Someone's Gained Weight: What to Say (and Not Say)

Someone you care about has gained a noticeable amount of weight and you're wondering if you should say something about it. The answer is "no," according to Claire Mysko of the National Eating Disorders Association. She says that your words can end up making the situation worse.

A Weighty Matter

There's an overemphasis on weight today, with people often expected to fall into idealized standards that don't really work for their body types and metabolism. Worse yet, as people age, it can become even harder to meet society's often-unrealistic expectations, Mysko explains.

"Weight alone is not an accurate measure of a person's overall physical and emotional health, but we often make quick judgments about people's size because we are constantly exposed to weight-based stereotypes and unrealistic beauty ideals in this culture. Instead of talking about true, holistic health, we've become invested in this idea that thin=good and fat=bad across the board," she says. "The truth is that you cannot tell how healthy a person is just by her/his size."

3 Things to Know

This doesn't mean you shouldn't take an interest in others' well-being, but it does mean that you should think before you speak. Here are three things Mysko says to keep in mind before you blurt out the wrong thing:

1. What NOT to say:

It is never appropriate to comment on someone's weight gain (or weight loss for that matter). "By calling out a person's weight gain, you will only serve to perpetuate a cycle of shame, and it could trigger disordered eating behavior," she says. "If disordered eating (binge eating, chronic dieting, etc.) is already a factor, it's important to understand that the behavior isn't really about the food and weight. It's about much deeper and more complex issues. So talking about the weight won't get to the heart of the issue anyway."

2. What TO say:

You can ask, "Are you okay? Is there anything I can do to help?" Mysko says, "If you notice that someone you care about has gained or lost a significant amount of weight and you suspect that there might be events or circumstances in that person's life that contributed to the change in weight, you might check in to see if anything is wrong." You can also offer your support to help but make sure you demonstrate that you are there as a source of support, no matter what your loved one's size.

3. What to do if someone approaches you about her own weight gain:

"If someone you care about comes to you and says 'I've gained weight and I'm feeling really bad about it,' the right response is to say, 'What's going on? What triggered the weight gain? How can I help?'"

Reframing the Focus

Mysko points out that it's also important to understand that maintaining healthy eating habits is much more important for your overall health and well being than tracking a number on a scale.

"Fixating on that number or allowing it to dictate how you feel about yourself can actually be detrimental to your health," she says. "Therefore, I would recommend shifting the focus away from controlling weight and towards the idea that taking care of your body and mind and accepting yourself are the crucial steps to good health. None of those steps is dependent on being a certain size or a smaller number on the scale."

Learn More

For more information about eating disorders, you can visit the National Eating Disorders Association website at or call the organization's helpline at 1-800-931-2237.

Claire Mysko reviewed this article.


Claire Mysko, National Eating Disorders Association, Email interview Sept. 24, 2013.