Should I Say Anything About a Friend’s Dramatic Weight Loss?

Maybe you've noticed a friend or acquaintance has lost weight because of Ozempic or another intervention. Is it right to comment on it?

When it comes to unsolicited comments and conversations about weight, bodies and the way we look, I’ve heard it all. Sadly, it’s been like this for me for years, whether I was receiving weight loss advice from family members or being fat-shamed by my classmates.

I still remember going to a movie with my friends in grade 9, and my sister’s guy friend walking into the theater and telling her that he didn’t want to sit with her “fat sister.” When I was in university, my uncle would often ask me what I ate at each meal and if I was losing weight.

I used to work as a therapist, and I frequently counselled my clients about body image and how to deal with family members or intimate partners making unintentionally hurtful comments. I would encourage them to set boundaries with their loved ones, who often truly felt that their comments were coming from a good place. (They tended to only see their good intentions, rather than how it would feel to hear things like, “You’d be prettier if you lost weight”—yes, really!—or the thinly veiled dig, “I’m glad you’re making exercise a priority.”)

I have always had to fend off questions about my body, but I also recognize there’s a natural curiosity when we notice our friends’ and acquaintances’ bodies changing in noticeable ways. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to our peers.

This year, with Ozempic ads all over bus shelters, TV and your social media feed, it’s hard not to feel the impact. A host of complex feelings and past experiences can be dredged up during your daily commute, and you’re transported back to those thoughtless offhand remarks. We’re also seeing dramatic weight loss IRL. Maybe you bump into a friend while dropping the kids off at school, or you’re getting together for a pumpkin spice latte, and you can’t help but wonder what prompted your friend’s seemingly sudden physical transformation. You might even be tempted to say something. But is it ever okay to comment on someone’s weight loss? 

However well-intentioned, any and all remarks about weight loss can be quite hurtful, says clinical psychologist Elizabeth Fedrick. Even if curiosity gets the better of you, it’s not necessary or appropriate to mention a friend’s weight gain or loss.

 “We often think we’re giving a compliment or being supportive when we mention somebody’s weight loss, but in reality, saying something like, ‘You lost weight—you look great,’ is actually somewhat implying that they didn’t look good prior, or that they need to be a certain weight in order to look great,” says Fedrick, who is the founder of Evolve Counseling & Behavioral Health Services. “This feels really awkward and uncomfortable for most people,” she adds. “Questions and comments about weight loss run the risk of sounding fatphobic, prejudicial and insensitive.”

(Related: My Doctor Prescribed Me Ozempic for Weight Loss—Here’s What I’ve Learned)

Weight Loss Comments Can Sound Fatphobic, Regardless of Intentions

Fatphobia refers to a fear of fat bodies. But it isn’t just about the more blatantly harmful comments people make, such as directly insulting someone’s weight or body type. Fatphobia encompasses the many covert—yet insidious—remarks we hear, like being told you’d be more comfortable in a dress with sleeves that cover your arms. It’s asking someone, “Are you really going to order dessert after such a big meal?” It’s also the mere implication that weighing less is better; that weight loss is more virtuous and healthier; and that you’re a more praise-worthy person after shedding a few pounds. It ties your value as a human to the shape of your body. 

Sometimes people conceal their fatphobia with concerns about a person’s health. The problem here is that you can’t tell whether someone is healthy just by looking at them. To address weight stigma and fatphobia, as a society, we need to make an intentional effort to value all bodies, not just the ones that conform to ideals of thinness or fitness. This also means addressing our own internalized fatphobia by refusing to engage in food-shaming (i.e., labelling certain foods as good or bad) and practising body positivity by accepting your own body at any weight or size, instead of self-scrutinizing.

Take the Lead from Your Friend

If a friend or acquaintance hasn’t said anything about their weight loss, the best approach would be to keep that observation to yourself, says Fedrick. Mentioning weight loss at all, however subtly or gently, immediately puts the other individual in a position of either dodging the reason for their weight loss, or feeling obligated to speak about the cause, Fedrick explains, when perhaps they would prefer to go about their day without talking about their body. At the grocery store or in the schoolyard, for example, there’s no need to say “You look great!” A simple “How are you doing?” is a better approach. 

“If they do bring up losing weight, lean in with gentle, nonjudgmental curiosity while allowing them to do the majority of the talking,” Fedrick adds.

If your friend shares that they’re losing weight because of illness, of course, you’d want to steer clear of praising them for looking good. 

Alternatively, if they seem excited about starting a new diet, it doesn’t hurt to validate their feelings. Fedrick suggests saying something like, “You seem like you’re feeling good about the change. It’s great that it’s helping you feel more comfortable.” A comment like this shows you’re supporting your friend rather than focusing on their physique.

Another appropriate response is to ask open-ended questions such as, “How are you feeling about the weight loss?” or “What has this transition been like for you?” 

“The idea is to lean into curiosity without judgment,” she adds. 

As a friend, your role is to be supportive and open to whatever weight loss means for them—not to impose societal beliefs about an ideal body shape or size. 

Losing Weight Isn’t Always a Sign of Good Health

Relying on weight loss as a marker of good health can be misleading. For some people, dramatic body changes may be a sign of disordered eating or an underlying health issue that’s causing them to lose weight. And the reality is, plenty of us will put in ample time at the gym and eat healthy, nutritious meals without dropping multiple pants sizes. 

Nowadays, there can also be some stigma surrounding the use of weight-loss drugs like Ozempic, Wegovy or Mounjaro. Perhaps you’ve seen the strange phenomenon of friends or acquaintances proudly announcing on social media that their weight loss isn’t due to Ozempic. This point of view suggests that using medication is a shortcut to weight loss, without putting in the hard work—another damaging narrative.

“The suggestion that obtaining support to aid in weight loss is some type of ‘character’ issue is again putting inappropriate and unnecessary focus on something that’s not our business or concern,” Fedrick says. “The most effective way we can support someone’s mental health and wellbeing is by showing interest in who they are and how they’re doing as a human, not as a number on a scale.”

Next: Here’s Why It’s Time to Finally Part Ways with Your Scale