My entire journey to better health started with one simple comment. I was home visiting my family for Thanksgiving three years ago, and I was taking a little post-feast nap when my dad came in and sat down on my bed. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I know this is not you, I know something is wrong,” he said. He was talking about my weight. I was fifty pounds overweight by then-extra weight that had steadily built up for the past 5 years-and I was getting heavier by the week.
The thing is, I wasn’t mad at him for being so direct-my dad and I have always been very close and I knew his intention was good because he loved me-but at the time his concern didn’t really register for me that something was actually wrong. Then, a few months later when I was picking out an outfit for my first day at a new job, I realized that I’d outgrown my size 12/14 clothes, and suddenly my dad’s words came back to me. At that moment I knew he was right, my weight was out of control, and I needed to do something about it.
I didn’t want to do a crash diet or give up every food I loved so I started with just one goal: I quit pizza and french fries, the two foods I’d always sworn I couldn’t live without. For 90 days, I didn’t have a single fry or bite of pizza, texting my friend or my parents for support whenever a really tough craving hit. From just cutting out two foods from my diet, I lost ten pounds and I began to see the power of making small changes.
To keep the weight loss going, I came up with my own diet plan focused on whole, unprocessed foods. A typical meal on my new healthy eating journey looked more like turkey burgers and broccoli, not pizza and fries. It was simple and easy, no special diet shakes, pills, or products required, and I didn’t even need to count calories. (Dietitian Cynthia Sass tells you Why You Should Stop Counting Calories, and focus more on the kind of foods you’re eating.)
As the pounds were dropping off, I began to get frustrated that people hadn’t said anything to me about my obvious weight gain before. I remember making comments about how I was gaining weight, wanting someone to just acknowledge it and help me change my bad habits, but friends want to affirm you, to reassure you that you’re beautiful the way you are. No one wants to be the one to say “Hey, maybe you do need to lose weight.” I began to realize what an incredibly courageous thing my dad had done in speaking to me that Thanksgiving day. I found out later that my mom had even asked him not to bring it up, but he ultimately decided that he loved me too much not to speak up. I can’t express enough, just how grateful I am that he did.
I’ve since lost all that extra weight and kept it off for two years thanks to a healthy overhaul to my lifestyle (My story was even featured in an issue of SHAPE magazine!), and I want to be the support system to other people like my dad was for me. (I even became certified as a personal trainer and health coach to better help people on their fitness journey.) I’ve discovered that wanting to give a friend or loved one a gentle wake-up call about their weight (exercise habits, or unhealthy eating) is a very common situation-one that many people (even those with the best intentions) don’t know how to tackle. To help, here are a few Do’s and Don’ts for knowing both when and how to talk to a friend or family member about their weight. There’s no golden rule for these kinds of tough conversations, but hopefully, this helps gets the topic started.
Don’t: Force the conversation. Everyone is at a different place in their life, and I know now that people only change when they are ready, not what someone else says it’s time.
Do: Be open to the discussion and hearing what they have to say if they do want to talk. If someone comes to you be willing, available, and supportive.
Don’t: Brush off weight comments. If someone is making a lot of comments about feeling fat or constantly express concerns about gaining weight, don’t ignore them or brush them off.
Do: Dig deeper. Ask them how they feel about their weight. Open the door for the conversation to happen in a safe environment.
Do: Share your own experience. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is share a “When I was there…” moment. Whether it’s a weight-related issue or simply your own body confidence thing, we’ve all been there at some point, in one way or another.
Do: Offer specific support. It’s one thing to simply say “I support you,” but it’s entirely different to show your support through action. Ask them to go hiking instead of going to dinner, or go grocery shopping together for healthy meals you can cook at home. When in doubt, simply tell them they can reach out (“text me!”) whenever they might feel weak in their resolve.
Don’t: Let them forget that it’s bigger than just a number on the scale. Talk about how making these healthy changes will help them feel stronger, sleep better, and be happier. (Yep, there are a slew of health benefits to losing weight, besides the actual weight loss, like these 9 Reasons to Reach Your Weight Loss Goals.)
Do: Help them identify their triggers. Everyone has bad eating or exercise habits triggered by stress, sadness, or some other emotion. So offer them new, healthier ways to deal with these feelings, such as taking a barre class together or a walk around the block, or writing in a journal.
Do: Make it about love. Bringing up someone else’s weight is a tricky subject no matter what, but when they realize it’s not about you judging them, and instead it’s about you letting them know just how much you care, they are able to really hear you and take it in. (Just like my dad did for me!)