"Luckily, I don't have that problem—I don't need to diet, or exercise," or, “I just eat and drink what I want, who cares?”
"As long as you are doing things to keep you healthy!" Or, "Diet is a way we eat, and exercise is important for our overall health, not just to burn off calories."
If they say…
“I wish I could…(do what you did)” or “Yeah, I need to lose/gain some weight too…tell me how you did it!”
“Every person is different, and they should do what feels best for them, or find someone who can help them get there.”
Unfortunately, not all exchanges come from a well-meaning place. Some people go out of their way to say rude and nasty things or are simply inconsiderate of how they say things. Instead of a well-meaning compliment, their views are expressed as a judgment.
If they say...
“You lost/gained more weight! You should really stop.”
“I am glad to see you and would love to chat and catch up, but would appreciate it if you didn’t comment on my body or make my body the topic of conversation.”
It is your right to stop and remove yourself from a conversation that makes you feel like your request or boundary isn’t respected.
Remember, it’s no one’s business but your own
What you choose to eat and how you look is no one’s business. You might find that you often allow certain things to fly and tolerate temporary exchanges, as uncomfortable as they may be, so as to not upset the other person, or cause a confrontation. But the fact of the matter is the only person who should feel any type of way about your body is YOU. If what you are doing makes you feel good, then do it. Don’t do it for anyone else’s validation, expectation, or approval. You get to decide what you put on your plate. Just like you get to decide whether you want to have a conversation about your body with other people.
Family members and friends don’t always realize that their behavior and words have an impact on you, even if they mean well. It is your responsibility to let them know what is or isn’t appropriate. This, like everything else, takes practice.
Here are a few things to remember:
- Know that other people's opinions are not your truths
- Other's issues around the food you eat are their projections of their own challenges (that is not your problem to solve)
- Know that you do NOT need to justify or explain your choice to eat or not to eat something
All comments about your body, whether phrased as praise for losing weight or judgment for gaining weight, should be responded to accordingly.
Always try to see yourself and others through a lens of love. Try to practice compassion and understanding, even in times when it is most difficult —not because you owe anything to them, but because you owe it to yourself.
Aleks Zavunova is a Holistic Behavior Therapist and Wellness Coach. She uses principles of human learning and behavior modification to help people develop sustainable skills and habits to lead healthier and happier lives. Aleks combines cognitive behavior psychology and nutrition science to help her clients begin to address maladaptive and self-destructive patterns and habits, build self-esteem, confidence, and self-love, by systematically improving their relationship with food. She strongly believes that our relationship with food greatly correlates with our relationship with the self, our emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing, as well as our relationships with others.
You can contact her on Instagram @aleks.zavlunova