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The Surprising Factor That Could Lead to Weight Loss Sabotage

The number on the scale is slowly but steadily heading in the downward direction. Your pants are no longer snug—in fact, they even feel a bit loose. Your energy levels are up. You are feeling great, savoring the positive results of your hard work.

Soon, the compliments start coming in. Your friends, family and co-workers are noticing the changes, and commenting: "You look great!" "You've lost so much weight; you look like a new person!"

What you assumed would make you proud is beginning to leave an uncomfortable feeling in your gut. Rather than being grateful or thrilled by the attention, you are actually embarrassed, uncomfortable and even a bit angry.

In response to those comments, you might have some negative thoughts running through your head:
  • "If I look great now, how badly did I look before?"
  • "I haven't lost that much weight, and I have so much more to lose. They don't really mean it."
  • "I don't want to look like a new person. I just want to look healthier!"
Fast forward a bit, and before you even realize what is happening, you have gained back a couple of pounds. You recognize that you've become a bit sloppy with your new healthy habits. You aren't too worried—you can get back on track. And then a few more pounds creep up. You begin to feel discouraged, deflated and frustrated. That quiet whisper in your mind is saying, "I knew I couldn't do this. I am destined to be overweight forever!"

What happened? Why is it every time you take enough off that others start noticing, you begin to put the weight right back on?

The Compliment Conundrum

Believe it or not, compliments about your weight loss can lead you toward self-sabotaging behavior.

Sadly, I have heard a version of this scenario over and over again during my years of weight-loss coaching. For some, something about being complimented by others on weight loss is detrimental, rather than helpful.

While exploring this phenomenon with many clients and my weight-loss-coaching groups, a few patterns begin to emerge. Since awareness is the first step towards change, it is important that you recognize if these emotions are stirred up for you.

Many feel very uncomfortable having attention called toward their bodies. Whether it is unwanted attention from the opposite sex, not liking to be the center of attention or insecurity as to the intention of the comments, well-meaning comments do not necessarily help.

You may feel judged. Rather than being admired for your attributes as a person, you are feeling affirmed based only on your physical body.

It can feel deeply inappropriate for someone to comment on your body, especially in the workplace or if the comment is coming from someone with whom you do not have a close relationship.

Weight-loss compliments often feel like back-handed compliments. Instead of being proud or happy, you end up thinking, "I must have really looked bad before!" The good intentions of the commenter are erased by feelings of insecurity and shame over your past self.

Flattery for weight loss may evoke enormous stress and pressure. You may worry about being embarrassed if you gain some weight back or, even worse, end up back where you started.

Given the frail nature of such a dramatic lifestyle change, it's no wonder that seemingly kind comments can often lead to self-sabotaging weight-loss behaviors. When anyone is made to feel uncomfortable, judged, stressed or pressured, and is the recipient of what may feel like back-handed compliments or inappropriate comments, eventually, they are going to feel angry.

Whether conscious or not, that anger leads to sentiments such as, "How dare they? I'll show them! I am more than just my body, and I'll prove it. I'll be successful in all I do despite my physical size." Couple that with the tendency for some who struggle with weight gain to eat to soothe negative emotions, and is it any wonder that compliments can lead you back to the unhealthy habits you have been working so hard to change?

When I discuss this with clients working on losing weight, I hear many variations as to why these comments are hard to listen to. The difficulty often stems from the myriad of intentions behind those remarks. While most are truly genuine, it isn't always easy to know where they are coming from or how you'll react.

Take Charge of the Conversation

While some enjoy compliments as an acknowledgment of their hard work, perseverance and determination, others might recognize that praise for your weight loss inevitably leads to feeling discomfort to the point of self-sabotage. If this sounds like you, don't despair—just being aware can stop compliments from throwing you off track.

Recognize that your feelings and emotions are normal. Notice them and accept them. The mere fact that you acknowledge compliments can lead to lead to self-sabotaging behaviors can be enough to stop you from falling into the trap.

Mindfulness can play a huge role in helping you be successful. Just because you have a thought that makes you feel uncomfortable or upset doesn't mean you have to act on it. Practice taking a deep breath before reaching for food and ask yourself, "Am I truly hungry?" Perhaps it is anger, embarrassment or discomfort that has you wanting to eat, not the need to fuel yourself because it is an appropriate time to partake in a meal or snack.

Whether intentional or not, most form opinions based on how others look. Although we profess that our bodies should be off limits to judgment, we all know that is not the case. You will do better recognizing that this is human nature, not a direct stab at you personally. One of my clients, for example, realized that part of that knee-jerk reaction—I am being judged—stemmed from the enormous self-judgment with which she struggled. Learning to be kind to herself and increase her self-compassion allowed weight-loss compliments to no longer have such power over her.

Keep your goals in mind and do not allow others to derail them. If your frustration at comments about your body leads you to behave in a way that destroys all the progress you have made, you are handing over your autonomy and personal power. Don't do it! Another client learned to ask herself, "Why should I punish myself because of other's insensitivity?"

If you're someone whose self-esteem suffers from the observations of others, does it make sense to communicate to them that you don't appreciate their comments and would prefer they did not make them? When I posed that question to my clients, the vast majority stated they prefer not to call attention to the statements and would rather minimize the topic. A brief, "Thank you" and steering the conversation in a different direction felt best.

However, if you do indeed find one individual continually remarking on your body and weight, speaking up is probably wise. There is a way to accept a compliment graciously, but also explain that comments regarding your body aren't okay. A simple statement such as, "Thank you. I am sure you mean well, but comments regarding my body make me uncomfortable. I certainly don't mind you're noticing if I look healthier or more vibrant, but that is about my new healthy habits, not pounds lost," could serve to both take ownership over your body and your journey while educating the commenter on the power of their words.

Keep in mind, too, that you're in the midst of a transformational journey that will be visible to those who know you best, so comments are likely to occur. Most people do mean well, so being vocal and honest about your feelings will serve you well as you continue to succeed and thrive on your way to your weight-loss goals.
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Member Comments

the sad but true statement: "Whether intentional or not, most form opinions based on how others look." Report
Thanks Report
This has been the conundrum of my life. I work hard to take compliments positively, but it is incredibly hard to do so and I end up self-sabotaging..
. Report
I understand the problem. Every time I'd get down to where strange men would come up to me and say inappropriate things, I'd put some weight back on. Why can't men keep their nasty thoughts tucked inside their brains? I sure didn't want them. Report
I've lost a lot of weight recently because of side effects from the chemo (essentially a longer term "fasting" period), and so I'm suddenly being slammed with these comments about my weight, like "you're melting..." etc. I like the comment in the article: ' "Thank you. I am sure you mean well, but comments regarding my body make me uncomfortable. I certainly don't mind you're noticing if I look healthier or more vibrant, but that is about my new healthy habits, not pounds lost," ' and there IS one person in particular who seems to want to corner me at church to discuss my weight loss. Oddly - she's in her mid 80's is always struggling to lose the same 20 pounds or so.... so anyway, I felt a need to revisit this article and will need to refer to it again, I'm sure. Thank you!! Report
People who I haven’t seen in a while are “shocked” at how much weight I have lost. However, I just thank them and tell them how much healthier I feel in my new lifestyle. Strangers don’t know I was 70 pounds heavier and that doesn’t become part of the conversation.

When someone tells me “you have lost enough weight,” I smile and tell them when my health numbers are where I want them to be, THEN I have lost enough. Report
Great article! Report
Great article! Report
Thanks. Report
These days, people feel free to comment about everyone, whether weight loss, gain, hairstyle, makeup, pregnant, just stuff that is none of their business, it’s a social thing, and our current society, is ruder than ever before. Speak up if it bugs you. The ways of our world, now. Report
After I had lost about 15 pounds my Mom said "You are looking thinner, are you wearing 2 girdles now?" This was many years ago and girdles were the vogue. I took no offense at all. In fact I was happy to hear her say it. After I reached my goal of 152 with 55 pounds off people stated asking if I was well. One lady right out and said she wondered if I had cancer. I am 5'5" tall so ceertainly not unerweight but different than 207lb. start weight. Report
OMG! Perfect timing with this article. I was just thinking about this topic this morning. Although I have been on a weight loss journey since July, people are starting to notice. I have such a terrible history with comments from co-workers and in-laws. One co-worker said," Have you been trying to lose weight or are you ill?" Another said, " I've told my husband you've lost weight and gone too far." Keep in mind I have never gone below my healthy weight range as an adult and I was feeling so energetic and positive before the comments. One said, " You get smaller every time I see you." My mother-in-law scanned me from head to toe and shouted, " My GOD you've lost weight!!" This was at a funeral....I was so embarrassed... This article is so relatable for me, thanks for the suggestions on how to handle them. I even had a male custodian say after seeing me say that it's looks like everyone but him gained weight over the holidays. Report
Thank you Report
The worst such example I ever experienced was when a co-worker (older man) asked how my husband liked sleeping with a different woman! Yikes! Talk about over the line. It *could* have derailed me, but at that point in the journey, I was able to use my mouth for something other than eating, and told him it made me uncomfortable. I never had the problem with "comments" from him again. I was astounded! I never knew that speaking up for myself could be so powerful!

He genuinely seemed surprised that I would find it offensive, even though we were not more than office acquaintances! So, ladies... yep, the voice is powerful. Use wisely. Report
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About The Author

Ellen G. Goldman
Ellen G. Goldman
Ellen G. Goldman founded EllenG Coaching, LLC to help individuals struggling with health issues that can be impacted by positive lifestyle change, such as weight loss, stress management and work-life balance. As a national board-certified health and wellness coach and certified personal trainer, Ellen holds a B.S. and Masters in physical education and is certified by ACSM, AFAA and Wellcoaches Corporation. She is also the author of "Mastering the Inner Game of Weight Loss." and You can visit her at her website, Ellen G. Coaching, and pick up a copy of the "Busy Person's Guide to Healthy Eating on the Go."