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9 Ways to Help an Overweight Friend Get Fit

If they ask for help, keep it positive.

Key points

  • Understand that overweight people know they are overweight; they don’t need you to remind them.
  • Let them bring it up, and refrain from lecturing.
  • Offer positivity, support, and inspiration to let them know you have their back.
 Mabel Amber/Pixabay
Source: Mabel Amber/Pixabay

Overweight and obese people know they are overweight, and they know they are stigmatized for it. Just as we all sense a vibe when someone doesn’t like us or is unhappy about our presence, people with weight issues are also sensitive to how others view them and how they are marginalized. There is a lot of both subtle and blatant discrimination against people who are overweight. They feel it, and the negativity can be their downfall.

If someone you love or care about is struggling with their weight and their perception of themselves, you can help in ways that will buoy their own efforts to get fit, keep them motivated, and help them see that body fat is not a sign of failure. Here’s how:

  • Wait for cues. Your friend or loved one may not yet be ready to make the lifestyle changes necessary to lose weight in healthy ways. They may also have different ideas than you do on how to go about it. Listen and respond to what they have to say, rather than impose your own feelings and unsolicited advice.
  • Emphasize good health, if anything. You may think that someone would feel better about themselves if they lost weight and built up more muscle, and perhaps they would. But the most important rationales for weight control are a person’s good health and longevity, and those are also good motivators for reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. It is fair to mention weight control in the general context of preventative health care but it is cruel to bring the subject up in ways that make someone feel they are not taking responsibility for themselves.
  • Encourage healthy eating. Teach overweight friends and family members how to prepare healthier food, or learn alongside them. With adults, trade recipes and cook together. Give children colorful cookbooks designed to teach them about healthy eating and let them pick some of the recipes for family meals. Always talk about food in positive ways. Comments like “I found this delicious way to cook snow peas with fresh ginger!” or “Wow! This picture of smashed avocado and tomatoes on warm pita bread really makes me want to eat it for breakfast!” will more likely encourage someone to prepare and enjoy healthier foods than simply telling them what they should or shouldn’t eat.
  • Be an exercise buddy. Offer to walk, run, hike, swim, go to a gym, work out at home with them, or otherwise help increase their physical activity, depending on their age and abilities. Support children’s athletic pursuits. Everyone will benefit.
  • Share useful information. If your friend or family member has expressed interest in making healthy lifestyle choices, share any related books, articles, or websites you find. Just be sure you’re sharing safe and solid, science-based exercise and nutrition information. And be careful not to overwhelm or provide them with conflicting or confusing information.
  • Keep them motivated. Allow your loved ones to engage you in conversations about health and weight control and ask if there’s anything you can do to help them stay on track. Check in with them from time to time, be their cheerleader, and help them celebrate even small successes.
  • Help reduce their stress. Stress and anxiety are common triggers for people who overeat. Many stressors, like unemployment, unhappy employment, family issues, and society’s response to weightiness, are out of a person’s control, at least at this moment. Even happy events, like getting a job or a promotion, or attending a wedding, can be very stressful for some people because they involve change and even positive change can be disturbing. You may be able to help a loved one identify their stressors and change their response from overeating to something more healthful. Meditation and mindfulness can be helpful suggestions for reigning in stress and anxiety.
  • No judgment. Even playful teasing and comments or nicknames you think are acceptable that highlight someone’s weight can make them feel bad about themselves. They may not show it, but the words will echo in their heads and cause even more distress than they are already feeling.
  • No pressure. Change is hard for everyone and getting in better shape when you’re overweight takes time. And usually, a long time, if someone is to make a lasting change. The person who is patient enough to lose weight slowly and naturally is likely to be the most successful in the long run. No one should feel they have to conform to society’s ideal of a thin body type or strict way of eating. Nor should anyone have to work within someone else’s timeframe. At the same time, it can help to encourage reasonable goal-setting based on what someone wants for themselves and how they see themselves reaching their goals in stages.
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