How to Support a Loved One Living with Obesity

From March 4 to 8, 2024 is Obesity Care Week.

Obesity can be a difficult topic to address. Although more than 2 in 5 people in the US They live with obesity, stigma and weight bias (negative thoughts and actions towards a person based on their weight) are still a big part of the conversation.

Most people probably associate weight bias with Internet trolls and random hecklers, but research shows that friends and family can also be a source of bias. This may be especially true for women and people who were assigned female at birth. Studies show that women are more likely to be treated unfairly by their family members because of their weight compared to men.

Crystal Hartmanpresident of the National Board of Directors of the Obesity Action Coalition, said she knows firsthand the importance of support and understanding when living with obesity.

“When you love and care about a person living with the chronic disease of obesity, the first step is to realize that it is a chronic disease like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease,” he said. “There are 200 comorbidities related to this disease and there is no single correct way to treat it.”

See: Obesity is a complex disease with a variety of treatments >>

Hartman said family and friends can show their support by asking thoughtful questions and without expectations. “Just say: I know he is on a journey to health, I am here for him and I am happy to support him in any way possible.”

We asked Hartman for more advice on ways to support a friend or loved one living with obesity.

Learn about the disease. Obesity is a complex condition. Education and research can help you understand the facts and raise awareness about the disease.

Forget the assumptions. It’s important to remember that just because one way of eating or exercise routine helped you or someone on social media doesn’t mean it will work for everyone else.

Ask questions. Your friend or loved one living with obesity may have an activity or lifestyle change they want to try (Aqua Zumba, anyone?), but you’ll never know if you don’t ask.

Start healthy changes in your own life. If you’re already thinking about a healthier lifestyle, start making changes yourself and ask your friend if he’s interested in making them with you. This may include shopping together, meal planning, starting a walking routine, etc.

Learn about bias. Implicit (unconscious) and explicit (intentional) biases contribute to weight bias, stigma, and discrimination toward people living with obesity. By being aware of bias, you can help stop the stigma.

Read: Changing the way we talk about obesity: a conversation with Dr. Sowa >>

Test your own prejudice. There are different types of weight bias, stigma and discrimination. Take a Implicit association test to be aware of any bias you may have.

Be aware of physical limitations. People living with obesity may have limitations in what their body can do. Instead of a 5K run, try suggesting a walk around the block.

Encourage (but don’t pressure) professional and social support. There are psychologists who specialize in obesity management, as well as online support groups that offer expert advice and/or connect people living with obesity. He OAC offers group sessions where friends and family can come together to talk about health issues and support someone living with obesity.

Resources

The Obesity Action Coalition

The truth about weight

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