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Updated 28 July 2018

What you shouldn't say to someone who’s battling to lose weight

When you're trying to support a friend or family member in their efforts to lose weight, there are some comments and pieces of advice that are neither tactful nor helpful.

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If you're on a weight-loss journey, or if you've been battling with excess weight, chances are you've come across a number of comments and nuggets of unsolicited advice from friends and family.

If you are the one trying to support a friend or family on their weight-loss journey, here are six things you shouldn't say:

1. 'You should control your portion sizes'

By saying this, you are assuming that a person is overweight because of overeating, which might not always be the case. There are many medical reasons why a person is unable to lose excess weight – these include hormonal imbalances, thyroid problems and side-effects of some medications. 

While portion control can be a crucial part of a balanced diet and a successful weight-loss regime, this might not be the immediate solution for someone who’s trying to lose weight. There are many cases where portion control doesn’t work.

Restrictive diets also have a tendency to backfire, as they can often lead to overeating or a yo-yo effect in the long run. Sometimes it helps to make healthy swaps without restricting portion sizes.

And while a study mentioned in a Forbes article does say that smaller serving sizes are key to weight loss, the article mentions the addictive quality of some of the foods we eat. It’s therefore not necessarily the amount we eat, but what we eat, as some types of foods, especially those with a high fat and sugar content, can trigger addictive behaviour, says Constance Scharf, PhD, Senior Addiction Research Fellow and Director of Addiction Research at Cliffside Malibu.

2. 'If you simply exercise a bit, the weight will drop off'

Exercise is recommended for a healthy, balanced lifestyle but exercise alone won’t necessarily aid weight loss. According to the Cleveland Clinic, exercising while ignoring your diet isn’t a good strategy. In order to lose weight, you need to burn more kilojoules than you eat or eat fewer kilojoules than your body uses to create a caloric deficit.

Simply getting into an exercise regime isn't as easy as it sounds – if someone is severely overweight, a doctor's advice might be needed before attempting exercise in order to avoid injury or other complications. There might also be an underlying health condition, such as asthma or cardiovascular problems, which might make exercise more difficult. 

weight loss and exercise

3. 'Have you tried this diet programme? My friend went on it and lost so much weight'

First of all, you are implying that what worked for one person will have the same result for another. 

Everyone is unique and what works for one person will not work for another. Weight loss needs to be tailored according to your own needs and body. And chances are, they might have already tried every fad diet with little success.

According to a previous Health24 article, the human body is unable to lose weight composed of fat in a short amount of time. Fad diets that promote the cutting out of entire food groups can also reduce the amount of crucial nutrients you obtain. 

4. 'Have you had your thyroid checked?'

Not all weight issues are linked to thyroid problems. While a problematic thyroid can contribute to weight gain, it's often difficult to diagnose immediately. There are many other underlying conditions that can cause the inability to lose excess weight, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or hormonal imbalances. Chances are that the person has been trying to get to the bottom of the problem for years.  

doctor examining patient for thyroid

5. 'You simply need a bit of willpower'

When you say this, you are assuming that the person only needs willpower to make a complete change to their life, and unfortunately this is not true. For many, willpower is simply not enough to make big changes in their lives. According to Abby Langner, a registered dietitian from Canada, weight has nothing to do with weakness or a lack of willpower. She states that one of the most important components in controlling your appetite is hormone levels. If this is out of control, willpower and positive self-talk is not enough to help you lose weight. 

overweight women preparing healthy food

6. 'Remember how skinny you used to be at university? You can do it again!'

If someone is unhappy with their current weight, it is most likely that they are longing back to the past when they were skinnier. Bodies and metabolism change with age and it’s important to focus on the present, not on what you looked like in the past.

Drawing attention to a past weight sets unrealistic goals – you will never look like you used to look at school or university. What you do need is to focus on is what you're currently working with.

Image credit: iStock

 
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