Helping An Overweight Friend or Family Member

By Ali Luke

Helping Family and Friends with Weight lossIf you’re interested in staying fit and eating healthily, it can be difficult to see friends or family members leading a very unhealthy lifestyle.

Perhaps you have a child or parent who is very overweight, or a friend who seems down about his/her size – but who never gets round to doing anything about it.

It’s very difficult to offer help without sounding like you’re interfering or nagging or, worse, giving the impression that you don’t like your friend or relative because of their weight.

There’s no point trying to encourage someone to lose weight if they don’t want to.

Even highly motivated dieters find it tough going – someone who’s half-heartedly agreed to keep a food diary or cut out chocolate just to please you is unlikely to manage it for long.

But you can help friends or family members to improve their health and fitness.

Here are some things to try.

Note: I have used “she” and “he” alternately throughout. Of course your friend or family member could be either gender.

First: Check Whether You Just Have Different Priorities

Perhaps you work out for an hour every day, you avoid all saturated fat, and you’d rather eat worms than eat one of these burgers. You’re proud of your super-buff figure.

Your friend or family member is forty pounds overweight. She thinks it’s no big deal – it doesn’t stop her doing anything she wants to. And she doesn’t see why your gym obsession is any more worthy than her knitting habit.

Be careful that you’re not trying to “help” someone who’s perfectly happy with her life. Unless she’s putting her health at serious risk, it’s not your business if she’s carrying a few extra pounds – and trying to change her is likely to seriously jeopardize your relationship.

On the other hand, if you know someone who does occasionally talk about wanting to lose weight or get fit, or who has a negative self-image due to their size, you might be in a position to help out…

Focus On Health

It’s important to emphasize health, not looks. This is especially crucial if your friend or relative is young. For example, don’t say “You’d look so much nicer if you lost twenty pounds,” say, “You could really improve your health by losing a bit of weight from around your waist.”

With children, don’t just tell them to eat their vegetables “because I say so” — explain (in terms that your child can understand) the benefits of doing so. For example, you might tell them how carrots keep their eyes functioning well.

Never try to put a child or teen on a “diet”. Focus on healthy eating and exercise, and don’t ban foods – this will only make them more desirable.

Cook For Your Whole Family

If one family member is trying to lose weight, don’t serve them separate meals from the rest of the family. Make changes to the whole family’s menu in order to show support and solidarity.

This might mean eating some different meals from your usual (vegetable-based dishes tend to be low-fat), or it may just mean tweaking the way you cook (using as little oil as possible, for example, and grilling instead of frying).

In some case – with children or touchy spouses – you might not want to raise the issue of weight directly. One way to subtly encourage them to be healthier is to simply try some new recipes, making them low-fat ones, and to arrange some joint activities like walking or swimming.

Support and Encourage Them

If your friend or family member does start on a healthy eating plan, do everything you can to be supportive.

Never berate them for eating something you think they shouldn’t have had, but if they ask for advice, suggest healthy alternatives (“I really enjoy…” or “Have you ever tried…” are low-pressure ways to introduce these).

Be enthusiastic and pleased for them when they do see success, and be there on any bad days to make sure that they don’t give up for good.

Have you helped a friend or family member to lose weight? What tips do you have?


  1. Ellen

    My best friend is obese. I love her to death, but she refuses to do anything about it and blames her parents for many things, including this. She claims she’s “fluffy”, and the reason I don’t like her saying that is because she’s extremely unhealthy and it’s not to be taken lightly! I’m so worried 🙁

  2. Christina

    My best friend is morbidly obese…and also lives 10 thousand miles away from me. She is in her mid 40s and I am very scared for her. I don’t worry about what she eats or drinks, but I am really worried that she is going to die. I can’t say anything to her, even about my worry for her, despite being my best friend. I support her as much as possible and when she makes good choices or mentions about starting up a new healthier thing such as exercising or drinking water, I encourage her and praise her when she does anything positive. Her health is affecting so many things. She is over tired because of sleep apnea, and has trouble with asthma, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, joint problems, etc. and she is not getting any younger. She is a vibrant person and full of life and yet she is taking more and more naps lately. She is not depressed but quite stressed. She has always struggled with weight but I’m really worried about her now because of how obese she is and how old she is. I know she says she’s going to get “back on track” but I’m still waiting, almost 4 years into our friendship. I just want her to be happy and healthy. I feel sick not being able to say anything to her at all. I know it’s a sensitive topic, but I wish she would realize that half of her problems that she complains about are ones that would disappear with weight loss.

  3. I'm taking care of a friend

    I am taking care of a 300 pound lady. I live with her. She has pulmonary failure, RA knee problems. And I have been cooking no salt, healthy diet meals for her. For about the last 5 months. She wont get on the scale. Her son comes over almost every day. Buys her pita bread 200 calories, pudings diet. But 0nly if you eat one. Gives her candy bars and sandwiches from safeway. I feel like giving up. Im getting angry. She can walk with a walker. Can you give me any adise. Thank You Neva

    • Ted Kallmyer

      Have you talked with her son about this? He needs to understand his mom’s health condition and work with you, not against you.