For people with obesity trying to lose weight, having the support of family, friends and caregivers can make a big difference. Here are the strategies you can use to support people with obesity and help them succeed on their weight management journey.
Your role in the weight management journey
Whether you’re a parent, friend, family member, or caregiver, you have an important role to play in your loved ones’ weight management journey.
Support for people with obesity takes many forms and there are different methods you can use to help encourage long-term changes and healthier habits.
For many people trying to manage weight, the process can be long and difficult. If you can provide support to the people in your life living with obesity, you can help them stick to their resolutions and find the help they need.
If you’re asking questions like "My daughter is living with obesity - what can I do?" Or "My husband is living with obesity - how can I help him?" these tips can help you to help the people in your life living with obesity.
Ways to help people with obesity succeed
Take a look at these strategies to help you support the people in
your life who are living with obesity in the best way possible.
Be an active part of their programme
The role of a support person can make a big difference in someone’s weight management journey. Strong social support networks are a key factor in staying committed to weight management habits long-term.
If you’re reading up on how to support people with obesity, you’re already on the right path. You’re taking an active interest in their weight management journey and you’re ready to be an ally for someone living with obesity.
Sometimes, all people need is to hear that they have the support of the people around them. Research has found that for people with obesity, making a social contract - telling family and friends about their weight loss goals’ - can help with cravings. This commitment to the people they care about could help people living with obesity to be determined in their weight management goals.
If you can take an active part in the weight management programme
for people with obesity, you could help them to commit to their goals
Focus on health, not just weight loss
Many people living with obesity, as well as the people supporting them, can become fixated on weight loss. To make long-lasting lifestyle changes, positive actions may be more effective than restrictive ones.
If you’re supporting someone in your family with obesity, you can help by making your home a healthier environment. Strategies like making fresh fruit and vegetables available at home and planning and preparing healthy food in advance can help support your loved ones’ weight management goals.
Research has also found that family support for increased physical activity can make behavior changes easier for people with obesity. When one family member becomes more physically active, others might follow and start doing more physical activity themselves.
This can bring about a whole range of positive changes including:
- Spending more time together doing physical activity
- Improvements in your relationship
- Greater enjoyment of your time together
- Long-lasting healthy habits based on physical activity
By focusing on health and enjoyment rather than just weight loss,
you could help to make positive progress in both your relationships
and your loved ones’ weight management journey.
Help develop healthy goals for weight management
If you’re looking for methods to help support people with obesity, it can also be useful to set specific targets. Identifying a key target for different lifestyle changes can help give people with obesity something to work towards.
For instance, you might like to try targeting a specific increase in
steps per day or setting a goal to eat 5 portions of fruit and
vegetables every day. If you can set specific targets for weight
management, you may be able to help support people with obesity more
Listen to their experiences and be a positive force
Taking an active role in someone’s weight loss journey involves providing emotional support too.
Evidence suggests that people who felt they had more support from their support person at the start of a weight management or treatment programme experienced greater improvements in weight, BMI, and waist circumference by the end of their treatment.
Being a supportive, positive force can include:
- Showing greater empathy to people living with obesity
- Helping them with their weight loss motivation
- Offering gentle guidance
- Assisting them in finding their own weight loss solutions
To better support people with obesity, listen to their needs and
what they require from you. This can help them to manage
stress and improve their self-esteem while also making the weight
management process easier.
How does losing weight improve your health?
See how losing 13% of your body weight can lower your risk of developing certain obesity-related complications.
Things to remember when supporting people with obesity
When you’re supporting people with obesity and trying to help them on
their weight management journey, there are some key things to
remember. Check out these 3 important tips.
1. Focus on encouragement over judgement
Obesity is a stigmatised disease and people living with obesity face judgement and discrimination in many areas of their lives. If you’re looking for ways to support people with obesity, focus on words of encouragement rather than judgment.
Evidence suggests that supporting people by giving unwanted advice or minimising the problems of the person with obesity can do more harm than good. 81% of participants in a weight loss study reported that what they need is for their significant others to accept them at their current weight, while also gently encouraging their weight management efforts/process.
Some ideas for positive encouragement and support include:
- Offering affirmation and motivation centered on their weight loss efforts e.g. “I know you’ve been trying for a long time but keep sticking at it”
- Sensitively addressing negative weight control behaviours, like encouraging someone to opt for fruit over other unhealthy snacks
- Finding new solutions to weight loss problems, such as suggesting a gentler water aerobics class instead of a high-intensity exercise class
If you can prioritise positive encouragement over judgment, you can help your loved ones be more successful with their weight management goals.
2. Reinforce healthy habits with your own actions
When you’re supporting a person with obesity, it can be really helpful to reinforce their healthy lifestyle changes with your own actions. This might include doing more physical activity and making healthier food choices.
For many people with obesity, it can feel good to have a support person who joins them on their weight management journey. For instance, you might try to avoid bringing unhealthy snacks into the house to help people with obesity to resist cravings, or encourage them to persevere with exercise and activity goals even when they don’t feel motivated.
To make your loved one’s weight management journey easier, try to
reinforce healthy habits by adopting them yourself. They might also
benefit your health too!
3. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach
Everyone’s weight management journey is different. Research shows that the most effective social support for people with obesity is one that fits the specific needs of the person.
When you’re supporting someone with obesity, remember that relapse is also common. Around one-third to one-half of lost weight is regained within one year after stopping weight-loss-centred interventions. Try not to feel frustrated or disheartened and remind yourself that a relapse is not a reason to give up. There are many reasons for weight regain that are beyond your control, like genetics, your hormones and metabolism, or how the body regulates feelings of hunger and fullness.
If you feel like the person or people you’re supporting needs more
help, you could suggest they visit a healthcare professional
specialising in obesity and weight management. An obesity
care provider can offer advice, information, and a personalised
strategy for sustained weight management.
My husband, friend, or daughter are living with obesity - what can I do?
If you’re looking for ways to support people with obesity in your
life, try to focus on positive actions and encouragement. You can also
support them by referring to trained obesity care providers so that
they get the help they need. Everyone’s weight management journey is
different but with the support of family, friends, and caregivers,
people with obesity can take steps to manage their weight
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- Appelhans B et al. Managing temptation in obesity treatment: A neurobehavioral model of intervention strategies. Appetite. 2016; 96:268-279.
- Brown HE et al. Family-based interventions to increase physical activity in children: a systematic review, meta-analysis and realist synthesis. Obesity reviews, 2016; 17(4):345-360.
- NHS. Why 5 A Day? https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat-well/why-5-a-day/ [Date last accessed: 11 March 2022]
- Rieger E et al. The use of support people to improve the weight-related and psychological outcomes of adults with obesity: A randomised controlled trial. Behaviour Research and Therapy. 2017; 94:48-59.
- Zwickert K & Rieger E. A qualitative investigation of obese women's experiences of effective and ineffective social support for weight management. Clinical Obesity. 2014; 4(5):277-286.
- Yazdani N et al. Relationship between Body Image and Psychological Well-being in Patients with Morbid Obesity. Int J Community Based Nurs Midwifery. 2018; 6(2):175–184.
- Busetto L et al. Mechanisms of weight regain. European Journal of Internal Medicine. 2021; 93:3-7.
Find your local obesity care provider
Talk to your obesity care provider about treatment options that could prevent the weight you lose from coming back.