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 that 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 to 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 commenters 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

This is me...I still have not figured out what it is that makes me sabotage my efforts but your article is incredible eyeopener for me as I just thought i was crazy for feeling like every time the weight loss is noticeable that's when I gain it all back.

Thank you! Report
It is hard to accept a compliment in cases like this. Report
Thanks for the insight. Report
Since I can and do wear the same clothes through a 50 pound weight range (what loose skin can do for you), This is not a worry. Report
good article but I have never felt these things. I love when people notice! I know how big I am and how horrible I looked at my highest. None of these compliments are about your personality, or your beauty, simply about your physical size. Report
Information is good Report
Mind set-Do everything for you, your health, miind and mind & body: Don't worry about the rest Report
This article is my life story. I yo-yo with my weight and it is maddening to me. I also work really hard at my job so I really hate comments regarding my weight from my coworkers, who are work acquaintances and should not be commenting on someone's weight, which is so personal. I could write a book about the backhanded comments my coworkers have made over the years. I even went into a meeting with my boss to discuss my job performance, which was great, and all he wanted to talk about was that I had lost weight and how I did it. One coworker said, " You've lost weight, you're not ill are you?" Another scanned me from head to toe and told me that she told her husband I had gone too far with my weight loss... I was not anywhere near underweight and I felt full of energy... told her. Even my mother-in-law scans me from head to toe when she sees me and informs me if I've lost weight, it really makes me hate seeing her. I want to be recognized for the good wife, mother, daughter, teacher that I am, not my weight loss. I truly appreciate the people that do not comment on my weight loss but just love me for me. If you must comment on someone's weight loss the only comment that I have appreciated was when one man said, " Wow, you look fit!" Report
Good article. Thanks for sharing. Report
Good article, thanks! Report
I've heard most of these comments mentioned in the article and by readers. One doctor asked if I was trying to lose weight and then asked how far I intended to go. That was legitimate.

The weirdest was a busty friend, on steroids, who commented on my weight loss and wanted to borrow some of my size 18 clothes for an event. I had to admit that I had just gotten down to a size 18 skirt. I loaned her the larger clothes and they fit her fine. Report
We are in charge of our reactions to what is said or done. If someone is offering a sincere compliment, it's good to learn to accept it and MOVE ON. Not read too much into it.

For sure, I agree w/BROOKLYN -- it's been the other side of the coin that has caused me angst. "You're too thin. Don't lose any more weight." I just let them know I appreciate their concern and let it go.

Thanks for talking about this issue. It's important. Report
Wow - next time I notice that someone has lost weight, I won't comment on it at all. Report
I have been helped so much by your articles. Things I believed were only me. So encouraging. Report


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."