Talking to a loved one about their weight
Are you concerned about a loved one’s sudden or ongoing weight gain? That’s reasonable, but it’s important to express your concern in the right way.
“It’s a really touchy subject, because weight is so enmeshed with self-esteem,” said Licensed Mental Health Counselor Jean Moore, who has worked at Cape Cod Human Services in Hyannis for 22 years.
“Weight gain is much more complex than diet and exercise. A lot of the times, people are under a lot of stress and eating helps them to cope. Be prepared for an emotional conversation.”
Moore offered a list of suggestions for talking with someone about their weight.
- Don’t shame someone. “Statements like ‘You can’t fit into your clothes anymore’ or ‘I’m not attracted to you anymore’ are very hurtful. That could actually work against what you’re trying to do.
- ”Don’t force the issue. “It’s an extremely personal and sensitive matter. It’s best to approach the topic slowly. They know there’s a problem and they’re thinking about it, but maybe they’re just not quite ready to do something about it.”
- Do keep the discussion focused on health. “Instead of talking about food or someone’s weight, tell them ‘I’m concerned about your health. I’m so worried about your high blood pressure, and I don't want to lose you’ Talk about your love and concern.”
- Don’t offer weight loss advice. “What works for one person might not work for another. Usually the person knows what to do, and what not to do. They just have to be ready to do it.”
- Don’t monitor their exercise and other habits. “Leave that to the professionals. You can encourage them to hire professionals, like a nutritionists or physical trainer.”
- Don’t judge. “The person is probably judging themselves terribly, which decreases their self-esteem. Though your loved one’s weight might seem to you like a simple issue of motivation of self-control, it may not be. If they have an eating disorder, they need professional.”
- Do remember your loved one already feels emotional. “Be sensitive and thoughtful with your words and your approach. Remember it’s a subject that can be very painful and shame inducing.”
- Do speak with love and respect. “Tell them you’re trying to talk about this because you want them to be happy and to have the happiest and healthiest life possible. Use empathy, lots of love and support.”