Body Image: Deflect Criticism & Accept Compliments (cont.)

"There isn't a formula," she says. "Some people you have to ignore; they aren't worth your time. With other folks, you can turn the comment into a joke. Then there are those you have to slam with a barbed insult."

One man tells of being in a store with his daughter when an older woman came up to him and said, "I surely hope you won't let your daughter get fat like you." He looked at her and said, "And I hope she doesn't get senile like you, either."

"Ignore them, brush them off, don't give these people the option of judging you," Elizabeth 0505 chimes in on the WLC board.

Often, says WLC member Darby, the person making the comment also has a noticeable problem.

"I never sink to their level and insult them back," she says, "Though I have been tempted. ... Try not to let these nincompoops bother you too much."

Adela23 says sometimes she pops out with an honest reaction: "Gee, that's a rude thing to say." Another woman sometimes says, "Tell me again why this is your business?"

'You Look Great!'

Even compliments ("You've lost a TON" not being one of them) are often difficult for people who are losing weight.

Some dieters, Vieira-Baker says, take a compliment as meaning that maybe they were not in such a good place before. "Whether or not you respond to this (possible) underlying message," she says, "another way to look at it is that the person is acknowledging the effort you took to make such a dramatic change.

"You can't pick how you get compliments," she adds. "You can react to the parts you wish."

Some formerly overweight people may be uncomfortable with compliments because they find them frightening, says Gillespie.

"It's fear ... the idea that it's a curse to say you look good, because WHAM, you will regain the weight," she says. "They see (their weight loss) as tenuous at best -- luck, chance, rather than a positive step of ownership and power." Giving a compliment to someone who has lost a lot of weight can be a catch-22, Viera-Baker says. "It could be taken wrong, but not to say anything -- not to recognize the effort -- could be an insult." Things get especially tricky when members of the opposite sex start showing interest where there was little before. Some people, of course, relish the sudden attention. Others aren't used to it, and aren't sure how to react. Still others say, in effect, "If you didn't like me before, you can't date me now."

"I get really peeved when guys to whom I have been invisible look at me," says Aquamoose on the "Emotional Eating" message board. "They think they are being nice, but it brings out the nastiest side of my personality. I suspect I should stop (feeling that way)."

And keep in mind that these would-be flirts are only human. Even people on the Weight Loss Clinic message boards say they have to be careful of judging others by how they look.

WLC members who've been there say that if someone is trying to give you a compliment (no matter how clumsy), the best way to handle it is usually to say "Thank you" -- and leave it at that.

Originally published Sept. 24, 2004.

Medically updated Aug. 24, 2005.

SOURCES: Larrian Gillespie, MD, urologist/gynecologist; author, The Goddess Diet. Catherine Vieira-Baker, PhD, psychologist, May Institute, Walpole, Mass. Ruth Kava, PhD, RD, director of nutrition, American Council on Science and Health, New York.

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