If we can’t expect to hear the truth from our family and loved ones, who do we expect to hear it from? While most uncomfortable confrontations come from those who love us most, none of us want to be approached about our weight. As uncomfortable of a situation as this is, this conversation must not be overlooked.
According to the American Heart Association, even among young people, being overweight creates a significantly increased risk for illnesses including: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and of course, obesity. Carrying around excessive weight also does numbers to our physical frames, weighing heavy on the joints and hips, causing irrevocable physical pain and damage.
While some of this information is common knowledge, at least down to the basic notion that being overweight is anything but healthy, many people still struggle with being overweight or obese. Here are a few shocking statistics:
- About 1/3 of adults in the United States are obese
- No state has met the nation’s Healthy People 2010 goal to lower obesity prevalence to 15%.
- Approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years in the United States are obese.
These alarming rates suggest that many of us have friends or family members battling with weight and may have even crossed over into a life threatening weight – obesity. We often ask ourselves how we can help a loved one overcome a situation as sensitive as this, and many of us come up short in fear of hurting ones feelings and worsening the situation.
I’ve interviewed a woman that has dealt with this situation first-hand with both her husband and daughter. She learned the hard way in how difficult assisting in this endeavor was by many efforts in trial and error. When asked how she encouraged weight loss in her husband and daughter she replied,
Support and encouragement. Usually overeating is attached to something else that needs to be resolved first. I help them create a motivating environment within themselves, at home and at work/school, and I also lead by example which is huge.”
With an adult loved one – a parent, grandparent, spouse, etc. – this change can be a more difficult challenge compared to helping children. Many of these adults are set in their ways and don’t want to be the target of any demeaning messages. They are able to make their own decisions about food, making it harder to deliver the message sensitively and discreetly.
The most important element to this challenge is simply delivering a delicate message. Approach the situation by showing concern for their overall health, not their weight specifically. Become knowledgeable about the effects of being overweight and/or obese so you can clearly explain the negative impact the unhealthy decisions are having on them, physically and mentally. Approach them in a loving, humble manner, sharing your own struggles with food/exercise/healthy living. Make yourself relatable and approachable. Explain that your sole reason for approaching him about weight loss is because you love him and you want him around as long as possible. You wish he would take himself as seriously as you do. You wish he would treat his body with as much respect as he expects his loved ones to. Along with being understanding of his feelings, you may want to ask if he’s ever considered his decisions from his family’s point of view – what kind of example is he setting for those he’s directly influencing? Finally, tell him that you hope you didn’t cross any boundaries with your concern. Leave the conversation with a big hug and express that you’re here if he ever wants to discuss this topic further. Then, leave it alone. Do not push. The more you push, the more defensive they will become. Continue to lead by example and promote healthy decisions discreetly, but don’t approach the conversation again right away.
With a child, it can be an easier transition to make as long as parents do the best they can to monitor what their children are eating. Helping your child reach a healthier weight depends primarily on the parents. Stock your kitchen with healthy choices – rid your home of soda, chips, artificially sweetened snacks, enriched carbohydrates, etc. Keep fruit readily available; try new recipes to add taste and flavor to food items your child wouldn’t usually eat. Pack your child’s lunch and snacks to help them make healthy decisions throughout the day, and most importantly, lead by example. There is nothing worse then depriving your children of foods while the rest of the family can indulge in them with little visible consequences.
Encouraging weight loss in children can go terribly wrong, however, if the focus is on weight loss and not on healthy living. Discussing a child’s weight in an insensitive manner can and will lead to body image issues he/she will struggle with for years to come, if not forever. If your child is at an unhealthy weight, the parents must lead by example and keep healthy choices readily available. If the child is singled out, the reverse effects will take place and irrevocable damage will be done.
Encouraging change with an overweight loved one is an incredibly difficult challenge; but it is important we don’t let the opportunity pass because we are afraid of hurt feelings. If you live a healthy lifestyle, it is your job to share your knowledge with others to increase the health, happiness, and overall quality of life with your friends and family.
We’d love to hear your experiences with this sensitive issue so we can continue to help others. If you’d like to share what you’ve learned about encouraging weight loss in loved ones, please leave a comment below.