How to give a compliment

By: Sharon Nguyen

Reviewed by: Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

Everyone loves a compliment, right? Well…

The truth is, not all compliments are made equal. 

Typically, we give compliments to show others our respect and appreciation for them. Not only does it make them feel good, but you also feel good in knowing you had a positive impact on someone else. 

This act of outward praise can have a plethora of uplifting effects for both parties: it can boost confidence and self-esteem, it may act as a motivator for one’s endeavors, and it can even strengthen the relationship bond altogether. 

However, while such comments are usually made with pure intentions, compliments centered around one’s size, weight/body, or food choices often do more harm than good.

What’s the harm in a compliment?

When we get down to it, words carry great power. As one continues through life, the lens through which they view the world becomes enriched by their past experiences. This truth can explain how the same exact words may be interpreted differently from person to person.

Consider this concept given the following scenario: 

You decide to attend a party an acquaintance is hosting. While there, you spark conversation with a friend you lost touch with. They have not seen you in a while- this becomes apparent when they mention how much skinner you have gotten since they last saw you. 

They gush over how well the outfit you are wearing flatters your new, smaller body. Eventually, you wrap up the small talk and part ways. 

While the comment may have been well-intentioned, unfortunately, it came off as invasive and uncomfortable to you. In ways, you felt a bit objectified. Weeks later, you are still overthinking about your body and how it is perceived. 

Or consider this:

Your teenage daughter has been struggling with a poor body image, and you suspect she hasn’t been eating enough. You worry that she may be developing an eating disorder.

Then, during the Thanksgiving meal, your sister-in-law states, “Look at you! Eating so healthy! I could never have just a salad. I’m so bad!”

Rather than a compliment to your daughter’s willpower, this is an affirmative statement to her unbalanced diet, likely solidifying her food fears tendency towards a serious eating disorder.

We never know the full story

We never fully know what someone else is going through, especially concerning their relationship to their body. Body image perception is complex, and we should be delicate in treating it as such. 

Weight loss or gain can be attributed to countless factors. New medical diagnosis, struggles with an eating disorder, or even simply indulgences in new cuisines while on vacation. Perhaps your weight fluctuated naturally, and you did not realize this caused the new you to be seen as better than the old. 

The bottom line? We should refrain from making comments that reinforce the glorification of a specific body type. In my opinion, there is already enough of that in our society. We must remember that bodies are ever-changing and that every body type is unique and beautiful. 

How should we compliment instead?

So we’ve discussed the trouble with giving weight-based compliments. But where do we go from here? 

The great thing about the nature of compliments is that there are endless alternatives to showing our admiration. My advice would be to shift the focus away from the physique altogether. I’m talking about weight, size, or body shape here- letting someone know you like their new haircut or that you think they are wearing a cute outfit can be uplifting! In these cases, we are not only admiring their appearance but are also highlighting the creativity in their choices. 

Instead, think about the content of their character or the positive qualities in their personality. Some extra attention on what makes them unique can be warming. Giving these types of compliments supports the notion that they are valued for much more than their outward appearance.

Avoid compliments that seem ambiguous or impersonal as they may not come off as genuine. Reflect on how your person has made you feel. Personally, the compliments I treasure most are those specific to the history and memories I’ve shared with the person.

You may choose to concentrate on their accomplishments. Praise can make others feel seen and valued. Start by expressing how their talent or hard work has not gone unnoticed. 

Examples of non-weight focused compliments:

It may take some practice to rewire how you compliment others if you are not used to this non-weight approach, and that is okay! In time it will become natural and effortless.

Having trouble coming up with non-weight-centered compliments? No worries! Here are some examples you can pull inspiration from or simply steal.

  • I am glad we met
  • Your laughter is contagious
  • You are very important to me
  • I love seeing you smile
  • You are a great listener
  • Your work ethic is admirable
  • I am proud of you
  • You are caring and compassionate
  • Thanks for always being there for me
  • You light up any room
  • You are incredibly smart
  • I am lucky you are in my life
  • You are great at your job
  • I value your opinion
  • You have a great sense of style
  • You are a great friend / sister / brother / mother / father etc. 

Have thoughtful, non-weight-based compliments of your own to share? Please comment down below; I would love to hear them!

About Me

Hello! My name is Sharon Nguyen and I am a Nutrition Science student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. I aspire to become a thoroughly experienced and evidence-based registered dietitian nutritionist in order to help people heal their relationship with food. My niche interests at the moment include mental health, intuitive eating, and eating disorder care. As always, I am seeking meaningful opportunities to further develop skills and grow professionally in the field of dietetics!

Instagram: @SharNutrition



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