Battling the disease of obesity is often a difficult task. Often times, individuals find themselves not only battling their own issues with weight, but also trying to contend with advice from loved ones.

In this blog entry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Domenica Rubino, MD, on the topic of “How to Support Your Family Member with Weight Issues.” Dr. Rubino is the Director and Founder of the Washington Center for Weight Management and Research in Arlington, VA. Her approach for weight management combines a sound scientific understanding of obesity as a disease with a keen understanding of the psychological and physiologic issues involved in weight-loss and weight maintenance.

Domenica Rubino, MD

Dr. Rubino, thank you for taking the time to answer our questions. Below, are a sample of the questions we received at the OAC regarding loved ones and weight-loss:

What can my loved one expect when trying to
lose weight?
It is important to recognize that losing weight is hard. It is not simply a matter of eating less and exercising more. It is true that changes in one’s life approach need to be made such as being more active, improving diet, stress management and emotional/coping skills, but it is critical to realize that the normal physiologic response of the body is to try to protect weight and prevent weight loss. Often one finds that they become hungrier or more susceptible to cravings and managing these drives can lead to frustration and feelings of giving up. There will be periods of frustration like this as well as days or weeks when the scale doesn’t change, but it is important to be patient with one’s self and persist. It is also important to be realistic in expectations around weight loss. We are besieged in the media with ridiculous ideas of rapid weight loss such as lose 30 pounds in one month, etc. Reasonable safe weight loss and integration of life approach changes is the way to go.

Will their diet or plan impact me?
It probably means some temporary changes in the way meal times occur in the house and in dining out. While wanting to be sup­portive of his/her effort, these changes may at times, feel like a loss to you. You may feel like you are being restricted because of his/her weight problem. Anytime someone makes a significant behavior change, the impact is felt by those around them. Other changes you might notice include less time spent with you/family around meal times; more time spent in exercising can mean less time at home, a change in foods that are around the house, etc. As you probably suspect some of these temporary changes may lead to permanent changes in how meals are eaten and time spent in different activities versus dining out and/or activities around food.

What can I do to support them in their weight-loss?
It’s important that you are there for your partner during their weight-loss plan. Here are some tips when supporting your loved one:

  • Ask them what type of support they need from you. We all want support in different ways. What does support mean to them?
  • Ask them if there are tasks that you can undertake during this time. For instance, you could offer to do the grocery shopping, come up with non-food ways to relax, not offer foods such as desserts or snacks.
  • Try not to talk about weight-loss on a weekly basis.
  • Don’t involve children in the discussion of your loved one’s weight-loss or eating habits. Children often absorb tension, and this is not good for you, your children or your spouse.

If I want to lose weight, can I just do what they’re doing?
There is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight-loss. While your spouse’s plan may be able to help you in some ways, it’s important that you speak with your healthcare provider as well to find the best way to address your weight and health. Everyone can partake in healthy habits; however, you want to be sure your plan matches your needs as well.

If I see them not losing weight, I should tell them, right?
This is probably not the best approach. Weight-loss is very personal and telling your spouse that they’re not losing weight may only hinder their efforts. Remember, your support is very important to them; however, it’s probably best to leave the evaluation of their weight to your spouse and their healthcare provider. Some weeks your spouse may not experience any weight-loss, and that’s okay. What’s important is that you are there for them in a supportive manner and let them know your care about them.

Dr. Rubino, thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
The most important thing a spouse or friend can do for a loved one who’s on the journey of weight-loss is to be there for them. Conversely, it’s important that while you’re on this journey, you also accept the support of your loved one or spouse. We all know that support comes from a good place, but can seem stressful at times. Therefore, it’s important that you communicate with your loved one and let them know how you’re feeling on this journey.

About the Author:
James Zervios is the Director of Communications for the OAC. He is responsible for developing and distributing OAC communications to Association members and the public. His responsibilities also include Web site development and fundraising. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida with a degree in mass communications. He has worked in the nonprofit sector for more than 10 years.