The other day, while working with my monthly weight loss support group, a question was asked that I’ve heard many times before. Is it OK to talk to a loved one about their need to lose weight?
This very delicate topic has come up with many of my clients. Having lost weight, and now experiencing the many benefits that come along with it such as increased energy, lowered blood pressure and cholesterol levels and a better sense of well-being, it’s natural to want our loved ones to experience it as well.
Even if you don’t have a weight problem, perhaps you too have someone you would like to talk to about his or her own weight loss? With approximately 36% of the population overweight, and 26% clinically obese, there is a great chance that someone who we care about needs to lose weight to improve his or her health.
So, is it OK or not? The answer is tricky—yes and no. It all depends on who you are dealing with. This conversation could be treading on a land mine if not handled properly.
To answer the question in my weight loss support group, I began by asking, “Before you turned your attention and efforts towards weight loss, how would you feel if one of your family members or a friend told you that they thought you needed to lose weight?” The answers: angry, defensive, pissed off, hurt, embarrassed and uncomfortable. So what makes us think if we approached someone, it would lead to any other reaction?
No matter how well your intentions, and how much this conversation is being broached out of love and concern; sometimes it’s just not your place. You might do more damage than good. But, on the other hand, entered into properly, it could change someone’s life for the better.
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume you want to approach your best girlfriend. You’ve watched her weight climb over the years, you know she now needs to take blood pressure medicine, and you see how poorly she eats.
First and foremost, you must evaluate your relationship. If you two tend to be competitive and/or confrontational with one another, you may be best off not bringing this subject up unless asked. She might view your attempts as a way to show off your own success, or as criticism. Touchy subjects like this are best to open up only with those you have a solid foundation of mutual respect, love and trust.
Secondly, listen for “change talk.” Has your girlfriend complained about her weight followed by comments such as, “I really need to do something about this”? Or, “I probably should go on a diet.” This would indicate that she is actually contemplating change, and just might be ready and open for help and support.
Next, ask permission! I can’t stress this enough. Try, “Is this something you would like to talk about?” Be accepting of whatever answer you receive. If no, move on to another topic. If yes, begin with a question such as, “If you were going to do something about your weight loss, what might you try?” Even a simple statement such as, “Tell me more about what you are thinking.” will allow her the space to voice her own worries and concerns. Be quiet, listen and don’t interrupt.
Resist the temptation to go into preaching and teaching. One of the most basic human needs is for autonomy – the desire to be self-determining and self responsible. In other words, nobody likes to be told what to do! Only when asked and with permission should you offer advice and suggestions.
Lastly, ask your friend, “In what way can I help and support you?” If at anytime during your conversation, you feel that tempers are flaring, or you sense your friend is getting defensive or angry, it’s best to stop and re-evaluate. Perhaps she is not as ready as you thought, or you have slipped into telling rather than asking. However, done with gentleness and compassion, and never with judgment, you can help your friend move forward in her own wellness journey.
If you determine it’s probably not such a good idea to broach this topic, or you’ve been shut down once you tried, you can still help. Just be a great role model! Meet at restaurants where you know you can order healthy meals. Tell your friend you can hang out with her after your morning workout. Talk enthusiastically about the new Zumba class you’ve been attending. And remember, when the pupil is ready, the teacher appears.
Has anyone ever approached you about your need to lose weight? Or have you spoken about it with someone you love? Share with us your experience by commenting below.