Be a weight loss helper, not a hinderer

Know someone trying to lose weight as one of their new year’s resolutions? Probably yes, since weight loss is traditionally the most common resolution that people make.

While dropping a few pounds is clearly highly personal, if there’s a spouse, family member, co-worker or friend aiming for a trimmer waistline, people have a number of ways to support their loved ones bringing their resolution to fruition.

A good starting point in being helpful is often not trying to be so helpful. Sometimes things people do or say may make them feel like they’re providing assistance when it actually has a negative effect. Activities to avoid include acting as the food police; buying exercise equipment or pointing out new diets; citing health risks of being overweight or constantly asking for weight loss updates; depriving the person of favorite foods and saying things like “weight loss is easy and just a matter of willpower.”

Such actions can, in reality, be sending destructive messages which reinforce the person’s negative feelings that something is wrong with them unless they lose weight. Even more eating may occur as a way to temporarily overcome these negative feelings.

Instead, the goal is to practice positive behaviors that can assist the weight loss effort. Start by encouraging the person trying to lose weight to express their feelings, especially negative ones that may be triggering eating. Allowing the person to talk about such things might help them focus on what may be the real problem that affects their eating habits. It might be relationship problems, a work situation, a family loss or other major concerns. Feeling stressed often leads to eating because food is a great way to temporarily feel better.

Offer ongoing encouragement, not about weight loss, but about the person in general. Sending sincere, honest, positive messages is a good way to help combat negative feelings, such as low self-esteem that often trigger eating.

It also helps to be a positive role model. It’s not necessary to begin dieting with them, but set an example by making healthy, sensible food choices.

Being a person who understands the challenges of losing weight and is willing to listen and support, rather than lecture about weight, can go a long way in helping someone achieve their goal.

Counseling Corner is provided by the American Counseling Association. Send comments and questions to [email protected] or visit the ACA website at www.counseling.org.

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