10 Things Not to Say to a Dieter

Common Phrases That Cause Harm

diet insults

Have you ever been on the receiving end of a hurtful comment? In most cases, the person who insults you doesn't mean to cause harm. But that usually doesn't matter. The comment is etched in your memory for years to come.

If someone you know is trying to lose weight, thoughtless words can inflict serious harm - and it can even derail their diet.  Weight loss is an emotional, physical and social struggle. Dieters need every ounce of support they can get. So if someone you know is trying to slim down, keep these common phrases to yourself.

“But you don’t look fat”

Do I look fat?
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If someone chooses to share the fact that they are trying to lose weight, it is not an invitation for your commentary on the way that they look. They may feel good about their appearance, but want to change their eating and exercise habits for health reasons.

In addition, it’s easy for comments about someone’s appearance to come out wrong, especially if you use the word “fat.” The f word is loaded with meaning for some people and for others it’s just a word. Avoid the topic of personal appearance – and the word “fat,” altogether.

“Here’s my advice…”

Unwanted diet advice
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When I asked my Facebook followers for input about this story, many dieters said that "unwanted advice" topped their list of things to avoid. One reader said, “if someone asks for advice, give it once and only once. If no advice is requested, say nothing."

“You don’t need to lose weight”

do I need to lose weight?
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Unless they specifically ask you, it’s not necessary for you to comment on the validity of your friend's decision to diet. You might have good intentions, but your comment could also be viewed as sabotage. Leave the decision-making to the person who is making the change. Offer support and encouragement instead.

“You're dieting again?”

On a diet again?
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Any comment that references a previous attempt to lose weight is a bad idea. Why? Because the dieter may view those previous experiences as failures. A better option is to compliment your friend on his/her strong commitment to their health.

“Here's what worked for me”

blah blah blah
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Many times, friends ask each other for weight loss advice or tips. If that is the case, then by all means, provide your input. But if your friend doesn't specifically ask you about your diet experience then keep your mouth shut. Your dieting friend is smart enough to choose her own weight loss plan or workout program.

In addition, the decision about which diet is best or which workout program works better, is based on a number of personal factors including lifestyle, dieting history, and access to services. What worked for you may not work for your friend.

“Can't you just be happy the way you are?”

woman with glasses
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A decision to go on a diet is not a proclamation that you hate your body or live an unhappy life. It is simply a decision to lose weight. That’s all. Very few people, whether they are dieting or not, would invite an armchair analysis of their personal happiness or satisfaction, so don’t provide one.

“You just need to be more disciplined”

diet discipline
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Weight loss is about more than discipline and willpower. Planning strategies can certainly help a dieter make better food decisions during the day and complete regular workouts, but if discipline alone was the key to weight loss, then a lot more people would be skinny.

There are physical, medical and emotional components to losing weight. Rather than telling your friend what they need, try asking questions about what they need, instead. Say, “what can I do to help?” or “is there any way that I can support you?”

"I thought you were on a diet”

diet police
Steve Ross

Unless you have a badge and a uniform, you are not the food police. It's not your job to comment if your friend eats a food that you don't agree with. Every diet is different and every eating plan allows for different foods and portions. None of us has the right or the expertise to comment on someone else’s eating behavior. If you are really trying to be supportive, then fill your own plate with healthy food and enjoy your own diet-friendly meal.

“Just one (insert food) won’t hurt.”

don't tempt dieters
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This phrase is usually accompanied by “I made it just for you!” or “Come on, live a little!” The comments are often made in a situation where the dieter’s friends are indulging or participating in food-centered activities like eating out or having a dinner party.

Sometimes, a decision to lose weight affects the dieter’s friends and family more than it affects the dieter. Social activities that used to revolve around food have to change because one person has made the decision to eat less or to eat different food. This can wreak havoc on relationships.

Remember that your friend’s decision to lose weight isn't a decision to lose you as a friend. The best thing you can do is to support her decision and develop creative ways to continue the the friendship without involving food.


yelling at dieter
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You may be a fan of The Biggest Loser, where coaches and trainers yell at their obese clients to get them to complete workouts and lose weight, but I wouldn’t recommend trying this strategy at home. In an interview for the IDEA Fitness Journal, gym owner Diane Raymond says that the tactic doesn’t work. “Making a person feel badly about his or her effort, mental/emotional status or progress is not a strong motivator,” she says.

If you want to support your loved one as they try to lose weight, your best bet is simply to ask how you can help. And if that doesn’t work, one weight loss forum participant summed up the best advice: “if you can't be kind, or if you are uncomfortable, then say nothing.”

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