Obesity is a sensitive topic and so is the surrounding communication. Proper communication with someone who has obesity is crucial to boost their confidence and encourage them to work towards their health.
If you are concerned about a loved one’s increasing weight, it is vital to know how to initiate and maintain a conversation about it.
Remember, a conversation about weight with a person with obesity can make or break the situation.
Read this blog to know how you can begin.
Importance of Weight Conversation
Obesity is a stigmatized disorder, and people with obesity face stigma and discrimination very often in their lives and that affects their mental health. This happens because there is so much more to obesity than just being overweight. People are not fully aware of the causes of obesity and solely blame a sedentary lifestyle and laziness for weight gain.
Conversations around obesity have been noticed to be less friendly and less respectful.1 A study showed that patients who felt stigmatized are less likely to lose weight.2 These feelings affect confidence and force people to avoid conversations about weight.
If you are concerned about someone’s significant weight gain, the best thing you can do is start a conversation.
People with obesity might have stress with all that goes around them, but a proper conversation can make them feel heard and cared. It is vital to start a conversation because obesity is a complex disease associated with severe health conditions.
Even before your loved ones take medical help, you can start a conversation at home to open them up and make them feel heard. If you choose a mindful approach to convey the message, it can help them without hurting their feelings.
Why initiate a conversation around obesity?
Weight loss is a primary treatment of obesity, and a conversation about it can encourage someone to lose weight instead of living with it. The right choice of words and empathy can build confidence and prevent avoiding the discussion.
It is vital to understand that what you say and how you say it can work for or against your favor. If you initiate the conversation the right way, you can successfully approach someone to lose weight.
If you are concerned about a loved one and wish to start a conversation around obesity, here are a few things you can keep in mind.
Weight Conversation: Do’s And Don’ts
If you have decided to start a conversation with a loved one, there are a few do’s and don’t that might help you. A random conversation with no mindful approach can elevate self-disgust in a person with obesity.
Here’s what you can and cannot do:
- Ask for consent.
Before talking to your loved one, consider if they are ready to talk about their weight. If they do not wish to talk about it, respect the decision and wait for the right time. Discussing obesity or weight loss with someone, who is not ready, can trigger negative emotions.Assure them you are always around if they change their mind and wish to talk. This way, when they are ready, a meaningful conversation can be started.
- Watch out for words.
It is great that you are concerned about someone’s weight, but the wrong choice of words and phrases can tangle the situation. Avoid saying things like, “Are you going to eat all of this?”, “How much more do you want to eat?”, “Eat less, do some workout” “Get up, lose some weight” and the like.No doubt your intentions are good but such phrases might convey a message that weight management is easy, which is not. It is also possible that they might have heard all these things a lot of times and it just makes them angry or sad.It would help to avoid phrases like “need to” and “should do” and ask them what they want to try instead.
- Convey your concern and feelings.
Show your loved ones that you care for them and wish them to get fit and strong. Please choose the right words to convey that message for e.g. “I am concerned about your knee pain or high blood pressure” or “I do not want your health to suffer.”This way, they can connect with you and listen to what you have to say.IMAGE OR ILLUSTRATIONS
- Do not compare them.
During a weight conversation, do not mention other people who have lost weight. It can demotivate them and might make them feel sad.Anyone with obesity has heard such things a lot of times and if you say the same, you are just adding your voice to the chorus of negative comments that they hear all the time. Get them to share their feelings and how they want to chart their weight loss journey.
- Offer your help.
Your loved ones will feel a lot better if you offer them help instead of concrete suggestions like ‘eat less’ or ‘move more’. Ask them how you can help them and reassure them that you are always there to help them.Together, you can go grocery shopping, for walks, outdoor activities and other activities. When your loved one spends time with you, they will open up about their feelings and might talk to you about it.
- Do not rush things.
Timing is crucial in talking about obesity. Remember not to rush things no matter how concerned you are. If you wait for the right time and choose the right words and approach, your loved one will automatically take an interest in the conversation.Eventually, they might make lifestyle changes if you take your time and approach a conversation accordingly.In conclusion, blaming just the sedentary lifestyle with different causes of obesity is not okay. Your loved one might have gained weight due to genetics or due to an emotional event or maybe due to stress, it is important to communicate that it may not entirely be their fault.Wait for the right time and start a fruitful conversation around obesity. If your loved one agrees to take medical help, you can consult an obesity specialist.
- Ask for consent.
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- Street RL Jr et al., Physicians’ communication and perceptions of patients: is it how they look, how they talk, or is it just the doctor? Soc Sci Med 2007; 65: 586–598.
- Gudzune KA et al, Perceived judgment about weight can negatively influence weight loss: a cross‐sectional study of overweight and obese patients. Prev Med 2014; 62: 103–107.
- Phelan SM et al. The impact of obesity on perceived patient-centred communication. Obes Sci Pract. 2018;4(4):338-346. Published 2018 Jun 14. doi:10.1002/osp4.276