How Do You Tell Someone They Need to Lose Weight?

It's hard, but it's doable. Follow these tips to help a loved one get healthy without ruining your relationship.
Couple

If your partner (or mother, or sister, or child, or friend...) really needs to lose weight, you probably feel like you'd do anything to get them to do it. Beg. Cajole. Threaten. You'd go to any lengths to motivate them to shed those pounds. But you also probably know that begging might not be enough.

"You can't motivate someone else to lose weight," says Jackie Raha, former manager of group service development for Weight Watchers International. "People motivate themselves. They don't get motivation from someone else."

Weight Watchers Online subscriber Elena ran into that roadblock when she tried to convince her husband to lose weight a few years ago. She had just signed up and was excited to be getting started. But "he wouldn't even listen," says Elena. "He said he wasn't ready for it."

"It's very difficult to get someone to do something they don't want to do," says Dr. Howard Rankin, a Hilton Head Island, SC, psychologist and author of Inspired to Lose. Instead of pleading or nagging, you need a different strategy.

"The most effective start to any change is when the person comes to their own conclusion that it needs to be done," says Rankin. And when that happens, even though you can't motivate your sister or husband or friend to lose weight, you can set up a motivational and supportive environment.

DO try to understand what's stopping him. Your husband's weight may be a nonissue to him (research suggests that men are less likely to identify themselves as overweight and are much less likely than women to take action to lose weight). Or the reason could be psychological. Jane, who lost weight a few years ago, along with her husband, Paul, says, "It took us both a while to get through the shame of trying to lose weight." If your loved one needs time, give it to him.

DO lead by example. "Everything changed when [my husband] started seeing my progress and how it affected me," says Elena. "He said he would give it a try, and I would never have believed how well he is doing! We even bought a treadmill as a reward."

DON'T be cruel. If you don't have weight to lose, don't eat your sister's favorite cheesecake in front of her a week after she starts a weight-loss plan.

DO reward good behaviors, instead of criticizing bad ones. "And facilitate healthier behavior by suggesting more of the things that are working," suggests Rankin.

DO be subtle, though. "When you're so attentive he feels like he's in a fishbowl, that's not helpful," says Raha. If he (or she) gains, he may feel like he can't talk to you about it. Try: "I see you've got more energy," or "Those clothes fit really well."

DON'T make affection or intimacy contingent on his weight loss. "It's a common practice, consciously or otherwise," says Rankin, "but it's likely also to have the opposite effect."

DON'T threaten. Lots of people end up trying this because they're so frustrated. But it's actually likely to polarize the person on the receiving end.

DO listen. When your friend tells you about the problems she's having with weight loss, lend a patient ear.

DO go for it together. Philip, a Weight Watchers meetings member, lost weight with his daughters Debbie and Robyn, and with his wife, Barbara. "We all reinforce each other," he says. "We try to pick each other up when things aren't going great."

DON'T compete, though. If you and your sister are losing weight together, and you lose weight faster than she does, she may feel pressured and insecure. Make sure to keep your journeys separate, even though you're doing it together.

DO let it bring you closer. Meetings members Jane and Paul say, "We were always close. We were Holy Communion partners in the first grade. It was a struggle to see someone you love get so big. But the relationship got stronger because we stayed the course."

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