Home Q&A Wednesday Q&A Wednesday: Talking Fitness With Loved Ones

Q&A Wednesday: Talking Fitness With Loved Ones

by Erika Nicole Kendall

I can actually hear my Mother’s voice in my head. Explaining to me how proud of myself she was, all the while seeming a little preoccupied with something. Not like she wasn’t showing me any love, just seemed like something was sitting on the tip of her tongue… just never came out.

I know my Mom, though – I already knew what it was. I certainly wasn’t going to bring it up.

It’s difficult to initiate conversations with people about fitness and health for a lot of reasons that make a world of sense, especially if we’re talking about someone with more than 25lbs to lose.

For starters, let’s face it – being visibly overweight is already a flag to the outside public. It’s a sign that somewhere in my life, something is out of order. It’s allowed me to get down to ignoring important aspects of myself, and whatever that “something” is, it’s causing me to gain weight. It’s like placing a spotlight on my insecurities. We’re all insecure about something, but we rarely embrace that publicly. To do so, essentially robs me of my dignity. “You’re telling me I’m fat and that I need your help to get skinny?” No, I’m telling you that we need to take a serious look at your health.

That brings me to today’s Q&A. When you love someone, how do you tell them to take better stock of their health without robbing them of that dignity? Without giving someone that “OMG All my feelings and emotions are about to start pouring out because I just got called out” feeling, how can you show someone that there’s a healthier and happier way to be without basically telling them, “Ur doin it rong?”

From my own experiences, I’ve learned a few things (some, the hard way, no doubt) that I think would help anyone seeking to enlighten a loved one:

1. Don’t be judgmental – Despite what you may think about being overweight or unhealthy, don’t be judgy about it. That means, don’t assume you know why a person is overweight. It could be myriad reasons – anything from a thyroid problem to an injury to depression, because it’s rarely just about the food and access to it – and to assign the wrong reason to someone’s health situation is insulting.

2. Be sympathetic – This is your loved one, not some chicken on the block.

3. Be human – Acknowledge that we all have shortcomings, we all have missteps and we all slip up every now and again. Regardless the size of the slip up, we all deserve to be treated with respect and like human beings. Understand that your loved one may be very sensitive about their weight, and they deserve your sympathy. Not your contempt.

4. Get ready to be supportive – While I’m an advocate for people being their own cheerleader… if this is someone you love enough to reach out to, then hopefully this is someone you love enough to stand behind without getting in the way of them learning themselves. Cheer them on, offer to walk with ’em (every blue moon), and be there to be excited when they succeed.

5. Be knowledgeable – Don’t go get your MD, but in hopes that you’ll be living a healthier lifestyle too, do some reading! Arm yourself with resources – books, favorite websites, podcasts, you name it. Suggest your favorite resources to them and don’t be afraid to share your former shortcomings and how you’ve succeeded regardless.

6. Be the change you wish to see in your world – This, I believe, is the most important of these. The best way to show how easy and doable this is, is to do it! Let your loved one see how easy it is to allow small changes to build up into huge results in the end. Let your loved one see the benefit of a swap-out here, a swap-out there. Be conscious of your own decisions and, while you don’t need to flaunt them in their face, be knowledgeable and ready to explain when your loved one asks why you’re eating that. Be the role model. The positive influence.

Does this sound taxing on yourself? Of course it is. You’re asking someone to change their lifestyle – you’re taking something from them. Be in a position to help them rebuild the hole, so to speak. You don’t do this kind of conversation with anyone. You don’t reach out like this to everyone. You do it for someone you love – that way they know you’ll be doing it out of love, not superficial reasons. For me, a huge part of my definition of love consists of the lengths to which I’d go to help my loved one live to their fullest potential. So to me, this is extremely important. If it’s not someone very close to you who values your honest opinion, why bother?

I get all kinds of e-mails asking me how to tell loved ones about my site, and my response is always the same – “Open the site on your home computer; click to the about page, a page sharing a piece of my own story or your favorite post; and leave the window up. Perhaps one of the before/after picture sets will help make a difference.”

E-mail your loved one with a random link from the site, asking if they’d heard anything about [insert post topic.] They may very well decide to browse around the site and ask you a few questions. Tell them that you frequent BGG2WL and that you believe there’s good info on the site. I mean sure, that benefits me, but it’s not me that’s important here. 😉

It makes me think of the conversation Mo’Nique reportedly had with her husband. In an interview with Kimberly Garrison, we got this jewel:

Q: You should be excited. And you should be excited about this weight loss. How did you feel when your husband suggested that you do a little slim down?

A: I went though so many emotions. I was embarrassed, my feelings were hurt, I was excited, and I’ve never felt love like that before. It was so nonjudgmental: “Baby, that’s too much, and I want you for a lifetime.”

The “that’s too much” was the embarrassing part. The “I want you for a lifetime” was the love.

“If it hurts your feelings right now, that’s not my intention. But I’ve gotta be honest with you,

you’re 40 years old and you’re 262 pounds.

“How are you going to manage that 10 years from now when you’re 50? If you put on a pound a year then you’ll be 272 pounds at 50.”

When I really thought about that, I said, “Oh my God, I want to be here. I want to enjoy my family. I want to meet my grandchildren.” It was a moment for us. But it has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done in my life. And it’s still challenging.

Please don’t think this thing is easy. It’s easy for no one. The choice to learn to live healthier, in a society that makes it so easy to overindulge on the wrong things… it’s an additional burden. It’s hard. But it’s important. I wrote about the day that my Mother suggested that I hit the gym… and as embarrassed as I was and as hard as I tried to act like I was unphased by her suggestion… the moment I listened to the owner of that gym tell me how I could do it and I could be successful and weight loss? I cried like a baby. As I write this, remembering that day (because I do remember it word for word), I am teary eyed.

I do believe that it is possible to tell someone the truth without hurting their feelings. The important thing here is to remember that this is someone you love, someone worth your care and respect enough to not trounce on their emotions just so you can get your point across. We’re doing these things out of love, and it’s worth the effort to get it right.

Do you have any suggestions or stories to share? Let’s hear it!

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12 comments

Lüx May 26, 2010 - 9:27 AM

I love your blog. The words you write are full of knowledge and wisdom. I really look forward to each and every blog you write.

BrownBabe May 26, 2010 - 11:02 AM

Thanks for this post! This is something I have been grappling with recently…

My mom has been struggling with her weight for quite some time now. Its a combination of health issues and lack of will power that have been leaving her feeling defeated.

I have tried to be supportive, even started a family boot camp – which she increasingly found excuses to bow out of after starting off strong.

I’ll admit, I struggle with my own health issues and I cant claim to know whats going on in a person’s body or how they feel…but I did find it frustrating to try to motivate her and see her not push past her excuses. I bit my tongue, did not criticize, was not judgmental and tried to be sympathetic.

Fast forward a year – she just told me she has scheduled weight loss surgery. Again, I am being supportive and non judgmental about her choice, because ultimately, it is her choice.

I cant help but feel some kinda way though. I was watching her favorite show with her last night – The Biggest Loser – and though I have some issues with that approach as well, I couldn’t help wonder why she chose this route when its evident that there are folks much heavier, with much bigger health challenges that have opted to successfully change their lifestyle without surgical help.

I also cant help but feel like a bad daughter for feeling like shes taking the “easy” way out – and I say that because I’m well aware of all of the challenges and medical issues that result from the surgery as well.

How would you broach this with a loved one?(sorry this post is so long)

Erika May 26, 2010 - 11:11 AM

Honestly, all you should do is do what you can to support her no matter what path she takes.

The thing about the surgery is, they STILL have to go through the trial and error of learning what to eat, how to eat and how to treat their body. The surgery, to me, only rids you of the former appearance. It absolutely does not change heart problems. It does not affect diabetes (last time I checked). Your mentality does that… and the surgery, to me, cannot affect that properly.

So really, I look at it like this: all you should do for your Mom is stand beside her and remain a “positive, motivating force within” her life. Because she’s going to need you in the long run, and your feelings about her decision aside.. you love her. 🙂

Anonymous May 26, 2010 - 11:23 AM

Here’s a way NOT to do it: A few weeks ago my husband of nearly three years told me that because I was so fat (the same fat I was when we met and got married) he was no longer attracted to me sexually and as a result he had cheated with two strippers and now he wants a divorce.

Eva May 11, 2011 - 9:57 AM

That is awful. I don’t get why people think they have to shame someone if they want them to change. This man sounds like he wanted to get out of the marriage anyway and just used your weight as an excuse. You should be glad to get rid of him.

Carmen November 1, 2013 - 11:49 PM

What a coward! You stay strong and focus on your health, you already lost the bulk of the weight with him leaving. Utilize this experience to become the best that you can be. God bless and my prayers are with you.

JoAnna March 9, 2011 - 11:19 AM

@ Anonymous: Give him the divorce after taking him to the cleaners! If he can be that nasty and mean and unfaithful, then he gets what he deserves!!!

But seriously, you’re better off divorced and working on you, than with an insensitive jerk like that. That’s some ugly hate he spouted and he needs help. Like from some of your Big and Hefty male relatives with baseball bats. Just sayin’…

LadyReD March 17, 2011 - 2:11 AM

Some family members of mine should read this blog because they have no clue how to approach me about my weight. They just blurt it out or start of with compliments like, “that outfit really looks nice on you but you should come down off the weight.” like really? Or heare’s my favorite comment from my family member if they so happen to see me eat a “smaller” portion or say a piece of fruit, “Are you on a diet?”. I know I’m fat and the fact that when my loved ones look at me they verbally express that “fat” is all they see is bothersome. Comments like such gets on my nerves and I think I tend to turn to food for comfort afterwards, rather thatn backing away from the table. It’s like if they dont accept me now will they ever?

LBC March 29, 2011 - 4:06 PM

Bless my mother: She didn’t say a thing about my weight until after I lost it. I wasn’t big enough really endanger myself, but I was, well, pretty chubby. (She would have said something had I gotten really out of hand, though.)

She’s the one who’s always had trouble with her weight although, thankfully, she kept her grousing under wraps when we were kids so I didn’t grow up with a lot of weight/food baggage. It’s partly genetic, but, in her case, it’s complex. Eating habits + medications + health concerns that prevent her from doing most forms of exercise. She knows she needs to do something but there are so many obstacles that I think she’s both depressed and doesn’t know how to start. I worry about her but I feel like I have to be careful because I don’t want her to think I’m Little Miss Know-It-All who lost 35 pounds and now thinks she can tell everybody how to do it, even though I don’t have any of Mom’s health and mobility issues. The last thing I’d want to do is hurt her feelings, and she can be mighty touchy.

ninagurl85 May 11, 2011 - 11:54 AM

This blog really hit home for me today, I have a lot of plump people in my family as well as slender people, and I myself am in the plump category, and throughout the years I’ve heard all sorts of things from various friends and family about weight. I can remember a petite cousin (5’0 and maybe 120 lbs) saying that as a teenager it was ridiculous for me to 5’10 and a svelte size 12. (This was after purchasing a small belt for me and a matching xxl t-shirt to fit over my ginormous boobs….I’m not sure where the logic is for that one, needless to say I couldn’t fit the belt, and the shirt was way too big)

I don’t think there’s an easy way to tell a family member that their weight is an issue, but my Grandma always says if a person is over weight they’re usually completely aware of the excess weight. I’ve heard plenty of the wrong ways “you’ll never get married if you don’t lose weight” “we’ll have to pay someone to marry you” “you’re gonna be big as a house if you don’t be careful” “How much are you up to by now?” I’ve even had my dad bargain with me for weight loss, which apparently some of my heavy girl friends have also heard. I’ve even had the dismissive doctor who blames any and everything that arises as a problem on my weight (catching the flu, mono, strept throat are all caused by being over weight)

I have to admit, I know it comes from love, but it certainly doesn’t feel like love… it makes me feel like love is always going to be full of conditions from family or from outsiders. It’s as if I don’t deserve to any respect because I’m heavy…

I’ve never heard anybody tell an ugly person “you’re never gonna get married if you don’t figure out how to fix your face” Just kidding! But only putting conditions on heavy people is not fair.

Sorry for being un-brief…. but I felt some kind of way about this post.

Katja May 11, 2011 - 1:58 PM

I’m not sure it’s ever appropriate to tell another adult they need to lose weight. Usually, they are aware of the situation so you’re not adding anything to the conversation and if it was as easy as “just knowing” they would have done something about it already.

What is appropriate is for you to take care of your own health and live that out in front of them. Tell them about the new health food you found and what it does that’s good for the body (that has nothing to do with weight loss). Tell them how you feel so energized after a good workout and invite them on a walk with you – or tell them about some pretty flowers you saw on your walk and invite them to come and see them. Tell them how you want to try a new vegetable you heard about and invite them to try it with you. In other words, don’t tell them they need to go on a health adventure – invite them to join yours.

Mishala October 16, 2013 - 11:08 PM

I would expect my spouse to say something to me if he felt my weight was getting out of hand, but I would also expect him to be willing to do something positive and helpful, too. Telling your spouse they weigh too much and then not offering to work out with them, or clear out the crap in the kitchen, or being unwilling to also change their eating habits just seems… I don’t know. Not quite rude, but some adjective with a negative connotation that’s escaping me right now.

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