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How to Talk to a Loved One About Weight Loss

January 17, 2017 | Jakleen M. Labbad, MD

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discussing-problems.jpgIf someone is overweight, they know it.

If a loved one needs to shed pounds, simply telling them that they really should lose weight is one of the worst ways to approach this very sensitive topic. What is needed is a delicate blend of compassion and motivation, with the focus always being on the health of your loved one.

Anyone who has ever had to drop a few pounds—and that includes most of us—knows how hard it is to do so. We start with the best of intentions, but it’s easy to become discouraged. Easy to give up. And easy for “just one cookie” to quickly become five or six. Here are a few techniques to consider on how to talk to a loved one about weight loss.

1. Avoid Shame

According to Psychology Today, one reason people overeat is to escape feelings of shame or disgust. So if your conversation makes your family member or friend feel shameful, you probably are just making the situation worse. But how can you tell a person, essentially, that they are fat without making him or her feel bad? The answer is to choose your words carefully, without being judgmental. Don’t say things like: “All your clothes are so tight on you” or “You looked so much better when I first met you.”

2. Don’t Preach

Most overweight people know they should eat less. They know they should exercise more. They absolutely know it’s bad for their health to carry those extra pounds. Don’t act like you’re the one person in the world who holds the secret to weight loss. Many overweight people have tried every diet there is. They’ve read countless books and joined programs. Don’t insult and annoy them by acting as if ignorance is the reason they’re overweight.

3. Focus on Health

This isn’t about looking good in a bathing suit by summer, or going out on more dates. It’s about helping your loved one be active and healthy and fit so that he or she can live life to the fullest—not so they meet standards set by other people.

4. Show You Care

If you’re invested enough in the health of your loved one to have this conversation, then follow up by continuing to show you care. (Assuming they were responsive to your first conversation. If they made it clear they don’t want your help, then don’t push.) Show your concern by checking in on your friend’s day. Email to say you believe in them. See if your friend wants to go on a Saturday afternoon hike with you. Be your friend’s greatest cheerleader. Don’t make every conversation about weight loss. And definitely don’t be the food police. Just show you care.

5. Get Educated

While you certainly don’t want to offer unsolicited advice on specific diet plans, you absolutely should take an interest in whatever plan your loved one has chosen. If he reads a book that promotes a vegan diet, for example, read it yourself so that you can be supportive. If you’re willing to have this very difficult—potentially offensive—conversation, you have to be willing to put in some effort yourself.

The message your loved one should be hearing is this: I care about you. I think you would be healthier and feel better if you lost weight. I know how very hard this is and I’m willing to help you in any way I can. I love you just the way you are and I could not love you any more. I am here for you.

And then follow up those words with actions.

Losing weight can be hard. If you—or a loved one—have made that a goal, it can sometimes help to seek professional assistance.

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