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How to Help Obese People

author image Andrea Cespedes
Andrea Cespedes is a professionally trained chef who has focused studies in nutrition. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, she coaches cycling and running and teaches Pilates and yoga. She is an American Council on Exercise-certified personal trainer, RYT-200 and has degrees from Princeton and Columbia University.
How to Help Obese People
Support makes weight loss more achievable. Photo Credit: Ariel Skelley/Blend Images/Getty Images

In the United States, obesity affects 35 percent of the adult population, according to 2014 statistics reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity endangers people's well-being by putting them at risk for serious health conditions. Chances are you have a friend, family member or coworker who is obese, and you want to help them get their health back on track. Lecturing and pressuring someone to lose weight rarely works; weight is a personal issue, and discussing it may raise tremendous emotion and frustration. Set a positive example by maintaining your own healthy lifestyle and support any efforts an obese person takes to improve their quality of life.

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Know the Facts About Obesity

Simply put, being obese means having too much body fat; it's technically defined as having a body mass index of 30 or greater. Body mass index, or BMI, is a ratio of your weight to your height expressed as the equation: BMI = weight in kilograms / [height in meters x height in meters].

Obesity increases the risk of developing heart disease, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. An obese person is also at greater risk of stroke, abnormal blood cholesterol, high blood pressure, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, gallstones and infertility.

An obese person most likely knows that making healthier choices, trimming portion sizes and moving more helps with weight loss. But if they need a little guidance, know that a healthy rate of weight loss is 1 to 2 pounds per week, which requires a calorie deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories per day. Most women can get all the nutrients they need and lose weight on 1,200 calories per day; men need 1,600, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. Eating fewer calories than this amount is not a healthy, nor sustainable, strategy and may lead to complications such as nutrient deficiencies and gallstones.

Understand Your Relationship With the Obese Person

Before you approach an obese person with a conversation about her size, consider your relationship. Ask yourself if it's your place to broach the subject with this individual. An obese person is likely aware that her size is not healthy and attracts attention, and you won't help by confirming these obvious facts.

Express your real concern if you have a close relationship, but avoid coming across as condescending or judgmental. You might go into how much you care about the person and that your concern is not based on appearance, but on your sincere concern about his health.

If you sense discomfort or anger during the conversation, take a pause. You might be able to revisit it hours, days or months later, but be patient. Ultimately, you cannot force change on someone -- no matter how much you care. Telling someone that they "should" or "need to" do something isn't helpful.

Be a Source of Support for Healthy Eating and Exercise

Be a friend, spouse, sibling, coworker or parent first -- not a weight-loss coach. Follow through on offers to support her weight-loss efforts; for example, you can accompany her to doctors' visits or weight-loss meetings. If the obese person lives in your home with you, help prepare healthy meals and don't bring foods into the home that she's trying to avoid. Make meals and snacks that focus on lean proteins, vegetables, fruit, whole grains and low-fat dairy. Foods to keep out of the pantry and fridge include processed meats, whole-milk dairy, lard and refined vegetable oils, chips, snack mixes, cookies, candy and ice cream.

Support an obese person's efforts to move more, too. Invite her on a walk, for example, but not on the pretext of exercise -- but just as a way to spend time together. Recognize that an obese person, especially someone with extreme obesity, may be limited in movement. She may be restricted in the type and duration of exercise she can do.

Back Their Decisions on Weight Loss

Your heart may be in the best place, but recommending a specific diet, exercise plan or surgery to an obese person can backfire. If she tries your suggestion and fails, you may be blamed. You also don't always know a person's particular health issues, limitations and capabilities, so specific recommendations should be made by the obese person's healthcare provider.

Although consuming too many calories, a sedentary lifestyle and genetic predisposition are often the causes of obesity, sometimes a person is heavy for reasons out of her control. Certain endocrine disorders, medications or psychiatric illnesses can be responsible.

Know that your support for healthy lifestyle behaviors is valuable, though, as shown by a study published in Obesity in 2014, involving 633 adults who were trying to lose weight. Those whose friends and coworkers supported their healthy eating and whose families supported their physical activity had more success in managing their weights.

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