I really hate to make sweeping generalizations, but I find that most people are unsure of what to do or say when they know someone who’s trying to lose weight or implement healthy lifestyle changes. Typically, I see people falling into one of two groups: treat it like the proverbial elephant in the room and do/say little to nothing or become overly “helpful.”
The unfortunate thing is, that no matter which group you fall into, both usually come from a place of deep concern and a strong desire to support your friend on her journey. But even though both strategies come from good intentions, sadly, neither is particularly helpful.
Your heart’s totally in the right place, but it’s tough to know the right approach to take. There’s no list of guidelines detailing how to handle this delicate situation.
Having been in the total-lifestyle-overhaul position myself not all that long ago, here are a few things I found to be helpful as I walked the path.
How to Support a Friend’s Weight-Loss Journey
Check in with the person, not the progress. Don’t be overly fixated on their journey during conversations. Let her know that you care about how she’s doing, not how much weight she’s lost or how she’s eating or how much she’s working out. This reminds her that there’s more to her than the quest to get healthy and that you love and support her no matter what.
Help her see the big picture. Pounds lost is the typical way to quantify how the journey is progressing. But at the end of the day, it’s really about health and wellness — and pounds are only a small part of that equation. Increased muscle tone and size, less low back and knee pain, more energy, better digestion, mental clarity and overall happiness are also indicators of success, which should be celebrated. If she gets hung up on pounds or clothing sizes, check in with other numbers and measurements that help her to see the whole picture a little clearer, such as blood pressure, cholesterol levels, resting heart rate and all those awesome fitness milestones she has reached. This will help her focus on how her overall quality of life is improving throughout this journey.
Just listen. She’s going to have some days that don’t go so well. When those days come, don’t be her coach or get all judgey. Just listen and let her talk. Sometimes when we’re struggling, it helps to put the fear into words and let it out. Once spoken, it doesn’t seem so heavy or scary anymore and by letting her work it through on her own, you help empower her.
Suggest an accountability partnership. Be open and honest about something you’re struggling with or a goal you’re striving for. Ask her if she’d be willing to help you be accountable and stay focused on the positive. We all have something that we could use support with. Not your thing? Then just be active together or sign up for events together. It’s easier to show up when you know someone else is counting on you and you’re working toward a common goal.
Let her pick the place. If you decide to meet for lunch or coffee, let her pick the spot. Eating out can be a source of anxiety for people looking to live a healthier lifestyle. Replace food-focused events with other meetups or just let her decide where to go so that she’s deciding what level of temptation she wants to face that day. And please don’t turn into the food police when you get there — watch your words, facial expressions and body language. Remember, you’re getting together because you care about her — not to give her a pop quiz.
Tell her how her journey inspires you. This one is huge. And I don’t mean a generic statement of “you inspire me.” Tell her what you find so inspiring, like how you admire her ability to handle challenges or her courage in the face of setbacks. Be specific. This is what she’ll remember and draw strength from when it gets hard.
The most important thing you can do is be a safe place. No temptation, no judgment. No one needs someone running along behind her pointing out the less-than-stellar choices. What she needs now, more than anything, is a friend to listen and support her.
There is more to her (and your friendship) than the journey she’s on.
What support strategies have you found to be helpful? Please share your experiences in the comments below. —Alison