How do you make someone change?

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One of the hardest questions I get about my journey in losing weight and reversing type 2 diabetes usually comes in the form of…

‘How do I talk to someone I love/know/care about that they need to lose weight?’

The basic answer, based on my personal experience, is; you really should NOT.

You can not motivate someone else to embrace big changes.

Any of the other folks I’ve talked to who have embarked on significant life changes echo my sentiments.  We all seem to agree that we were ultimately motivated by some seemingly random moment in time or collection of small happenings or a ‘critical’ incident. The decision to make the lasting hard changes was never spurred on by someone’s ‘helpful comments’.

In fact, the opposite seems to be true.  Those times people tried to talk to us about being overweight, unhealthy?  We were NOT ready to listen, resentful to the message bearer and/or defensive that someone should personally attack us about our food or weight.

Not exactly a great set-up or fertile ground for healthy conversations.

Nothing anyone ever said to me about my weight or T2 Diabetes EVER convinced me to change for the long term.

Subtle, friendly, mean, direct, scientific, jokingly.

None of it.

Sure, the times someone approached me or talked to me about my weight or health or how my body looked, I’d make short-term/panicked changes out of grief or embarrassment or blind-hope even. But I wasn’t ready to do the hard-as-hell, wholesale, gritty work needed to make a sustainable change. No one could have convinced, guilted, cajoled or begged me into doing it until I was READY.


  • I was 350-400 pounds, grocery shopping.  Yet again embarking on another diet I’d found in some magazine or had been told about by a friend who was miraculously and easily shedding weight. I was loading up my grocery cart for a successful start to a new diet.  I had ‘light’ everything — including ice cream and ‘diet’ cookies. Everything in the cart was ‘on the diet’. This skinny, older man stopped me in the pasta aisle, looking in my cart and then looked me square in the eye and said loudly ‘You really don’t need all that ice cream and junk food.’  I remember leaving the fully loaded cart in the middle of the aisle and going home — totally mortified.
  • I had an aunt tell me ‘You don’t think drinking diet soda is all it will take to make you thin do you?’ (I was about 13 and remembered thinking that I did, in fact, think diet soda was at least one of the answers that was going to save me. I mean it wasn’t sugar soda and Weight Watcher’s said it was Ok…)
  • I had multiple friends in a variety of ways tell me that the reason I was single was because guys don’t date ‘fat chicks’ and if I could just lose weight I would find that elusive happiness and find the right guy.
  • ‘Do you really need to eat that?’, ‘Aren’t you on a diet?’, ‘Should you be eating that?’.
  • Another relative gave me the ‘we care about you and you’re killing yourself and you won’t be around to see your nephews grow up’ ultimatum.

These comments and interactions may have meant to inspire, enlighten, encourage, scare or spur me into action, but they were by and large (pun intended) destructive and hurtful no matter how the message was delivered or who said it.

When you’re fat/unhealthy/overweight/out of shape; YOU DO NOT NEED SOMEONE TO TELL YOU ANY OF THAT.

You already know it… In all it’s painful and degrading glory.

You are well aware of your situation.

Someone telling you this obvious truth doesn’t make you instantly go… ‘Wow.  Geez.  I didn’t know that.  I should do something about that.  I am so glad they said something!’

It makes you feel deep shame. It pisses you off. Wounds you.

It beats you down because you know you’ve tried so, so many different things and none of them seemed to work and you really, truly do not know what else to do…

You’re humiliated.  You can’t hide the problem of being overweight or obese.  Hell, you publicly WEAR your problem for the whole world to see every minute of every day.

In no way did anyone’s ‘helpful’ comments ever give me the power and energy to embark on the changes that I ultimately would have to make.

Fat chance.

From everything I’ve read about the paradigm of change; telling someone they have a problem doesn’t usually help them move into action to resolve the problem. The trigger for real, lasting change usually comes from a seemingly innocuous, yet life-defining moment, a health scare, turning of the years or some other very personal ‘bottom moment’.

The moment when inspiration for change strikes and STICKS is very personal and pretty darn hard to explain.

If you are that person who is still insisting that someone in your life really needs to make a change, needs to lose weight, needs to get healthy.  You care deeply, are afraid for their health and you genuinely  want to help. You just.need.to.do.something…

The list below are the traits I sought out for my ‘team’ when I was finally ready to face the truth, do the work and make a change.  In hindsight, these are the things my friends had been slowly and quietly doing over the years to try to get me to a healthier place. These are THEIR tricks…

{Actions speak far more loudly than words ever will.}

  • Listen.  Listen for open doors or pleas for help or blatant defensiveness or fear.  Then, and only when they open the door and invite you in, do you have permission to engage in the conversation about how you can help them.  Don’t answer questions that have NOT been asked. Don’t offer advice that has NOT been asked for.
  • Set an example. Sign up for a 5K and invite them to join you to train for it and walk or run it. Move your normal meeting spots to a walk or coffee shop instead of a bakery or fast food lunch. Find subtle, genuine ways to shift the patterns of your friendship away from food and toward conversation, activity.
  • Be ready to embrace their change WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.  There are all kinds of programs that people lean on/cling to/buy into when they are ready to commit to losing weight and changing their lifestyle. Programs and options we may or may not agree with or understand. BUT if someone wants to lose weight, learn new eating habits and get moving — GET OUT OF THEIR WAY!  If someone is simply jazzed that they have found something to be excited about — be excited with them!  If they’re willing to own it, work it and make it part of their life; who are we to judge?!  Our job is to unequivocally support them.

‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can not make it drink.’

The horse will drink when it’s good and thirsty.

Not when YOU think they’re thirsty.

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