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Are You Helping?

This cartoon is about depression, but it applies equally well to obesity. Whether you’ve never struggled with weight loss or you’ve been hugely successful, it can still be tempting to tell others to just “snap out of it,” “at least make an effort,” or even “acquire some willpower from someplace.”

If you’ve been successful, think smaller about what you did to get there. Was there a “road to Damascus” moment where you suddenly realized you had to make a change? For some people it’s a heart attack, but there are all kinds of ways to bring that message home. Or were you one of those people that made a small change, maybe to support a family member who was struggling with the same change — like banning chips or soda from the grocery list — and then added other healthy habits over time?

Think about your background, too — about the knowledge and expectations you started with. I was lucky enough to have parents who felt it was normal to get some exercise every day, and didn’t go to a gym to do it, so I saw that all the time. I don’t meet that many people who had that model at home, though, so I have to ask a lot of questions, like:

  • “What do you think when someone says ‘exercise’? Good thoughts, bad thoughts?”
  • “What do you enjoy? What do you wish you could do more of? What do you never want to do again?”
  • “What is the biggest obstacle to healthy eating? Is it socializing with friends — and food? Is it passing the coffee cart with its big thick slabs of cream-cheese coffee cake?”
  • “What have you tried that didn’t work? Was it just too restrictive? Was it unpleasant? Did you get interrupted — by work demands, illness, injury?”

Adopting healthy habits, especially when they take up time in already hectic schedules, is tough. And the best way for one person to make it all work may be completely ineffective for someone else.

  • Some people do best when they prepare healthy meals ahead of time; others have to see what they feel like eating.
  • Some people need to eliminate a specific food from their menu; others can scale down empty-calorie foods without much fuss.
  • Some people have to exercise first thing in the morning, even if it’s just for a short time, so they won’t find reasons to skip it later; others find a workout on the way home from the office helps them shake off the day’s stress.
  • Some people need a specific schedule of workout days and rest days; others stay in the habit by doing something every day, mixing tougher days and lighter days.
  • Some people get excited by a calendar-based goal, like a race they signed up to run with a friend; others just want to do a little more than they used to be able to.

Everyone who is successful figured out a way to learn what works for them, often through some trial and error. If someone else is struggling, try asking what’s hardest and easiest for them to do — you might remember a detail that is so second-nature to you now that you forgot you had to learn it, too, or at least get them thinking about how to take their first steps in the right direction.

Helpful Advice, from Robot Hugs

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