What Are You Complimenting Exactly?

As we have officially embarked on the season of New Year, New You, it won’t be long before you might start seeing evidence of the new gym equipment, diets, cleanses, and detoxes. How long they remain is as another question for another time. But you will see them. Some will be subtle, and some will shock and awe you. And you will likely respond with varying levels of enthusiasm and/or hysteria. But be careful. And here’s why.

Unless you know for gospel truth the exact things that have brought a person startling and hopefully lasting change for their health and wellness, compliments and the way in which you compliment, may not be as helpful as you think. It is natural for someone who has not been unhappy with their physical appearance to feel great about 1. Changing said appearance; 2. People noticing desired improvements; 3. People showering accolades upon the person for all the above.

But here are some of the types of comments that can be dangerous:

  1. You are looking so much better now!
  2. You look so beautiful.
  3. You are so hot!
  4. You’ve been hiding that bod all this time?
  5. So glad you have finally lost all that weight.

Basically what you are saying is that in the absence of weight loss/tightening and toning, a person looked worse, was not beautiful or hot before, has been hiding hotness behind something, and that others have been wanting them to lose weight for a long time. While one’s intentions may have been pure, there is a lot loaded behind these types of accolades.

If you’ve gone through any diet/exercise programs—especially if they are strict—results come. But they don’t always stay, particularly if the program is not sustainable. I speak from experience. I used to follow a strength training/clean eating approach that was extremely strict. On vacation I still woke up at 6 or 7 to workout. I brought bands and mats with me in case I couldn’t get to a hotel gym. And I followed a pattern of eating six meals a day that adhered to macro requirements. That meant I carried protein bars with me at all times, packed Ziplock bags with protein powder to spike oatmeal with, picked meals at outstanding restaurants according to protein/fat/carb ratios, not whether the dish was something special I might only get in this one corner of the world. You get the picture.

Eventually I reached a point where this lifestyle was the pits (have you ever ducked out of church to go to your car to snarf down a cheese stick and dry Ezekiel bread as people walked by looking at you weird?) and yes, I carried an insulated lunchbox in the car on most days. And when I reached the point where I just couldn’t deal with that lunacy anymore, I stopped. Naturally my body changed, and the compliments ended. So, what did that mean? I was only beautiful and praiseworthy when successful on a difficult diet plan and not for just being me. And that messed with my head. And it messes with the heads of anyone who has been on the weight loss/gain train.

I know someone who is addicted to pills, never exercises or pays attention to nutrition, or any other healthy lifestyle habit. This person naturally became emaciated and in terrible shape. Yet I’ve witnessed people falling over themselves to tell them how great they look. So, what does the compliment mean? Drug addiction and a terrible lifestyle will get you praise!

Here’s another story: A woman was at a Thanksgiving buffet helping herself at the table. Another woman (who I know for a fact prizes skinniness as a virtue above kindness and decency) excitedly squeals at her: “oh, you are so nice and thin!” The woman helping herself to dinner was fighting cancer. She could barely eat most days and was trying really hard for thanksgiving.

This is the point. We need to flip the switch on heaping praise on people’s physical stuff (which can change fast) and focus on the real stuff that matters. Has a person worked for the last year or so to make long-lasting changes for overall good health? Do you know how hard that is? That person needs to know their hard work, dedication, and courage are inspiring. They need to be told that their beauty now is as wonderful as it was before, but that the thing to be admired most comes from their depths of their soul.

I’ve known women who have become vapid, obsessive, and quite honestly idiotic as the numbers on their scales have gone down. They have literally morphed from normal human beings to things no one wants to be around. Inside, I knew they were battling demons of still not thinking they were good enough but were still hell bent on gaining their internal peace (which they never got) from showing everyone how amazing they were through their new and small clothes and ridiculous behavior. Praising them for their weight loss and new bodies only fed the angry beast within.

When you see someone who looks fitter, healthier, and yes, smaller, ask them about their program. If and when you find out exactly what they’ve been doing and it’s sane and sensible, applaud their efforts, their power, and their determination. They deserve that. Remind them that they could walk around with a bag on their head for the remainder of their days, but you’d still find them beautiful. Tell them how proud you are of them and that they are inspirational. But don’t stop there—if you notice a person has relapsed a bit (because fitness/weight management is never perfectly linear), keep your encouragement of their effort coming. Keep reminding them of the real beauty they possess, helping them to know that all is not lost if they have setbacks. It’s just part of the journey.

In the end, what compliments really matter? Not the ones that applaud a smaller number inside of a pair of jeans. Not at all.