We need to stop complimenting weight loss. Here's what to say instead

A woman stands in front of a mirror, prepared to measure her waist. Self-criticism of one's body can be one effect of weight loss compliments.

(CNN)If your friend has recently lost weight, you might want to tell her how great she looks. Maybe you also say that you wish you had her body or self-control or you ask her how she did it. Perhaps you've been on the receiving end of such a "compliment" in the past.

Such comments are well meaning but can have unintended negative consequences.
"In that case, we are unintentionally exacerbating or affirming the thin ideal that our society tends to emphasize and idolize," said Alvin Tran, an assistant professor of public health at the University of New Haven in Connecticut, who does research on eating disorders and body image. "We need to be very cautious when we do approach conversations around someone's physical appearance, especially their weight."
    This is especially important when talking to people with eating disorders or serious body image issues, since such remarks can worsen their situation. Compliments about someone's weight loss or thinner body perpetuate society's deep-seated diet culture, Tran said, and the idea that thinness is inherently good.
      "We do tend to operate (as if) we can somehow look at people and, based on body size, determine whether they're healthy," said Tamara Pryor, a senior fellow and director of research at ED Care, an eating disorder treatment center based in Denver. "We have people in large bodies that are in a state of malnourishment as well as people in extremely low size that are malnourished, and people that are standard size but still very severely compromised by an eating disorder. People can't look at them and tell that."
      But if you're pleased or wowed by how someone looks, should you not compliment them at all? What is and isn't OK to say? CNN asked for advice from Pryor and Joann Hendelman, the clinical director of the National Alliance for Eating Disorders.
      The following conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
        CNN: Why else is complimenting someone's weight loss or thinness problematic?
        Tamara Pryor: It's intrusive. Whose business is it for us to be passing judgment, particularly expressing it verbally? We might look at people and make judgment calls, but we need to keep it to ourselves. I come from the second wave of the feminist movement, where it was "my body, my business." That still stands to be the case.
        CNN: How might people on the receiving end feel?
        Pryor: If somebody said to me, "Oh my gosh, you look great. You've lost some weight," I would find myself thinking, "What did you think of me beforehand? Was I not acceptable?" I could imagine the pressure the receiver would then feel to maintain the lower weight or lose more weight to receive more praise or be accepted. They might think, "What about me and the essence of who I am as a human being?" There are both physical consequences and significant psychological consequences that get perpetuated.
        Joann Hendelman: If you don't get that compliment, th