THE FAT CHAT: How to Talk to a Loved One About Their Weight

I know from experience this is one tough topic to bring up. I’ve had firsthand experience facing the dreaded “Fat Chat” with my own family. With a subject as sensitive as this one, you can’t take it lightly and your words should be carefully chosen. Unfortunately, most people are so scared to talk about it, and they avoid it altogether.

It’s not much different than approaching someone about a drug problem or mental illness. You probably wouldn’t even hesitate if your loved one was anorexic. Obesity is just as serious. It’s not just plain unhealthy, it can cause depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, sadness, tiredness, hopelessness and even social stress.

It will never be a fun topic, but it could cost them their life if you choose to ignore it. Although there are no set rules to follow, there are some tips I learned along the way that may be useful if you face this situation yourself.

10 Tip to Having Effective Conversation

1. Don’t enable them. You don’t take an alcoholic to a bar, so don’t take someone who struggles with their weight to a pizza parlor. Lead by example and encourage healthy choices.

2. Don’t just tell them what they want to hear. Often times, people will complain about not losing weight and swear they are doing everything right. The fact is, they aren’t doing everything right if they aren’t getting the right results. Unfortunately, many people will say stuff like “you are probably just turning fat to muscle” to make them feel better about not losing weight. If they aren’t losing weight, instead of meaningless encouragement to help them feel better in the moment, brag on their effort and encourage them to try something else.

3. Encourage them to keep trying. If someone says they are trying to lose weight, but they aren’t successful, encourage them to keep digging and keep learning. Challenge them to never accept little or no results. One time a member came to me saying she hadn’t really lost any weight since she joined a year ago. I told her weight is all calories in vs. calories out. She told me she ate healthy, and I told her she was probably just eating too much. I encouraged her to count up the calories and dig deep to find the extra calories. A couple of months later she stopped and thanked me. She said she had lost 10lbs and discovered she was taking in way more calories than she thought.

4. Be honest. Many people flat out lie when it comes to people’s weight. I’m not suggesting you tell them their butt looks big in their jeans, but I am suggesting you don’t lie to them. There are many loving things you can say to someone without lying like “I’m sorry you feel bad, you know I love you no matter what” or “I have fat days too, do you want to go for a walk with me?” And sometimes, it’s best to say nothing. Many times people are already lying to themselves. If you confirm their lie, they will start believing them – and begin to accept their situation (weight), instead of thinking about fixing it.

5. Empower them with knowledge. You’ll never get anywhere with opinions. However, education is empowering. No one is motivated to do things until they understand. They must truly grasp why, and how, those things work. The more someone learns about weight loss and how it all works, the more willing they are to apply it because it makes sense. They will learn it’s just science and it works – and it will work for them too.

6. Don’t allow them to make excuses. This isn’t a fun one, but I’ve had many people make a long list of excuses they were holding on to with a death grip. With every excuse they gave me, I had to explain why that excuse wasn’t a valid one. (Ironically, they already know this) When my own mother finally accepted her situation and decided to do something about it, her motto was “no more excuses” as she realized she had been making excuses for YEARS – and it was only prolonging the inevitable. She went on to lose over 80lbs.

7. Whatever you do, do it in love. This is the key to any type of confrontation. If you don’t have love, you can’t be productive. If you address their weight and make it clear it is because you are concerned for them, you are worried, you want to help them, and you want them in your life for as long as possible – who can really be mad at that? However, if you come across judgmental, you might as well right them off. They will tune you out as fast as a staticy radio channel.

8. Help them. Never tell someone what to do if you aren’t willing to help them. If you really care, your actions must speak louder than your words. If they aren’t ready for your help, let them know you are there for them when they are.

9. Let them know they CAN do it. Most people who are overweight truly think they were born that way. They think they have some kind of health issue preventing weight loss or that their body just won’t lose weight like everyone else. My sister thought she was just born a big boned girl. I had to convince my family that her weight was a direct reflection of calories consumed. At first my mom whole-heartedly believing she didn’t eat that bad. It was only after my sister lost her first chunk of weight, when she came to live with me, that she confessed all the junk she was eating (and hiding). Low and behold, after losing a ton of weight, she found her smaller bones hiding behind the fat. 🙂

10. Ask them what they need. Don’t assume what your loved one needs, ask them. Ask them if they’d like the accountability and find out if they enjoy the support. Be honest with them and let them know you only want to discuss it, but only if it’s helpful. Let them know how much you care about how they feel. Not everyone is motivated by the same things so find out specifically what encourages them the most, as well as what discourages them.

As with any sensitive subject, there’s always a risk of hurting someone’s feelings. But feelings heel and your chat may save their life. Be patient, loving, kind, understanding and sensitive. They may not respond overnight, but know some of life’s biggest challenges bring about big rewards. 🙂

What If They Don’t Respond?

If you brave this subject, there is one last tip I’ll give you: Release them. If they don’t respond or they are not ready, you have to let it go and release them from guilt. Everyone wants to be fit and healthy, but if they give you a million excuses, and it’s clear they aren’t ready, it’s important they don’t have that extra guilt weighing on them.

Let. It. Go! Don’t harass them, don’t keep inviting them to the gym, don’t push it. If you are leading by example, your lifestyle will remind them – and if you were genuine, they will call on you when they are ready.

The seed is planted. Now you just have to wait for it to sprout.

-B-

When is the right time to bring up someone’s unhealthy weight?
Here’s what some of my facebook friends had to say:

Abominator D Goheen when their shirts don’t cover their bellies.

Sarha Chalmers I would say when u know it is affecting their health 😦 not a great chat to have but it has to be done when u care for someone

Malinda Wilkerson Blevins You can help-give them info-nothing works till they make the decision…it is honestly something they have to WANT to do.

Laurie Colón I’d say no chat is needed. Not like they don’t know already. Why hurt them. Just plain cruel actually

Stan Black When you can point out how it is negatively affecting thier life, health, and welfare.

Skinny Aint Fit never !!!! unless its a loved one and the health is in jeopardy 

Robin Testa Sullivan I have never done it unless the person brought it up first. I know what its like on the other side, although nobody ever said anything to me…think they just tiptoed around the issue like the elephant in the room, LOL. 

Share your thoughts and experience with us below!

Photo Credits:
Gold Digger Pic 
Fragile Pic 
Handle with Care Pic  
Encourage/Discourage  
Love Never Fails Pic 
How Can I Help You Pic 
Seed Pic 

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About Bonnie Pfiester

Fitness Columnist and Lifestyle Coach, Resident Trainer for Designer Whey, Fitness Advisor for FitStudio, powered by Sears, FitFluential Ambassador and Owner of Max Fitness Club, home of BCx Boot Camp in Vero Beach, Florida.

Posted on May 30, 2012, in PFIT TIPS, Weight Loss and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. What if the person is clearly overweight & everytime you bring it up the deny it & don’t come to terms what they’re actually doing?

    • You are planting the seed. It may take several different things to happen for it to click. You may plant the seed, a bad trip to the doctor may water the seed and another major event shed some light on it all. It may take time for them to come to terms with it.

      One thing that I have seen make a big impact on people is doing a body composition (or weighing themselves). I can’t believe the number of people who have no idea how much they weigh or what their body fat is. It’s a rude awakening for many to see they are 50% body fat, and I’ve watched the facts shock them right into the gym.

      Either way, you can’t push it. At some point you have to let them take responsibility for their own health. If they choose to ignore you, that’s not your fault. You tried and maybe one day they will be ready. 🙂

  2. great info…on the flip side wonder why it’s so easy for other people to lecture people who they view as ‘too thin’ or make comments of “you’ve lost too much weight” or ‘you need to put on some weight’ but yet so difficult the reverse way…like people tell my daughter all the time that she’s too small/thin/blahblahblah and yet IF i were to tell them that THEY need to lose some weight they’d go ballistic or lay out the zillion excuses they’ve done in past when I’ve ‘lovingly’ brought it up….the same ones who are now lecturing me as they realize the amount I’ve lost (little do they realize I have big goals and still have more to lose) but i’m rambling…. but awesome info on how to approach….

  3. Oh god this is so difficult, my sister is morbidly obese and when we were on holiday together she told me her knees hurt and she has to have indigestion tablets the whole time. I had to bite my tongue not to tell her it was because of her weight. She knows she is fat, she appears to want to do something, she cooks from weight watcher books, goes to the gym 3 times a week but also drinks 400 calorie frapacinnos from Starbucks.
    She is so touchy about the subject I am worried that sitting her down and saying “look you are hurting yourself” will mean she never talks to me again, but I am also worried about her health.
    I firmly believe that losing weight is like giving up smoking, you have to want to do it for yourself not for other people before it will actually happen.

  1. Pingback: Talking About Losing « Reducing Me

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