What to Do When Someone You Love is Obese and Doesn’t Care

Here’s a question I hear often from people who are concerned about family members or friends who are obese, often morbidly obese: “What should I do when someone I love is extremely overweight and they just don’t seem to care?”

These caring individuals want to know if there is a special way to motivate their loved ones and stoke their desire to live a healthier lifestyle and lose weight. After dealing with my own obesity and talking to hundreds of people about their own weight issues, I have come to this conclusion:

There is no magic answer to this question.

More Harm Than Good

In my opinion it is very challenging to motivate someone else to live a healthier lifestyle. I have faced the fact that most people are not going to change their behavior unless they personally want to change it. They themselves need to be ready and willing to change. The desire and readiness have to come from inside of themselves… not from you or anyone else.

Many people don’t realize this, or maybe just don’t want to accept it. My own grandfather is a perfect example. When I was very young he saw that I was overweight and wrongly assumed that I didn’t care. He did his best to convince me to lose weight by using bribery, name calling, threats, predictions of my “disastrous future,” and more. Unfortunately, all that did was cause me turn to food for comfort and become full of resentment.

This is the wrong way to motivate. If you happen to know anyone who practices this behavior, do me a favor and ask them to stop before it ruins the relationship with the person that they care about.

You see, the person who we assume doesn’t care about their weight really does care. How many people want to be unhealthy and overweight? I don’t know anyone who wouldn’t prefer to look better, feel better and be as healthy as they can be. It is just that sometimes the desire and readiness to change hasn’t hit them yet.

Hard to Change

Overweight people who have unhealthy behaviors already know what bad habits they have and what they need to adjust. But it’s hard to change. I was comfortable with my habits even though I knew they weren’t the healthiest ones, I just didn’t want to change them. My family members and friends loved me and cared about my health, but that wasn’t enough to motivate me. My desire and readiness was just waiting to surface, I just didn’t know when it would happen.

What helped them to surface was a turning point in my life in November 2000, the year when a relative named Shirley passed away due to obesity-related issues in her early 40’s. I could feel the desire and readiness hit me, and when they hit me I knew I could ask for help from friend of mine, a caring person who would keep me motivated and focused on the changes I was prepared to make. This person truly believed in me. Having her in my life was a true blessing.

Back to the original question: If you are wondering what you should do when someone you love is overweight and they don’t seem to care… BE THERE for them. There’s no magic to it. You cannot create their desire and readiness, but you can allow this person to know that you care about them and you’ll be that shoulder they need. Be their true blessing. It will make a world of difference.

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  1. I have a friend who is morbidly obese. We have been very close for many years. I have never said anything about her weight because I want her to know that I love her no matter what. But I care about her! And I know she cares about her weight but the trouble is, she’s in complete denial about just how much she eats, and the quality of her food. I’ve struggled with what to say for years. I don’t want her to die young. Any words of wisdom?

  2. For me, it’s like though my friend is obese, her immediate family aside her elder siblings are obese, especially the parents. Now though, all of them live together as adults aside one sibling, and they are ALL gaining MORE weight than before! her older sis is short but used to be skinny, now shes not huge, but she has certainly gained. The friend was always obese since I knew her, but she’s gotten way worse now. It’s like they all got lazier, knowing someone else can do chores…..and they don’t really take turns doing cooking, so oddly, the skinniest one cooks yet they gain weight.

    My hubby saw their fridge and told me “no wonder they are obese” basically. My friend also stays up super late, gets up around average at 9-12 noon. This affects our relationship quite honestly, because often we don’t see each other much from her college (lots of sitting, too….), so when we do, she’s always SO late….like we meet at 2pm on average, and since we live an hour apart and her bus sucks horridly (part of her lateness, but not all of it), we barely get even 6 hours every 2 months. Also, it makes her lazy so it’s harder to invite her out to parks…..but she does enjoy casual swimming, soccer and did attend a gym for a little bit once.

    She is, however, a very stubborn type of person. I can be her best friend because I’m less stubborn or hard-headed, but I need to be careful about how I deal with this issue.

  3. I have found that nothing, I mean absolutely nothing, nor what anyone else does/says, can assist/help anyone obese to lose weight. Seriously….there is nothing that anyone else can do. It is up to the obese person to “decide” to make the change, and then go from there. It is all on the obese person – it is not your job/never will be, you cannot help at al with someone else’s weight loss – ever. You truly just have to sit back and watch your loved ones eat themselves into poor health/early grave over decades. Unfortunately, when you and your health start to personally get affected indirectly i.e. can’t sleep with someone in house due to obesity related sleep apnoea and the snoring is intolerable, obesity related type 2 diabetes and issues sends your loved one into hospital and you are visiting day and night and your health is getting affected and many other issues are impacting on your quality of life directly due to their obesity – you are then allowed to say non fat related things like “I am entitled to a good nights sleep, it upsets me incredibly that you are ill in hospital, I want you to be well, I don’t want to live like this” etc. You are never, ever to say the “F” word, nor are you ever, ever to mention weight. You are not allowed to mention weight – ever!!! The fact still remains….don’t even try to tell the obese person to lose weight, don’t bother telling them they are obese, don’t suggest diets/gym/exercise, don’t bother throwing out junk food nor ever buying it, don’t bother being a helpie kelpie and making cauliflower fried rice instead of normal rice…..it just won’t help, it won’t matter. The doctors will advise them accordingly when they visit due to their many obesity related illnesses, and you are off the hook for “fat shaming”. You can have all the junk food in the house and it is up to someone to “choose” for themselves whether to eat it or not. Denying them, nor yourselves of little treats will never get you anywhere. Obesity is the responsibility of the obese person. Sit back and wait, sometimes for decades, for the obese person to “ask” you for help. Until that time…..do nothing about someone else’s obesity…..’cos nothin’ is ever gonna work so don’t torture yourself. I repeat…..obesity is on the obese person. Someone else’s obesity is not our responsibility and we need to stop exhausting ourselves by trying to take ownership of it.

  4. An intervention is mandated. An excess of 520 lbs… at 44… No life at all.
    I filed an application to become Conservator for my brother.
    If this gets granted, he will move in with me… This will be like a “Controlled Environment”. I will bring him to a Specialty Doctor, all the tests, Psychiatrist, etc… I will walk and exercise with him, drive him everywhere, ensure that he only eats what he is supposed to, and keep track in writing of all that he eats, does, and his progress… Like a Journal of his Journey.
    Depression is like a weight, a chain.They can’t… So, we must take their hand and lead them. I pray that the Judge assigns me his Conservator. Morbid Obesity is a Life and Death stage.
    Suggestion to those of you with obese friends… Bring a large salad, ( no dressing), fruit salad, go in a group, daily… Lots of water. No diet soda. Put lemon in the water. Take the obese friend for short walks on flat land… Reach left and right and up and down with the arms. Everyone does the walk and exercises… Do this every single day… Take the friend’s picture weekly… Encourage and Congratulate their efforts… Find smiles and laughter along this process. You are not taking away from the friend’s life, but, adding friends, help, laughter and a healthier tomorrow. Where there is a will, there is a way. Don’t give up and stay quiet. Actions speak louder than words. Positive efforts lead to success.
    Friend will lose the weight, shed some depression and negative attitude, and gain a positive outlook… Be the best friend that you can possibly be. Good luck to all of you. [email protected]

  5. I pray sending this to my sister,that has two little girls 2 yr old and a 5 yr old. Will let her know how much I want her to be there for thier graduation,wedding and birth of her kids.
    Your letter has given me hope,and your right I had to quit drinking for health reasons and it was difficult even if it was killing me. And currently struggling with quitting smoking. Which I have done for 40yrs .Am willing to quit the hardest thing for me to do having tried many times and failed. If she would try changing her eating habits I could help and support her and she could help me, together we could live a better healthier and longer lifes. Thank you for sharing your letter. May God give you a long and healthy life.

  6. Helplessly I watch my beautiful daughter get bigger and bigger, unfit and breathless.
    Her obesity affects every part of her life. She is intelligent and has a kind and sweet nature. We love her dearly but her obesity affects her family relationships and every part of her social and professional life. She has tried dieting, medication, and counselling but gives up continuing with her unhealthy life style. We patiently wait for the moment when change will come from her but what if it doesn’t ?

  7. The article is good, although the comments sound like they were written by paranoid Doomsday enthusiasts.

    We really need to divorce ourselves from the idea of feeling guilty for eating or allowing others to eat.

    The minute an adult rattles on about wanting to control what another adult eats I immediately know the “caring” person is a controlling sociopath.

    Not to say they are doing all this in spite! However, they live in a fantasy world where they are the Master Controller of Everything, and they want to control Everything because they truly know best.

    They don’t, of course, but like trying to convince a drug addict or an alcoholic they have a problem, it is nearly impossible.

    Food is often NOT the cause of weight gain.

    It may cause poor health of you eat badly, however a skinny person eating fried hamburgers all day will have bad health.

    Often weight gain caused by lack of activity, which many are guilty of, and genetics.

    Only a doctor can help a person achieve a healthy weight loss.

    You, absolutely are not qualified to “control” what a person eats in order to fit your definition of a “healthy weight.”

    For those scoffing and writing, “Well, I see a day person eating bad food. Obviously they do not care!”

    but you don’t know that. Unless you are God or a god, in which case why are you spending your time on Message boards?

    That person may have already lost 60 pounds and needed a break day. Yes, break days are healthy. Unless you are a monk trying to achieve spiritual enlightenment, everyone is going to cave now and then.

    So learn to mind your own business and please consider professional help to control your sociopathic behaviour.

  8. Or perhaps it’s a case of simply wanting a loved one not to die! I don’t want to control my sister who is clinically obese, I want her to have control of herself! I wouldn’t care if she didn’t care but she clearly does – she is depressed and her weight is adding to the issues.

    We used to do so many things together when we were kids but now she can’t go kayaking with me, we can’t go horse riding or go on tree top climbing activities. She is miserable and I am miserable.

    Does that make me a sociopath?

  9. Thanks for reminding me of what I have come to terms with through frustration in my beautiful daughter’s nonchalant attitude to her worrying weight gain. I have no idea what will eventually motivate her ,even the fact that my husband and his family are diabetic has not made a difference to her. Praying she makes changes before it’s too late and she becomes a type one insulin reliant diabetic.

  10. It can sometimes be more than “being there for them”. What if a severely obese person depends on you to keep up their eating habits? Are you then an accomplice to their eventual death? Is it love to pander to their desire or is it love to stop giving them the ammunition (food) that is killing them?

  11. While I agree and understand what you say….How do you convince the parents of an uncaring obese 25 year old to leave it upon their child to deal with the obesity or ask for help? What do you do when you see the parents loose sleep and deteriorate from good health worrying over their obese child? I care deeply about the parents and it worries me to no end seeing their state and that of the seemingly unbothered child. The parents live under the impression that the child is helpless and unwilling to ask for help but in reality, the child doesn’t care/is unworried about their own health and unfortunately suffers from anxiety to complicate matters even more. The anxiety part is unknown to the parents as it is not expected from them to understand it or leave it upon their child to deal with it. Things have gotten out of hand and as the only mediator I am scared and confused. I don’t want this to break up a family.

  12. It is easier to continue the comfortable behavior than to make changes. It is easier to stuff down feelings with food than to face them. Changes are uncomfortable. There is also the vicious cycle one makes a wrong choice, feels like a failure goes back to the old behavior, again, try to make the right decision still fails, and the cycle goes on and on. I agree to be there for the person, show love and support, and gently encourage them even in the downtimes.

  13. I just googled “what can you do to help a love one who is obese?” Because my 18 year old daughter is gaining weight and it appears to continue to increase. She gained 40 pounds over the last 18 months, it started with the pandemic last spring. She DOES care because she’ll talk about feeling awful in outfits, catching herself in a mirror, or looking back at photos and she’ll say, I can’t believe I look like that…. but then she eats too much and doesn’t exercise. She’s had trauma in her life losing her brother(my son) when she was 11. Of course I am trying my best to address her grief and I have taken her to therapists and doctors, she sees a very good therapist every other week. But, I am still seeing her unhealthy eating moving forward. I know it will take time for her to decide to make changes. I just want to help her. I believe what many have said- you cant do anything, the person themselves has to want to change.
    But- I just want to help her- I realize it is ME wanting her to change- but its for her health. I love her unconditionally. I/we love her DEARLY. This post and these comments have helped. thank you all for sharing.

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