Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Advice From a Novice

My loyal reader Tony has asked a question about how to approach loved ones with concern about weight and health issues.  In my experience, it is one of the most touchy subjects to broach, and it's recipients are usually the most touchy lot you will encounter.  After all, you are, in essence, reminding them of their shortcoming, even if your intentions are perfectly well-meaning.  Those of us who consistently make health-conscious choices can see the potential in others, or feel the joy of living well, and want that for the ones around us.  It is human nature, and an ulitimate display of love.  But how well it is recieved relies heavily on how sensitive the recipient of your concern is.
I think, for most people, telling them you are concerned for them/their health, makes them feel guilty that they not only are killing themselves (which all overweight people are well aware of ) but they are inconveniencing you in the process.  In my own experience, when my husband and I would discuss it, he would tell me that he thought I was beautiful no matter what weight I was at, but that he worried that I would be around to see our boys grow.  The amount of guilt I had in knowing I was causing him grief and concern made me binge and binge to try and suffocate the guilt.  I knew I was making poor choices and that it would eventually kill me, and the fact that I couldn't just buck up and fix the problem made me feel worthless and weak.  Being overweight is more than a physical burden, but a mental burden as well.  I was never so sensitive about my weight/poor choices as when I didn't feel strong enough to change it. 
What did work for me, and always has worked is inspiration.  Success stories of any kind.  When I first started blogging a year ago, I was still in the habit of bad choices, and I blogged about raising autistic kids, because that's what I knew about.  Then I read Lynn's blog and just seeing the results she acheived and how she was handling the day-to-day really inspired me to do the same.  Shows like The Biggest Loser and Heavy have also inspired me greatly, and I have had some really great workout sessions after watching those things.  I am also really inspired by people who already look the way I want to, which is why I subscribe to Oxygen magazine. 
But how to bring it up in conversation is tricky.  It isn't something you can gift someone; it is nearly always seen as an insult.  "Here is your one year membership to the gym, Bob"; kind of comes off like a bit of lemon juice applied to an open wound.   Letting your loved ones know that you too have flaws that you are working on, might be just the opening to get the conversation rolling.  Maybe you are trying to quit smoking, or trying to make sure you drink enough water, or eating more green veggies.  When I see someone I know working toward a goal, it inspires me to work toward my own harder, and also makes me feel a little more comfortable discussing my struggles with them.  When I feel like someone is already (in my perception) perfect, I don't want to discuss anything with them, because I feel they won't understand.  Now is the perfect time of year, while everyone is discussing New Year's resolutions, to talk about positive changes.
Tony, if your brothers live near you, maybe you could invite them for a mini training session to your gym.  Maybe if you complain that you can't get a good spotter to help with your heavier training, you could commission them to "help" you, and in turn you would be inspiring them, and letting them know that you are human as well.  The most important thing is opening the door to communication in a very innocent way, then when they are ready to share their thoughts and fears with you, you can reassure that you are very willing to help with training and nutrition advice if they want it.  They already know you know your stuff, but do they know that you are willing to share your knowledge and even excited to do so?  When I was obese, I felt "in the way" in every way, and was even shy to ask my husband training or nutrition questions.  Now I see how absurd that was, and I have taken my own path, but there are a lot of illogical thoughts and feelings that come along with feeling wrong in every way. 
I don't pretend to be an expert on the subject, and I try not to force my exercise religion on anyone who isn't asking for it, but I try to make people feel comfortable around me so they know that if they do have questions, I am more than willing to help.  Usually it comes from me talking about a challenge I am having, whether it's avoiding certain foods or being lax on my training.  Sharing some of my own flaws helps put people at ease that I am not judging them, and they usually open up and share too, and ask questions to boot.   
In the end, the old saying still holds true; you can lead a horse to water, but you can't force it to drink.  No uncommitted person will ever stick with it, and motivation toward committment generally has to be self-driven in order to have relevance.  I know that I could have lost weight without support, because my motivatioin was internal, but I have been so pleasantly surprised and blessed by the support I have gotten.  Maybe the best way we can help is to listen and when the time is right, be an enthusiastic cheerleader, a good example, and at times, a valuable resource.  And if all else fails, a little love and understanding never hurts.
Tony, I hope you find the right way to open up the conversation and let your loved ones lead you to where they are comfortable going.  You will all be the better for it!

2 comments:

  1. Thank you for this Amy, excellently written and candid as always.When I have tried broaching the subject of health with my brothers they laugh it off and act as though I am nagging them. I know it is a defence mechanism but I can only do so much. Once again, thanks.

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  2. Most welcome. You're right, you can only do so much. They need to work it out on their own, when the time is right for them, and I'm sure they know they have your support. Your love for them is evident.

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