Ask LH: How Can I Help My Obese Friends Lose Weight?

Ask LH: How Can I Help My Obese Friends Lose Weight?

Dear Lifehacker, I have been trying to help a few friends of mine that are severely obese but no matter what I do I can’t get them to make healthy lifestyle changes. I’ve completed fitness training, know my nutritional guidelines and have read numerous obesity text books but whenever I make suggestions I encounter the usual excuses: “no time to cook”, “too tired to exercise” and “I’ll start properly after [insert irrelevant life event] happens”. The last one is the worst because a new event is always used as the next excuse.

I can’t seem to help them get motivated or make them understand that their current lifestyle is killing them. I’ve tried to convince them to see me as a trainer or visit a doctor or nutritionist, but they don’t see any benefit and don’t want to spend money. I’ve even written up home exercise plans and explained how to increase incidental fitness but comfort and work seems to be their first priorities. I can’t stand just sitting hopelessly while the ones I care about slowly die. Any suggestions? Thanks, Fat Fighter

Dear FF,

Ultimately, no-one is going to lose weight unless they decide to do so themselves. It requires a significant amount of motivation, sacrifice and willpower — especially for people that have been morbidly obese all their lives.

If you try to push them into it, the only thing you are likely to achieve is to make them feel bad about themselves. You also run the risk of alienating yourself from your portly buddies. (Nobody wants to be constantly reminded about areas of their life that need improving.)

There’s also the pertinent fact that you’re in a position to make money from the situation. When you tried to convince your friends to see you as a trainer, were you offering your services free of charge? Or would signing up cost them money?

If it was the latter, your apparent concern for their welfare could be called into question. (Think about it: if a friend who worked in health insurance kept pressuring you to get comprehensive cover, wouldn’t you be a teensy bit leery of his motives? It’s exactly the same scenario here.) Ironically, your fitness credentials could actually be working against you; particularly among your more cynical friends.

That said, it should still be possible to gently coax them towards a healthier lifestyle — instead of trying to completely transform their lives, start off with something small. Offering to go walking once a week to “catch up” could be a good way to get the ball rolling. When you go out to the movies or a restaurant, suggest a diet soft drink which don’t taste nearly as rubbish as they used to. It might not be much, but it’s a start.

On a final note, it’s worth noting that just because you value fitness and exercise doesn’t make it the only valid point of view. It’s possible to pick holes in almost any lifestyle choice. For example, your portly buddies might think that all the time you “waste” in the gym would be better off spent with your partner and/or kids. We all value different things in life which is what makes everybody different!

As always, we’re keen to hear any additional suggestions from our readers — have you ever successfully convinced somebody to lose weight, or vice versa? What tactics did you/they use? Share your stories in the comments section below.

See also: Which Online Weight-Loss Program Sucks The Least? | How Your Brain Tricks You Into Staying Fat | How Bad Is Australia’s Obesity Problem? | How I Lost 50 Kilograms | Ask LH: Can Exercise Change My Penis Size?

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • FF’s attitude sounds perilously close to that of a born again religious zealot. No matter what the “product” (for want of a better word) being promoted, if it’s pushed too hard it can be a major turn off for many people.

  • Wow, you sound like a bit of a self righteous jerk, and if I was your friend I would be telling you to mind your own business. If they really are your friends you should be treating them as people not projects.

  • If you’ve never been overweight yourself, then you’ll probably never understand how they feel.

  • You can’t make people do something they don’t want to do. Besides, you’re probably pushing a little too hard, which would be turning them off accepting your help or changing their life.
    One day they’ll probably decide on their own to make some changes. If/when that time comes, then be there to help them, but don’t push them. They’re not stupid. They’re well aware that they’re fat, but they won’t do anything about it until they want to and there’s nothing you can do to change that or speed it up.

  • I may have missed out on a few points.
    I have never charged them nor were ever planning on it. They did come to me for help on their own accord. I was more looking for ways to package the information I’ve learnt so they would take it on bit by bit and stick to it.

    • Hi FF, you specifically mentioned that they “don’t want to spend money”, so it was a reasonable assumption to make. In any event, the ‘bit by bit’ approach is definitely the way to go. If you can spare the time, start by accompanying them on walk-and-chats, as we suggest in the post. Good luck!

    • What I’ve found (I was fat-person-turned-thin-person-turned-personal-trainer for five years) was that it wasn’t so much that people were lacking in information, it was that they were lacking in motivation. For the most part people know what they should and shouldn’t be eating, and they definitely know they should be exercising. The problem is that they lack sufficient motivation to actually DO something. “Being fitter” or “being healthier” or even “not dying in 10 years time” often aren’t all that motivating to people, it takes something concrete that they really want to get them going.

      One person I know, for example, is about 20kg overweight and has been talking for years about “doing something about it”. He knew he was unfit and unhealthy, and he knew exactly what he should be doing to fix it, he just never got around to it. It wasn’t important enough to him. Recently we talked about how he really wanted to get a dirt bike but was too big to fit into the safety gear, and through that a concrete goal was formed – fit into safety gear so he can get the dirt bike. In the past month he’s lost 5kg and is already talking about how much better he’s feeling and how much more energy he has. It took that concrete goal of fitting into safety gear to really get him moving.

      So I guess my advice is, find out what is really important to them. You might be worried about their health, but they obviously aren’t that concerned. Once you can find their motivation sweet-spot, getting them moving will be a lot easier.

  • Its hard to get them to understand what they are actually eating compared to what their daily intake should be. I have lost 33.4kg since April and have increasingly worked up for sedentary life style to some form of regular fitness daily in that time.

    1. It started with finding an easy way to look at what i was eating based on a per day calorie intake. I downloaded Myfitnesspal and just started logging what i was eating. just by visually seeing and referencing against how much i could eat per day was the start of me being more aware of the food i was putting in.

    2. The second phase was reducing the calorie intake – 2300 Down to 1750 and so on down to 1500 per day.

    3. give myself something to work towards short, medium, long term goal. i.e i wanted to lost .150 per day 1.1kg per week, 4.7 per month to get to 35kg down by December.

    4. Being smarter with what i ate. rather than the old days of skipping breakfast except for a coffee or 2 then lunch snack in the afternoon and then Dinner and desert, has now become a hot breakfast of bacon and egg + toast (250cal), still have my coffee (115cal), morning tea (80-105cal), lunch(250cal), afternoon tea(100cal) and dinner(400-500cal), Desert (100cal).

    5. Every little bit of extra exercise I could add in. Started with half hour walks, hoping off the stop before work and the stop after work etc etc. i went from no exercise to 120+km per month walking.

    Anyway this worked for me.

    • Well done..!!

      Its about eating smarter and remembering that you need a long term goal not just an instant fast to loose weight.

    • Well done.
      It sounds like you we very sensible and structured. Was there a program you were following?

    • Big ups on the weight loss — I’m down 45kg since beginning of last year, so I know the effort you put in for that. Mine was mainly a diet change, with a little extra exercise.

      As for Fat Fighter, if you want to help your friend, you need to convey, without being preachy or condescending (which is the hard part, I used to receive it), the fact that all that is needed is a little bit of change here and there. Not everyone wants to go to the gym, count calories, etc, but there are plenty of small things that all add up.

    • I was going to respond, but you’ve pretty much summed it up! I started with counting calories, then started exercising, then joined a gym and moved to counting macros, and have pretty much transitioned to the “lifestyle change” part of it now.

  • excuses excuses excuses.

    The majority of over weight people are full of them.

    It’s really not that hard to lose weight.

    you want to lose weight, Simple.

    Don’t follow those stupid fad diets or dieting food you see ( I laugh at the people that buy into that crap)

    You Don’t need to ‘break up a sweat’ or ‘feel the burn’ to lose weight, 30 – 40 minutes of lifting 3 times a week does the trick.

    There is no such thing as ‘Toning’ or ‘Spot reduction’ weight loss is overall, FFS.

    Doing high rep exercises is just stupid ie 50 sit up’s etc…
    I have never done a situp or crunch and I have a nice set of abs, though ABS start in the kitchen, everyone has them they are just covered in god damn fat.

    find out what your daily calorie intake is and eat below that to assist in losing weight.

    Easy, Follow that for a few months and your set and remember it’s a lifestyle don’t treat it like the 100 of other failed fads you have tried in the past.

    I used to be fat.

          • Tough it up then.

            Do you want me to tell people that you can lose weight easily by buying a trendy named pill which will make you lose fat in only 2 weeks then follow some bulshitt food guide where you must only eat a certain brand of weight loss food?

            I may be a dick mate but what I said earlier works.

            Then again lazy people won’t want to do what I said in turn Lazy people most likely have no will power in turn meaning they are most likely overweight.

            Don’t give me some spiel about not having enough time her durr you can always make time.
            You can always not eat like a fucking hippo

            Its common sense.

            Common sense is rare these days and people with an idea take advantage of these people buy selling them magic crap.

          • Well I’m not going to sugar coat anything.
            I hate how people have to tip tow around the whole thing about “being fat”
            When I was disgustingly fat people used to say

            “aw no you’re not fat” “you look fine the way you are” “don’t listen to those people it’s just genetics”

            deep down I knew I was fat but since people were accepting of my over weightiness and telling me other wise I thought I ‘was not’ and that it was okay.

            It’s not okay.

            It was not until a good friend of mine gave it to me straight ” X, you’re fat, you need to do something about it, people are worried, I’m worried…”

            Now, instead of flailing my arms about like most overweight people do and telling him i’m some large magnificent beautiful being, I took it upon myself to lose the weight.

            It’s hard at first but it’s well worth it in the long run.

            [Targeted towards In General not comment above] But hey if you enjoy being fat then props to you, bet fat.

    • Oh yeah, it’s easy to lose weight. It’s also ridiculously easy for a chronically fat person to fall off that wagon, where the wagon in question is the size of a razor scooter. Any emotional response in a moment of weakness can result in eating something ‘bad’ and getting instantly re-addicted due to the nostalgic and chemical value of foods that are unhealthy. It happened to me, and I was active and healthy for more than 2 years before it started.
      Just a part of being the fat one. Years of work unravel with a really good chocolate cake or a bout of anxiety.

    • And…. the point of the entire article completely went over your head, though to be fair, you’re not alone in that regard.
      Hint: It’s not about losing weight

      The OP claims to be a friend, but rather than just enjoying his friends, he’s busy trying to shape them to his ideals, rather than being accepting of who they are – like he used to before.
      At best, he’s misguided, at worst, he’s a arrogant arsehole.

      ( I’ve used ‘he’ for simplicity, the OP could quite easily be female)

  • The thing about being obese is that there is ALWAYS an underlying psychological issue that must be dealt with first. Whether it’s merely eating habits that are difficult to break (i.e. what most people that mock overweight people think), or it’s an emotional problem, or depression, or anxiety, or anything.

    A person can change their lifestyle if they have the willpower, and lose a lot of weight even (I did), but until they take care of the underlying problems – which can require years of therapy – the weight will more than likely just come back on as soon as the person stops obsessing about what enters their mouth (happened to me).

    It’s an individual choice in the end. Right now, I’m obese, because my energy is going into things that don’t involve exercising and eating healthy (which for a fat person is never a simple task) and I have an anxiety disorder that causes me to impulsively eat sugar for the chemical effects on my mood. I’m not going to get rid of that easily, especially since sweet foods are one of the few things that does make me happier in a measurable way.

    So yeah. Complex issue. Not the crap people tend to assume about fat people. Comes down to decisions and working on weaknesses. Obesity is a symptom, not a cause.

  • Just refuse to call them by name. Use terms like “fatty”, “tubby”, “salad dodger” and the like.

    If they walk over to give you something, offer them a chair because they look out of breath.

    They won’t thank you for it; but bullying gets results.

  • Wow SO wish I was someone who could lose that kind of weight by cutting back to 1500 calories a day. My usual is 1200-1500, and I gain weight if I go up to 1800 for more than a day or two at a time. I probably exceed 2000 calories 6-8 times a year. And yes, I could stand to lose 40 kg. Not a couch potato, walk everywhere, climb several hundred steps a day, etc. Love those Eastern European genetics my parents stuck me with.

    • don’t blame genetics. My family are all largely obese I thought the same thing until I took action Now i’m the complete oposite of them. You have to stick to it, it’s not something you do for 3 months.

      The calorie thing is correct.

      Tbh if you want to be that lazy you can even take the exercise part out of the equation and just eat below your recommended calorie intake = You still lose weight but not as quickly as you if would if you were to exercise. AS I said above exercise does not have to be a strenuous thing.

      You are better off Skipping than running for 30 minutes. You have to run at full capacity for a long duration of time for it to be actually effective.

  • Let’s be clear. I carry around G-cup jugs. Running or anything requiring bounce isn’t in the cards for me; it’s painful and will only result in H-cup jugs if not larger that will make it even harder for me to buy fitting clothing. I do century rides (non-metric) on a pushbike and walk. I can’t do more steps than I can do because of a knee injury (I fell in LAX, it was spectacular, and it’s never healed right). Weights started to give me “arm veins” and that was a no-go for me for appearance reasons, so I stopped that.

    To lose 12kg, I stuck to less than 2000kj (NOT CALORIES, BUT KJ) per day for about a full year. I don’t think anywhere in there I said 3 months, perhaps, did I? If so, I terribly misspoke! 😉 This is roughly a can of beans, a can of tuna and a couple pieces of fruit. And I was determined, so I dug in and did it. Nothing less extreme lost me any weight. Maybe 6 prawns if I was feeling luxe. I went months without touching a piece of chocolate.

    I stopped it when even at that low intake, I’d plateaued for almost 3 months.

    • Hi Barb. Sorry but this means you’re doing something wrong. Go to a nutritionist. Food is just food. It’s not magical. If you are burning more energy than you consume, you lose weight. You need to go back to basics.

      1. Food log. Exactly how many kjs are you consuming.
      2. Movement log. Exactly how many kjs are you burning.
      3. Nutritionist. They’ll tell you what macro ratios to shoot for and what to eat to achieve them.
      4. Implement. Eat roughly 100-200kjs less than you are burning. Make it a lifestyle. (2000kjs is waaaaaay too low).

      This works 100% of the time. But you need to make it a routine. As soon as you go back to normal eating, your body will go back to it’s normal size.

      • With anything more than 2000kj, I was not losing weight. You can stamp your feet and say what “science” says (and I’ll note that there are plenty of studies that indicate it’s MUCH tougher than just a count of calories eaten vs a count of calories used, depending on blood type, genetics, GI condition, all manner of things not accounted for in simplistic formuli) as much as you like, and that doesn’t change reality. A guy I lived with 10 years ago was disturbed by how little I ate, and the size I still was despite it, because it didn’t make sense to him — this was while I was training for my first season of century rides.

        I subsequently found that I have thyroid issues but cannot take the meds recommended to me because the side effects would risk damaging other parts of me that are a family risk factor for premature death. (Few relatives have lived past retirement age, mostly due to 2 risk factors, one of which is the one that could be tweaked by those meds. Conversely, size in MY family seems related to longevity – the thinnest folks often kicked it in their 40’s, the women my size or larger would last until their 80’s.) I’m not interested in disturbing the apple cart, so if I can’t lose weight without drugs that might hasten my demise, I’m just not going to stress over being big or over people who tell me (1) it’s an uber-simplistic thing and (2) I shouldn’t need to eat 2000kj a day or less to get any weight loss whatsoever, when (1) it obviously isn’t, based on my own experience, and (2) I definitely do.

        • Hi Barb. I’m very sorry to hear about these issues. But I repeat. You’re doing something wrong. Stop trying to reinvent the wheel for yourself. There are experts out there who can help you, simply and easily. You’re putting yourself in an impossible situation and saying “see! This is why I can’t do it!”.

          I see people successfully lose weight every day (I’m a PT). And when they gain weight, it’s because they fall off the wagon, or they damage their metabolisms by eating far too little, so when they go back to normal food, they gain mass amount of weight again. Every. Single. Time. In over 10 years of practise, I have never seen anyone gain weight by looking at food. I have never met anyone who needed to eat less than 6500kjs a day. And that was for a very small framed woman.

          Again I’m sorry that you believe you need to eat less than 2000kjs, but that number is ridiculously low. Your body definitely needs more than that. But as along as you keep struggling along by yourself, finding reasons why it’s impossible, then it will remain impossible.

          But it’s not. There’s help out there. And if you change your lifestyle, your body will change too. You can do it. But you need to commit to it, believe in it, and set yourself on fire. Which is pretty tough to do when you’re really weak and nauseous because you’re on a starvation diet.

          Again. I see people lose weight every day. I have NEVER seen anyone eat so little and be successful. It’s an impossible situation. Think about it. What do you want to see when you look in the mirror? Do you really believe that you will live longer carrying around excess fat on your frame?

          Best of luck with whatever you do. I don’t think everyone needs to be skinny. I think a woman can be very attractive no matter what her body shape is. But being unhappy with your body is a yucky thing to carry around with you. I can understand, I had the opposite problem. I was underweight for all of my childhood. I hated being called ‘stretch’ and ‘streak of pelican poop’ and all that stuff. When you’re a kid, or even an adult, that stuff hurts.

  • So… roughly 90 minutes of straight-out walking to/from work PLUS everyday walking on errands, at work and at home doesn’t count as exercise? There’s a lot of people who would disagree with that. Plus about 100km/week on the bike unless I’m gearing up for a big ride, in which case double or triple it. Again, when you ass-u-me about what others are doing, you’re making an ass out of someone, and it’s not me, so… 😉

  • A friend of mine tried that shit with me. I told him to go fuck himself. He was visiting for my Brothers funeral and he wouldn’t stop harping about the weight.

    Tip, fat people know they are fat. Telling them only pisses them off. Pissing them off doesn’t encourage them to lose weight it encourages them to murder you and then eat KFC on your corpse to spite you.

    So, fuck you and everyone like you.

    — Now that outright hostility is done. Counting calories is shit. I did that for a year gained weight.
    A lot of us, our bodies hate us. Instant starvation mode just wont lose weight. So we try exercising. It hurts like a mofo. Always leads to injury and by the time you recover the exercise you did was pointless. So they say try light. Doing light exercise is pointless achieves nothing. So they say try going harder. Injuries again.

    Being fat makes you want to kill yourself each time you think about it. But at least the food is good.
    Eating the shit they want you to eat that will help you lose weight will make you wish you were already dead.

  • How do I help my fat friends lose weight?


    Stop feeding them.

    Starvation diets are 100% effective, according to my Dr.

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