This article appears in July Family magazine.
It’s not easy to find the right words when you want to tell a loved one he or she needs to lose weight. You might even wonder, is it right to say something?
If you are concerned for a loved one’s weight and health, Dr. Vijaya Surampudi, a physician with the Risk Factor Obesity Weight Management Program at UCLA Health, can offer some advice.
“Come from a place of love and concern. Go in with an open-ended question, and don’t be confrontational,” Surampudi said.
Discussions about a person’s weight can be conversational landmines, and the best-laid plans can quickly unravel into frustration, self-doubt and tears.
“Weight is an extremely sensitive topic. When you encourage a loved one to talk about their weight, be prepared for the conversation to get emotional and difficult,” Surampudi said.
Give them control
Open-ended questions such as “What did your doctor say? Or “Do you think you would feel better if you lost some weight?” gives the other person some control over the direction of the conversation, Surampudi said. Usually, a person’s physician has already brought the subject up, she said.
Don’t judge, nag or preach
Instead of focusing on the problem or pointing out negatives, approach the subject in a considerate way.
“No one wants to be scolded,” Surampudi said.
Strive not to be accusatory or to use prescriptive language. “You’ll just end up arguing,” she said.
Being judgemental can make a loved one more defensive and possibly bring about feelings of shame, she said. If that happens, a loved one may exclude you in the future for fear of what you will say and how that will make them feel.
Make it a group activity
Making weight loss a group activity is often a successful because it gets couples to be proactive, Surampudi said. Approach the topic as a mutual goal rather than something that is just about your partner or loved one. For example, you can talk about your own weight-loss goals and ask your partner for help. You could say, “I’d like to be healthier so I’m going to work on losing weight, and I’m going to need some support.”
Don’t focus on looks
The goal of weight loss is not about how a person looks but how a person feels, Surampudi said.
“What we put into our mouths affects how we feel. You are what you eat,” she said.
Share your story — eventually
If you’ve experienced successful weight loss, be patient before sharing your story, Surampudi said. When a person is first starting a new healthy living regimen, they don’t want to hear how you lost 40 pounds, she said. No one’s weight loss journey is the same, she said.
Encourage your loved one to set manageable goals so that measured progress inspires them to continue, Surampudi said. Small goals can have a big impact for those working to lose weight, too; a loss of 10 pounds, for example, takes 40 pounds of pressure off the knees and ankles.
“The biggest thing is to celebrate the successes, even the small 1- or 2-pound ones,” Surampudi said. “And, don’t take the grumpiness to heart. Weight loss is hard.”