Approaching a loved one about their obesity can be one of the most difficult conversations you have. You love your partner, friend, or family member and don’t want to hurt them, but you are also concerned for their health and wellbeing. It’s easy to ignore the issue or to make light of it, but these approaches are not helpful in making any progress. Talking with a loved one about their obesity can help, but only if it’s handled with care. Remaining loving, kind, honest, and respectful is your best bet for effectively reaching out to your loved one about their health.
You are likely very worried about your loved one’s health, but the moment you choose to talk to them might not be the right time for them to listen. Losing weight is an intensely private, personal matter. The direction of the conversation must be left up to your loved one out of respect for their boundaries.
Understand this might be a conversation with several parts to it, or this may be the only time it comes up because your loved one is not interested in discussing the issue with you. Either way, all you can do is take their lead during the conversation and offer support.
If you are taking the step to talk about obesity, be prepared to go all the way with supporting your loved one. Most often we think of support as emotional, and your loved one may just need you to be a listening ear when they are frustrated or a sounding board as they make important decisions about their health.
Support can be more tangible, too. They may ask you to attend support group meetings or doctor’s appointments. They may even invite you to exercise and diet with them as they gather motivation to build new habits. Studies on people who enroll in weight loss programs show the profound importance of having strong social support. Enrollees who entered the program with a friend or family member more than doubled their chances of sticking with it beyond the six month mark. If you offer your full support, make sure you can give it 100%.
Be Honest and Sensitive
Your partner, friend, or family member already knows they are overweight. Chances are they have thought deeply about the condition of their health and have already tried a myriad of solutions to change the situation. Simply telling someone they are obese will only set them on the defensive. In this case, being honest means genuinely expressing your thoughts and feelings about their health.
Tell them your concerns. Research reveals the importance of genuine, non-judgemental support for someone deciding how to handle a weight problem. In couples where one partner’s obesity is causing tension in the relationship, the support of the other partner significantly reduced conflict. In some cases, this is even the turning point that helps the overweight partner take charge of their health. Genuinely expressing how you will love your friend or family member no matter what is the best support you can provide.
Losing weight is never as easy as “just going on a diet” or “getting out there to exercise.” Weight loss always involves behavior modification, even if it begins with bariatric surgery or other medical intervention. Everyone knows how hard it is to give up a habit, and addressing obesity requires a person to look at a whole range of habits in their life.
The more you can educate yourself about the challenges of weight loss, the better you can understand the large amount of courage and determination it requires. Instead of researching with the aim to offer advice, find out what you can about weight loss and obesity so you can provide better, more sensitive support to your loved one when you broach the topic of their health.
Recognize Their Efforts
If you are tempted to judge your loved one for what they have not been doing, make a mental list of all the things they do to take care of themselves. Often times obesity becomes such a looming problem it drowns out the efforts a person makes to get healthy.
Again, the person you are talking to has likely tried dozens of ways to lose weight, whether you are aware of it or not. Focusing on the positive as you talk will help you see them as someone who is doing their best. This can also prepare you to provide true encouragement if they are struggling to see progress.
Respect Your Relationship
Talk to your loved one in a manner that fits your relationship. If you’re not in the habit of having personal conversations together, you may not be the best person to bring health issues to their attention. You should also recognize if you are not the best person to coach your loved one through this journey.
Be willing to help your loved one find others who are facing the challenges of obesity. Those who undergo bariatric surgery, for instance, are advised to join groups to help them stick to a post-recovery program. Group leaders find the relationships forged between these members tend to be deep and are a necessary component to the participants’ social lives as they improve their health.
Remember, it’s up to your loved one to decide when to make needed changes in their life. Rather than trying to convince them, let them know how much you love them, honestly communicate your concern, and tell them the ways you are willing to support them when they decide to make that change. If and when they decide they are ready, they’ll be glad to have your support.