Human beings seem to have a propensity to commentary. If it’s not your co-worker/sister/friend’s wardrobe choice/boyfriend/haircut, it’s something else.

In some cases, such remarks are warranted and even encouraged, but in others, most folks would do well to hold their tongues.

I’m talking in particular about commentary about others’ bodies. As the fabulous Erica Jong once wrote, growing up female in America is already quite the liability. American women learn from an early age that there are consequences to and, alternately, rewards for acquiring and maintaining the ideal female form. While the dimensions thereof may have shifted slightly over the years (Marilyn Monroe to Kate Moss is one salient example), even the most sheltered of American girls cannot help absorb the largely unrealistic standards that have been laid forth for them.

Inundated as we gals are from Day 1 with messages about what it means to be female in America, it is unsurprising that one in 200 American women suffers from anorexia, and three in 100 from bulimia.

All the above considered, the body-centric commentary of neighbors, friends and family lends an additional element of stress to the American woman’s life.

Beyond the humiliating “when are you due?”, even the simple four-word “have you lost weight?” can do considerable harm to the woman of whom this is asked.

In our brief unit on eating disorders last week in my Abnormal Psych. class, we learned that most eating disorders develop after a person is complimented for weight loss. It does not matter whether the weight loss was intentional or not; widespread praise for dropping a few pounds can be enough to encourage a dieter to continue their descent into dangerous territory.

I have heard of women undergoing chemotherapy for cancer who are lauded for weight loss. Women so depressed they cannot get out of bed who are similarly praised for losing weight.

And what of women who are actively courting an eating disorder? Women who may or may not have been overweight to begin with and for whom a severely restrictive diet represents hope for what they imagine will be a life more loved and more enjoyed?

Some such commentary is perhaps not out of place. When I lost 30 pounds in two months four years ago, neighbors and friends seemed at a loss for what to think and say. Some asked me the obvious “have you lost weight?”, while others pushed food at me and told me to stuff my face, and stat.

While I was deeply embarrassed by this attention and wanted at all costs to avoid such commentary, I no longer begrudge such people for their responses to my drastic weight loss. Us Homo sapiens have evolved to notice novel stimuli, and my suddenly-skeletal form was understandably shocking.

While I was lucky enough to hear only surprise and concern from friends and family, others are not so fortunate. A friend of mine embarked on a stringent weight loss plan in ninth grade, after years of compulsive overeating and being overweight. Exercising for hours on end and eating very little, she was praised by many for her weight loss, which most would recognize as unhealthy and quite dangerous.

I am grateful that friends and family expressed concern and not praise for my marked weight loss; approval and admiration would have made gaining the requisite recovery weight that much more difficult.

Still, my experiences have made me wary of making any sort of commentary on another person’s body. It is difficult to ascertain from simply looking at a person’s body if their current dimensions have been achieved in the spirit of health and happiness or not, and so I have learned to never assume anything about a friend or family member’s physique.

When a friend of mine confessed about six months into our friendship that she struggled with binge eating and compulsive overeating, she concluded her story with “well, it’s obvious, isn’t it?”

No, I responded. To me, it is rarely obvious from a person’s outer appearance what their eating and exercise habits are. I would sooner assume that my friend’s body operates in a way that clings to calories more readily than my own than draw the conclusion that a “larger” body is one acquired through compulsive overeating.

In our society, weight loss is assumed to be cause for celebration and praise. But we cannot know from a quick once-over the reason behind a 5-,10- or 20-pound weight loss, and so I recommend that bodies, like religion, sex and money, remain off-limits for commentary.