DEAR KELLY: My little brother is overweight. I told my parents I want to help him lose weight, and they said, “No.” They think he will grow out of this, but I see him having really bad eating habits and never exercising, which I know is a big problem. My parents aren’t big into exercising, either. My dad sits all day as a computer programming guy and my mom stands as a cashier, but says she’s too tired when she gets home to exercise. So my brother never exercises because my parents don’t.
I really want to help him because I see problems ahead as he gets older, when being chubby isn’t cute. My dad told me that if my brother wants to lose weight, I can help but I can’t make him want to do it. I asked my brother and he didn’t seem too excited to do it, so my dad said to back off. When I told my mom we should cook better, she told me that I can cook healthy for myself. She said she cooks for the family and they like what she makes. Everything she cooks has butter and fat, and I find most of it kind of gross. Is this a lost cause? I’m not a health freak. I just want to make sure my little brother doesn’t become a fat kid and get teased when he gets older.
DEAR JESSE: Your concern for your little brother is kind and admirable. It can be painful to see people you love not taking care of themselves or their bodies and can make you feel helpless to know that unless they want help, there is often very little you can do. Your situation is tough because your parents don’t seem as concerned as you are and sound stuck in a pattern of bad habits that are negatively affecting your brother and his weight.
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For most of society weight is a very tricky subject to talk about because people feel judged and criticized even if you come from a place of care and concern. Many people who struggle with weight avoid the conversation or can become defensive of the subject because it hits deeper issues and ones that evoke feelings of shame or internal pain. Weight (over or under) can be a reflection of health problems such as thyroid, self-esteem or emotional issues such as depression, family dynamics, lack of proper sleep, a result of taking a certain medication, poor choices regarding foods or portion control, or a vast number of other issues. Childhood obesity is a serious medical condition that affects children and adolescents and can cause medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Food can become an addiction and cause great emotional pain as overweight children become overweight teenagers.
It can be very challenging to motivate someone to live a healthier lifestyle if they are not interested in changing their behaviors and eating patterns. Your dad thinks he is protecting your brother, but perhaps your brother is just scared to take that first step toward health. On the other hand, it is hard to be motivated to lose weight when those around you are not living a healthy lifestyle.
Talk to your brother and bring up the topic of health and fitness, but be sensitive that your brother may take it as an insult or a judgment of his weight if that is what you focus on. Tell him how much you love him and let him know how much you care about him as a person, not just about him losing weight or dieting. Tell him that you would love to see your whole family take on healthier life choices, but you can’t make anyone do something they don’t want to. Let him know that if he ever decides to join you, you would welcome and love to work on being healthy together. Leave the door open for him to try what you are doing without feeling judged, shamed or belittled.
Then live your life by example. Start eating healthy and exercising regularly. This may mean you cook healthier foods for just yourself which may be more work but well worth the rewards. Once your little brother sees that healthy foods can be tasty and appealing, perhaps he will try some of your foods and encourage mom to add that to your weekly menus. After dinner, go on a walk or bike ride. Play your brother in basketball outside or just toss around the football or baseball. Ask your mom to buy healthy snack options such as fruits, veggies, light popcorn, hummus. If you sit down for dinner, encourage the whole family to drink water instead of sugary sodas or other drinks. Regardless of what they chose, stick to your plan. Be positive about the changes you feel but be cautious about making them feel bad or like you are putting them down for not making the same choices. Your goals isn’t to point out their flaws –rather to take care of yourself and hope they notice the benefits you start to reap as you get healthier.
If your brother reaches out and starts to become interested, encourage him. Don’t be his coach and tell him what to do, be his cheerleader. Support him and praise him for small steps forward. If he slips up, don’t harp on it. Encourage him to keep trying and let him know you have slipped up before as well and it is all part of the process. Take him to do fun things together that have nothing to do with weight loss but that bring you two closer and he feels your unconditional support.
Regardless of what your family decides to do, follow what you need to do for yourself to develop a healthy lifestyle. Even if no one ever joins you or agree with what you are doing, know that you are taking care of yourself, your body, your physical and emotional health and your future.