How to Talk to a Loved One with Unhealthy Weight Gain or Loss

shutterstock_147927137Rapid weight loss or weight gain among seniors may indicate more serious health conditions. Sudden weight loss or gain may occur for a variety of reasons. Seniors suffering from unhealthy weight fluctuations may experience symptoms such as hindered physical mobility, and these fluctuations “[are] associated with increased morbidity and mortality,” according to a study published by the American Academy of Family Physicians. It is crucial, then, to pay close attention to your loved one’s weight and any drastic changes that occur over a short period.

However, many people find it difficult to discuss weight, as it confronts one’s self-image and self-worth. As a result, we avoid this topic with our loved ones even though it can have healthful benefits if addressed or insalubrious consequences if left alone. We must find an effective way to address weight with our loved ones without causing them to respond defensively. One method, outlined in this article, is to offer an emotional support system for your loved one that encourages healthy living and open communication from your parent when they need help.

Step 1: Understand What Your Loved One’s “Healthy” Weight Is 

Different bodies require different dietary and exercise plans. The healthy weight of a twenty-year-old man will differ from an eighty-year-old woman. You can get a general idea of your loved one’s healthy weight by using the body mass index (BMI). Your BMI is a ratio of height to weight, which is a generally reliable indicator of body fat. However, calculating BMI is not a completely effective method to determine a healthy body composition, as it can overestimate body fat in muscular individuals, such as athletes, and underestimate body fat in older individuals. Therefore, the best way to verify if your loved one has a healthy weight is to contact a doctor and request a health screening.

This ideal body weight will serve as a goal and can keep your loved one focused. In her article How to Talk to a Loved One about Weight Jennifer Kromberg, PsyD, says, “Phrases like, ‘I’m so worried about your high blood pressure,’ are helpful ways to communicate that your concern comes from a place of love.” In other words, you should focus on the health benefits of your loved one attaining an appropriate weight. Let them know that their quality of life is the top priority.

Step 2: Do Not Use Shaming Techniques

What works for NFL coaches should not work for your parents. Shaming is often used as a motivational tool to encourage individuals to stay on target towards their diet. In your loved one’s case, you should remain positive and rely on positive techniques—as mentioned above—instead of negative ones. Dr. Kromberg says, “Shame may make your loved one eat healthy (or restrict their intake) in front of you, but it doesn’t create long-term change. In fact, shame is likely to promote exactly the behaviors you hope to help your loved one avoid.” She offers the example: “You can’t even fit into your shirt.” Though this may seem innocuous, it and phrases like it can cause lasting psychological damage that can drive your loved one to “exactly the behaviors you hope to help your loved one avoid.”

Through positive reinforcement and a consistent focus on health over weight, you can continue to encourage your loved one without shaming them.

Step 3: Refer to the On-Site Dieticians and Nurses

Lastly, Dr. Kromberg advises not to give input as to how your loved one should lose weight. She says, “Stick to speaking about your love and concern about him or her personally. Do not focus on how he or she can or should reach their goal.” You may have lost twenty pounds recently yourself, but your weight-loss advice should not enter the conversation. As a family member and loved one, you must work as a support system, not a health advisor.

Many senior living communities have on-site nutritionists, dieticians, or nurses who specialize in weight management. Rely on these professionals to speak to your loved one about their weight. Their expertise will provide the necessary facts to give your parents a realistic perspective on what they must do to improve their health. With the combined effort of your loved one’s physician, the on-site dietician, physical therapists, chefs, and other available assistance, your loved one will receive a comprehensive program devoted to their health.

Become the Ultimate Support System

shutterstock_236053966If you gain one takeaway from this article, it’s that your loved one needs support. Become that special someone that they can talk to when the diet or exercise program gets tough. Reassure them by showing that you love them and value the steps they are taking for their health. With enough time and patience, you can learn to communicate effectively with your parents about their weight in a manner that is healthy and productive.

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