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!