“Have You Lost Weight?”

lost weight

Ah, the loaded question, “have you lost weight?” If I only had a slice of cheesecake for every time someone asked me that. I’d have a lot of freaking cheesecake. I like New York traditional, by the way, and then chocolate, because a girl can get bored, and we are talking a lot of cheesecake. The question implies that I needed to lose weight, that something about me needed to change; and that now I am better.

When I am asked this question, even today, my first feeling is joy. I can’t help it, I don’t want to feel it, I don’t like that I feel it, but that’s what happens. That is what needs to change.  That is my promise.

I grew up thinking there was something wrong with my body. I was chubby. Wait, I was told I was chubby and I was put on diets. Food was restricted. There was “good” food and “bad” food. As was the norm for girls of my generation, I developed an eating disorder. I struggled for decades. I am doing well, but I sometimes fall into negative self-talk. I don’t diet now. Ever. That is a victory. But, I still work to accept who I am, to be in my bones and my skin the way I was born to be.

And, here’s the thing: I’ll bet you all that cheesecake that, if left to my own devices as a kid, I’d have developed a healthy body image. But, instead, I was body shamed. My eating was watched and monitored. And, I developed an eating disorder. I became a binge eater and a chronic exerciser. And, I became a chronic dieter. I tried every diet known to man. I did the Scarsdale diet, Weight Watchers, run-of-the-mill-restricting-until-you-feel-faint, Atkins, Cabbage Soup, Green Smoothie. I could go on and on. The one consistency with these diets was not only that I lost weight; it was that when I stopped, and I always did, I binged. I made up for lost time.

Diets don’t work. They do not work. Finally, in my college years, and with only minor relapses since then, I started doing what I needed to do all along. I listened to my body’s own hunger cues. I ate what felt good and what fueled me.

Today, I enjoy indulgences in moderation and, fortunately, I love healthy food, so it’s easy to eat salads, whole grains, chicken and fish. I also love steak and potatoes, and pasta. So, I eat them. And I love desserts, but in small doses. Too much sugar makes me sick. Too much anything makes me sick; like it does most people. But I do love a slice of cheesecake once in awhile. And, if I have one, I don’t need several.

Asking “have you lost weight?” is typically followed by a compliment like “you look great,” or “good for you.” But, at that point, it’s too late. The question itself is not a proper compliment. It’s backhanded at best, and an insult at worst. It says: “You looked fat—and therefore bad—before.” Or, “You needed to change, so, phew, thank goodness you have.” Or, “I’ve been watching your body size, and will continue to do so. Be on alert.”

All of these have troubling undercurrents. Let’s start with the fat one. Get that out of the way, once and for all.  That word: fat. Shudder. Let’s not use that word. How about, my body doesn’t look like the bodies of other women you see, i.e., models, actresses, or any other people who are not me?

Unless I brought it up, or you are my physician—and it’s a health issue, the size of my body is not your concern.

I have finally learned to like my body. It has made two babies. It has lived in several countries. It has done amazing things, this body. I’m on a medication that causes weight gain. Without it, I’d be so depressed I couldn’t function, so that extra ten pounds, while not welcome, is my life raft. I have a thyroid disorder making it hard for me to lose weight, but sometimes I do. Ultimately, my weight is none of your business and that question could easily be a flat out insult. It implies that I looked bad before and now I’m better, and more visually appealing. Just, better.

So, here’s my commitment to myself. The next time someone asks me “have you lost weight?” I will respond with a shrug and change the narrative. “It’s great to see you,” I will say. I will redirect the conversation away from how my body looks to how I feel, to who I am in that moment, to how I want to relate to them.

And, now, when you see someone you’ve missed, or haven’t seen in awhile, maybe something is different, you can just say “Hey, good to see you, you look great.” But, leave it at that, even if you’re thinking, wow, she’s lost ten pounds! Re-train your brain. Think instead about how happy he looks, or about how much you missed him. Think. If the response is “Thanks, I’ve lost ten pounds, I feel great,” you can say, “I’m glad you’re feeling good about yourself. Good for you.”

OK, no more asking that question. Be thoughtful.

Photo by A m o r e Caterina

23 thoughts on ““Have You Lost Weight?””

  1. This is great Jenny! I so agree we need to change the narrative – especially now that I have a daughter. I’m already passing down enough bad habits—I want to make sure poor body image and a focus on weight isn’t another! Thank you!

    1. Thanks for reading Ann. And I agree, it is so important as parents to be mindful of what we say. I have boys, I want them to see a woman who accepts herself. I work at it, and I try to share that with them.

  2. I love this blog Jenny. It clearly and calmly hit the nail on the head. I too always feel odd when people ask me “that” question. The bottom line is, I feel judged. I have learned to accept my body is my responsibility and am working to afford the same respect for other women (and men). Thanks for naming the elephant.

  3. This is awesome. I kinda hope you might join #1000Speak with something like this – body image and self-compassion are such a difficulty for so many (myself included)

    I admire your resolve and your ability to have untangled from your eating disorder.

  4. So spot on!! I always think secretly this question means they think I’ve GAINED weight and they are so curious, they sneakily phrase it this way to see whether I will say, “what? LOST weight…. No it’s the opposite. But thank you.” Then they silently think, “you’re welcome, Fool.” Jenny– your past is sooooo much like mine. No wonder I think you share living quarters in my psyche!

  5. As a Holistic Nutritionist I agree entirely with your point of view. I’ve never seen a diet work as a sustainable solution. I’m glad you raised the point, too, about making the conversation about more meaningful metrics – like happiness and vibrancy. It can be hard to remember that not all compliments are equal. Even though we assume that people want to be recognized for their hard work and weight loss, it’s likely that these words might only serve to reinforce the notion that we should celebrate our physical change … instead of what really matters.

    1. Thank you for your input. I especially appreciate feedback from a nutritionist. And, the awareness that our focus needs to shift when it comes to how we see others. If someone wants to gleefully share their weight loss success with me, I will celebrate with them. It’s not for me or anyone else to initiate that discussion.

  6. I love everything about this article. I find that question really irritating, to say the least. And you’re so right – it’s nobody’s business, thank you very much. That compliment, not that it is one, doesn’t come off any way but judgmental, even if unintentional. Even though I might be working to be healthier, eat better, lose weight, get in better shape, hearing that makes me want to NOT do those things, just out of spite. Maybe I’m just odd – my Mother taught me never to comment on someone’s weight (among other things) one way or another. Isn’t that just basic human courtesy?
    I love your deflection of the question – I often do the same. “Have you lost weight?” “Maybe. I dunno. What’s new with you?”
    Enjoyed the post!

  7. This is a subject very close to my heart and I love your candor and wit. There is so much focus put on weight and body size and it disturbs me, especially when I know that every word is heard by my 12 year old daughter. Thank you for making a change in the conversation.

  8. hey jenny

    its wonderful to accept oneself as you are.you are just an amazingly ludicrous lady..I liked your trick to immediately change topic to people,after all who are they to be concerned of our body.
    :)thats the spirit

  9. “My body is not your concern” I think this is so powerful for people who have challenges with eating disorders to say, especially to family as it seems at times they are the ones who criticize us most.

  10. This is the first article I’ve read tackling this seemingly innocuous comment. I HATE when people say it to me, and I therefore hesitate to say it to people. I feel bad not acknowledging their effort but at the same time, I don’t want them to think I was judging them before they lost weight. Definite double-edged sword.

  11. Great article Jenny, and something to think about. Admittedly, I am probably guilty of asking the question: “Have you lost weight?” It’s none of my business to know in the first place. Done asking that. I’m also going to stop asking if people have gained weight (usually men, implying mass). It’s the same thing. Thanks Jenny.

  12. Loved this article. I lost 45 pounds last year (not on a diet), and it transformed my life. I have always seen myself as “fat first,” and can’t count the number of counseling sessions devoted to my desire to stop beating myself up. I marveled at the women who were bigger than me and seemed to be just fine with their bodies. I bought nice clothes, but nothing worked. Then the weight loss (after a diagnosis).
    People who haven’t had to worry about weight have NO idea how it affects us. But, in the end, we are our own worst enemies. I am still not skinny, will never be skinny, and am just fine thank you very much. I’m going to take your advice and just change the subject when people notice my weight loss, because focusing on my size was a trip down the proverbial rabbit hole for me before, and I won’t go there again.

  13. Hi! I liked your post! I am so glad you have a good and healthy relationship with yourself and your body. Something that I wanted to say though is that if someone says “Have you lost weight?” It doesn’t necessarilly mean that people think you looked bad before losing that weight. Losing even a few pounds can make one look much healthier, happier and more confident and that is what is so good about it! I agree that diets don’t work and you should just eat what you want but healthier and in moderation. Diets always messed me up even more than just being “fat”. I also agree that your own body is really none of their business and that people should focus on other things instead. I wish you all luck in the future!

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