“A friend in need is a friend indeed,” especially when that friend is there for you while you’re trying to lose weight.
When you’re trying to eat healthy, get fit, and lose weight, it requires fundamental lifestyle changes, so being around people who believe in a “new you” is key. They understand that they’re meant to be a cheerleader (not a coach), because even the most well-intentioned comment can sound dismissive or shaming.
We asked Jennifer Silvershein, a New York–based therapist, for tips on what to say and what NOT to say to a friend or family member who’s trying to lose weight.
However, if you think your friend or loved one may be struggling with a more serious eating issue, do speak up — in a supportive way. To find out more about eating disorders, visit the National Eating Disorder Association.
Don’t say: But you’re so skinny!
Do say: I support you and your goals.
It’s best to butt out when it comes to your friend’s butt — and the rest of their body. “But you’re so skinny!” isn’t necessarily a compliment. It isn’t your business whether you think your friend should lose weight or not; they may be doing it for reasons that have nothing to do with how they look. And what you think is a compliment can actually backfire: “It doesn’t feel good to have people tell you what you’re doing is wrong,” Silvershein explains.
It can be a big decision for someone to finally make the move to start losing weight, so help support your friend in actions and words.
Don’t say: But it’s more fun when you’re not eating healthy!
Do say: Your new habits are a good influence on me, thanks!
Sure, it’s more fun to dive head-first into a pile of burgers and fries with a bunch of friends. But a comment about “fun” doesn’t demonstrate consideration for how “not fun” it might feel for someone whose eating plan doesn’t include cheese fries.
This is a chance to be selfless and support your friend or partner as they work on becoming their best self. Their body, their choice; your body, your choice. And if you choose to ditch the cheese fries too, then everyone wins — you’re helping your loved one stay on track and you benefit from noshing on something healthier!
Don’t say: Let’s order dessert. This can be our “cheat meal.”
Do say: Why don’t we treat ourselves to a [non-food treat]?
Cheat meals are fine if you’re on a solid nutrition plan, but the person who’s on the plan should be the one to decide when that cheat meal happens. It can be hard for some people to stick to their guns when treats are dangled in front of them, so don’t create a situation where they might be tempted to go off the rails.
“Many people are ‘black and white’ thinkers,” says Silvershein “Once they go against what they were planning to do, they may feel as though they need to throw away the progress.”
Think of non-food options as a treat — for both of you. A shopping trip or day at the beach can take the focus off something tempting and re-frames a “cheat” as a “reward” for eating healthy.
Don’t say: Why don’t you try this [insert diet] instead?
Do say: I’ve read about different diets. Why this one?
There are hundreds (and hundreds) of diets because there are millions (and millions) of people out there who are trying to lose weight. Instead of handing out unsolicited advice, assume that your friend has done their research and has found the program that fits their goals.
Yes, it’s OK to ask about their decision — when invited. So, they want to be a vegan? Awesome. They want to be a vegan who also eats steak? Also awesome.
“Focus on shying away from questions that can be seen as judgmental. Coming from a place of support and concern can assist a friend in feeling heard rather than judged,” says Silvershein.
Don’t say: Are you sure you want to eat that?
Do say: Nothing. Be a “silent” supporter — for now.
It can be brave to share goals (especially ones about weight loss) because in the end, it’s a conversation about self-evaluation. But when you start making “food police” comments, you could be crossing the boundary from cheerleader to critic.
In these situations, it’s best to say nothing, and ask about your friend’s progress on another occasion, so they don’t feel like they’re being judged. This is a chance to have a conversation where your friend can choose to share (or not to share) the details.
Questions should be non-aggressive — and non-specific. Silvershein advises, “For example, just as you wouldn’t want a friend asking what your scale says or what your pant size is, you don’t need specifics.” The reason for these conversations is to discover how you can help your friend with their goal.
Don’t say: “You look better at your new weight.”
Do say: “You always look great. How do you feel now?”
Chances are, your friend has heard this “compliment” before, probably in the form of something like, “I didn’t recognize you — wow!” Compliments like these can be a double-edged sword that can challenge anyone’s self-esteem and self-worth.
It’s important that your friend doesn’t feel like they’re being “graded” or reduced to their appearance. Silvershein explains, “It’s like when someone breaks up with her boyfriend and gets back together with him. You would hate to tell a friend that she looks much better now in case she puts the weight back on.”
Instead, put the focus on the bigger picture and talk about how they’re adjusting to their new lifestyle as a whole.
Don’t say: What’s your secret?
Do say: I’m so proud of you and what you’ve done.
There’s no “secret” to losing weight. It requires patience, consistency, and hard work. It can be hard to establish healthy habits, so celebrate your friend’s efforts — don’t diminish them. “Validation enables a closer connection. By stating how aware you are of her hard work, it can encourage someone to be more open and proud of her achievements,” Silvershein says.
Don’t say: See? Isn’t it better to be healthier?
Do say: What are some of the benefits of your experience?
This is a well-intentioned question, but it can come off as smug and semi-condescending — basically, it’s “I told you so.” First, it assumes that one person is a “pro” when it comes to healthier habits. Second, it compares and contrasts two people who have different bodies, different nutritional needs, and different goals.
The takeaway: Remember that your friend or loved one’s journey to lose weight and get healthy isn’t about you. It’s about being there for them in a way that makes them feel supported and encouraged to keep pushing forward.