How to Tell Someone They Need to Lose Weight
How to Tell Someone They Need to Lose Weight avatar

You just might save their life!

Honesty and Compassion Can Help Save Someone's Life

As a personal trainer and boot camp instructor in Westfield, Indiana, I have a lot of people ask my advice about various health and fitness topics.

I recently had a client ask me how I thought they should approach their spouse about their increasing weight.  For most people, that’s a very touchy subject that none of us really wants to address because we don’t want to offend them, hurt their feelings or damage our relationship with them.  After all, no matter how we say it, the other person is going to translate our words into, “You need to stop eating like a pig and get off of your ass to exercise because you are fat!”

How do I know that?  Because, I’ve been there.  Back before I started my fitness journey in March of 2010, I had several people comment directly and indirectly on my weight gain.  They didn’t all say the same thing.  Some were more subtle than others.  And some were downright rude.  One of my best friend’s father, a gentleman I probably hadn’t seen but twice since I weighed 130 lbs some 25 years ago, shouted across a hotel lobby, “Hey Brian, you’re getting a big belly.  You need to lose some weight!” That was pretty direct, not to mention embarrassing.  It pissed me off!  My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were more subtle when they gave me a Purdue University pull-over jacket for Christmas; it was a size XL.  I thought, “An extra-large? WOW! Really?!” I’ve never worn it!  And then there was a little kid, about 3 years old, in line at the grocery store who reached over from his seat in the grocery cart, poked me in the stomach and said, “You’re fat!”  The mom just laughed and told her toddler, “That wasn’t very nice.” She didn’t bother apologizing to me. There were several other occasions where people made reference to my size and I can remember each and every one.  But the one that really pushed me over the edge was when I saw an old high school friend who is now a very successful executive for a major fashion retail chain.  He didn’t recognize me at first and his “double take” and inquisitive “Brian?”, had me asking myself, “Do I really look that bad?” The answer was obviously, “Yes!” So, approaching someone about THEIR weight gain requires a delicate approach.But… it’s a conversation that you need to have if you truly want to help save their life.

Imagine if this person was about to step out in front of a speeding bus.  Would you shout, “Look out!” or, better yet, shove them out of harm’s way?  Of course you would.  So, obesity isn’t any different than a speeding bus.  Obesity is just a slower death.  And while it may be a difficult conversation, it’s definitely one you need to have sooner rather than later.

But… there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach the topic.  And,  you first need to take an inventory of YOUR own health.  First, look at yourself in the mirror.  Are you the perfect specimen of health?  Are your overweight?  Do you exercise?  Do you smoke?  Do you drink excessively?  Is there anything that you can work on?  I ask these questions because so many people who “appear” healthy, really aren’t.  You can be skinny, and still be “fat”.  What?  Yes, people can be skinny and have a low BMI (body mass index) and still have a lot of internal fat surrounding their heart, liver, stomach, etc…  If you are not living a healthy lifestyle, you might not want to open up a big ol’ hairy can of worms by telling your spouse, child, friend, or co-worker that they have a weight problem because they just might turn the tables back on you.  Besides, all of us could still use help in the area of good nutrition and exercise. Right?

If you are in pretty good health, then I recommend approaching the situation head on.  No, don’t go up to your friend and say something like, “Dude, you’re getting fat.  Have you thought about cutting out the McDonald’s and getting on a treadmill?” Say it that way, and your next meal might be a knuckle sandwich!  I’d suggest a more compassionate, heartfelt approach like, “Sue, I’m concerned about you and want you to be around for a long time.  I’ve noticed that you’ve been gaining weight which can lead to other serious health problems.  So, if and when you are ready to take the necessary steps to become healthier and lose the weight, I want you to know that I’ll be here to support you in whatever way you need.”

Now, if you are overweight or think that you have some health issues to work on, then you might make the following offering, “John, I’m concerned about our health.  We’ve both gained weight and could probably stand to lose a few pounds.  I’d like to start eating better and working out regularly. But I don’t want to do it alone.  I’d really like to do this together so we can hold each other accountable and get in shape together.  Are you in?”

Sometimes people want to start working out and eating healthier, but they don’t want (or think) they can do it alone.  So, offering to help them while helping yourself might be the best approach.  Make the journey together.

Another approach to use with people who are overweight is what I call the “survey”.  It goes something like this, “If you could do one thing to improve your health right now, what would it be?” I guarantee you that 99% of the time, they will say, “lose weight”.  If it’s not, then ask “Okay, what’s the second thing?” If the answer isn’t, “lose weight” this time, it’s probably not even on their radar and may require a more direct approach.

Finally, just know that nobody is going to take action to improve their health through exercise unless a) they are ready to do it themselves (intrinsic or extrinsic motivation) or b) they have a major health scare.  So, don’t be too surprised if they don’t run out and sign up for a gym membership upon your request.  Take their feelings into account and exhaust all compassionate approaches before resorting to a more direct approach.  And, be prepared for some resistance.

Just remember, you are throwing that person a life line.  While you may miss in your first few attempts, you’ll eventually get close enough that they’ll grab hold and you can pull them to safety.  Most of all, don’t be an innocent bystander.  Take action.

To your health!

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