Fat One in the Family

by Heather

Ugly title, I know. But it’s not a pretty topic.

What do you do when you’re forced to watch someone you love throw away his or her health?

You know as well as I do that you can’t force someone to do something they don’t want to do.

If forcing them to take care of themselves is out, what can you do?

That’s a great question. And one I don’t have the answer to.

Interesting topics of health and diet always arise when my stepsister and I are in the same room. It’s a passion we share. I guess I’ve always been a little bit of a health nut, but my stepsister only took interest a few years ago. This contrast is somewhat evident in our conversations, but what makes the dynamic really intriguing is our completely different backgrounds leading up to our “adult” selves & associated behaviors.

See, my stepsister and I have only known each other a few years. We didn’t grow up together, and we’ve never lived together. We’ve only even spent the night in the same house on a few occasions.

While neither of us had parents particularly interested in health, the discrepancies between our backgrounds are astounding. For me, breakfast was usually a box of cereal with milk, and I was never surprised by a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. My mom usually cooked a simple dinner, and on occasion we’d get Chinese carry out. Not overwhelming healthy, but nothing shocking there. My stepsister on the other hand was given unlimited access to donuts, packaged cake snacks, cookies, and Doritos. Her dad’s a heck of a cook, but they ate countless meals out. Every memory is attached to a meal or a restaurant.

Why am I mentioning all of this? Well, her fairly recent interest in her health has brought to light many issues with what she was taught about food as a kid, and how your parents eating habits influence you unknowingly. Now that she’s taking the steps to get healthy, she has an even clearer view of how unhealthy her dad is.

My step dad is a bit of a controversy in our family- an extremely overweight diabetic with sleep apnea. A precise picture of how obesity can interfere with life. My mom tries to be active and healthy, but can’t share any of those things with her husband- it’s too hard for him to even walk around the neighborhood, and he’s exhausted after simply working in the yard.

We’ve all tried to nudge him in the right direction- to take care of himself. In fact, we’ve tried every method in the book. He refuses to listen. Normally I just ignore it and say we’re here to help him when he’s ready to change. But hearing my mom, and this weekend, my stepsister, say near tears that they’re tired of watching him kill himself, I’m racking my brain for any strategy we haven’t come up with yet.

I know we’re not the only family that’s been in this situation. While there are a lot of families that share characteristics of weight, there are probably just as many that don’t. People often don’t realize that obesity doesn’t only affect that one individual, it can affect a whole family. But how to help the odd man out without causing more damage, now that’s a million dollar question.

Have you ever been in or known someone who’s been in a similar situation? What would your advice be? Or would you stay quiet?

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Tracey @ I'm Not Superhuman April 12, 2010 at 1:30 pm
This is a great post. My husband’s cousin is obese, and it’s particularly scary because she’s only 12. (And at 12, not only does she weigh more than me—and I’m taller—but she weighs more than my husband.) Her father has type 2 diabetes and got gastric bypass, so it’s partly genetic. It’s also partly due to the fast food she eats daily. But broaching that topic is hard, and her parents aren't very receptive. My heart goes out to her because being a teen is hard enough. Thanks for the discussion. And good luck with your step-dad.
Jessica @ The Process of Healing April 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm
Oh wow, that's a tough situation. I have several people in my family with the same issues. My mom is overweight but she wants to change. She just finds it hard and she hates exercising. But I have helped her out with some things like convincing her that breakfast is important and she generally eats healthier things when we cook together. But some people in my family absolutely refuse to change. And I'm not sure that anything will change someone's mind who really just doesn't want to change. It's hard.
Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday April 12, 2010 at 1:45 pm
It's probably up to your mom or step-sister to talk with him. But someone has to talk with him, and OFTEN. He may not want to hear it now, but he will come around eventually and he has to do it on his own time.
Lisa April 12, 2010 at 1:46 pm
This is a really difficult topic and forgive me for rambling... I was 250 pounds. I was unhealthy. My mom NAGGED me all the time and just made me feel like crap about myself--which caused me to eat more and gain more. It was a vicious cycle. Honestly, I don't think ANYONE'S weight is anyone elses' business. Yes, you can be concerned. But until that person decides for themselves to get healthy, you'll just be seen as the person that nags them about their weight. That harbors anger, resentment and ruins relationships. My two cents at least.
Jessica April 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm
Great post, and it's very true, it does affect the whole family. My mom is clinically obese, and in addition to being an alcoholic, she's...very up and down emotionally, engaging in fully cyclical food behavior. One day she doesn't care, and eats whatever in large amounts. Then next day it will swap, and for the next week she'll barely eat. She doesn't exercise. It's horrible to watch, to the extent that we no longer have a relationship because it's all so unstable. I've chosen to stop saying anything, and just remove myself. It's affect on my life has resulted in almost a paranoid fear of ending up the same way, worrying irrationally that it's irrational and therefore working out and doing everything different to avoid ending up the same way or remotely close enough to be comparable. I also have obese friends, and never feel comfortable saying anything. What do you say to an independent adult? It's their life, their choice, you can really only lead by example and hope they want it enough I guess. I have no answers either. I think the tide is changing though. Obesity is actually now being looked at like an addiction to drugs, which is not true in all cases, but for some. It might help. Again great post, we all have people like these in our lives, and there are many of us out here thinking and going through the same experiences.
Kelly @ Healthy Living With Kelly April 12, 2010 at 1:50 pm
That is a HARD situation because ultimatelty the only person who can change is that person themself. And sometimes I feel like when people are constantly nagging someone about their weight it makes them do the EXACT opposite. That's a tough sitation...I am interested in other people's comments!
Sandy April 12, 2010 at 1:57 pm
I have experienced the same thing with my husband. High cholesterol, high blood pressure & diabetes. About 5 years ago he was scheduled to have his right leg amputated. His diet was poor, he was a smoker and never exercised. I did what I could about educating him on his choices in life (bitched, nagged) & became, a total pain in the ass to no avail and finally shut my mouth because I was driving myself crazy with worry. He finally did a complete turn around, started exercising (stationary bike, 8-12 miles a day) quit smoking, eating a more balanced diet, will only eat whole grain everything, eating fresh fruit everyday, and needless to say he didn't have to have his leg amputated. The doctors can't believe how much he is improved. He is able to cut our grass & the neighbors, work in our garden and life is good. I think it is up to the individual and we all have choices how we want to live the remainder of our lives. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink! I would suggest offering him the information and then let it go.
Daniel April 12, 2010 at 2:07 pm
I'm in the same situation - my parents are both very unhealthy and it took me until the 9th grade to realize how much of that was shared with me before I changed my ways. Right now I constantly edge them on to make little changes in their lives for the better. I think that that's probably the best way to do it, small steps to lead up to big changes; you can't expect them to flip habits completely overnight. It's very hard to live with and to watch your family basically kill themselves (I don't know how else to put it, sorry if that's a bit over the top), and if you want to bring it up and tell someone I think you should. Do not think of yourself as being intrusive in their lives, but rather let them know that you truly care for them and that's the reason that you bring it up.
Karyn April 12, 2010 at 2:36 pm
great post. it's so hard for me to go home nowadays because my mom doesn't care or simply doesn't want to be bothered by teaching my much younger siblings what good health is. it saddens me to see them eating poptarts for dinner or pizza for lunch every single day. but unfortunately there really isn't anything i can do except try to be a good role model for them when i am home. very tough.
kalli@fitandfortysomething April 12, 2010 at 2:55 pm
oh this is so familiar! for years my sis was so overweight-obese would be correct to say. i would send her health books all the time and try to give her suggestions and she hated me for it. i finally just let her be and she finally made the choice to lose weight. i was so worried she would have a heart attack or something. i think you have to say a bit and then be quiet.
Amy B @ Second City Randomness April 12, 2010 at 3:18 pm
My parents are not overweight, but as the health nut of the family, it is really hard to watch them eat some of the things they do. Because I am concerned about their overall health. I know I have to pick my battles, but my being terrified of them digging an early grave seems justifiable, right?
shelly April 12, 2010 at 3:34 pm
Interesting post. That is a difficult position to be in. However it is one that most all of us can identify with to so degree. I have always been the "over the top" health/fitness nut in my large extended family. Although most members of my family are somewhat active and eat most often sensiblity, there are those who allow themselves to be heavier than they should. I usually try to lead by example but as you stated, we can not make someone do something even if we know it is in their best interest. I'd say kind enouragement and support is most likely to have an impact. Good luck!
Katie @ Health for the Whole Self April 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm
Really interesting topic. My mom is definitely not as healthy as she could or should be, and it's really difficult for me to watch. But she has no interest in leading a healthier lifestyle, so any time I mention something it turns into a big fight. It's especially difficult because healthy living is one my greatest passions, but it's something we can't share. The only thing that might work is if I try harder to speak in such a way that it doesn't come off like I'm scolding her, which automatically makes her defensive. I think it works out much better when I phrase my concerns so that they are emphasizing how much I love and care about her.
bobbie@mymamaruns.com April 12, 2010 at 4:56 pm
I have a similar situation in my family with my step-father. He is overweight and has high cholesterol and often suffers from gout. Unfortunately, he is also a smoker. After finding out just how high is cholesterol was and being put on medication, he went through a period of time where he really started to eat healthier and lost some weight and lowered his cholesterol. However, he has started to put some of this weight back on and still hasn't quit smoking. Just recently during a routine mammogram they found a lump on my Mom's breast. Luckily after having it removed and biopsied they realized it wasn't cancerous. The specialist that my Mom saw gave my Step-Father a good talking to about the ill effects of second-hand smoking. You would think that this would be enough to push him in the direction of at least not smoking in the house. It hasn't! This puts me in the position of being angry with him b/c he's risking not only his health but my Mom's health! After telling you all that, I really don't have any suggestions as to how to get your Step Father to change since I'm in a similar predicament. I'm interested in reading other people's suggestions though. Anyway, I do empathize with you and your family.
Danielle (Coffee Run) April 12, 2010 at 7:07 pm
I've never been in that situation but I know I'll have to address it in my future career. It's not easy :? But the thing is, everyone DOES care about their own well-being. If they don't, then it's an issue of depression or low self-esteem. I would definitely say something to someone I care about (I've done it before with my mom). I think environment has a HUGE impact on a person's behavior. It might not seem like it's working, but if everyone else around him is living a healthy life..it will plant the seed.
Gabriela @ Une Vie Saine April 12, 2010 at 7:28 pm
Unfortunately, I think the desire to change has to come from the person themselves....no one else. I'm assuming he's educated about the consequences of his health, so the "scare" tactics won't work, either. The best thing you can probably do is lead by example...every little bit counts! Or, have your stepsister sit him down and talk to him about how much she'd like him to live long enough to be a grandfather, if he isn't already. Living to see children is always a good incentive to stay healthy!!
Anna @ Newlywed, Newly Veg April 12, 2010 at 8:16 pm
Wow...this is such a hard topic-- props to you for writing about it! I have a few cousins who are really overweight/borderline obese, and I always kind of bite my tongue about saying anything. I just feel like it's not my place, and no one can make a person change but themselves. But, at the same time, sometimes a serious heart to heart can make a person realize how much their health problem (weight or otherwise) is affecting the happiness of those around them. Tough one, definitely.
John April 12, 2010 at 11:09 pm
I don't know what you can do to turn him around. My mom would once or twice a year for the last 20 years try and get me to change my ways but it wouldn't work. He will like myself only change when he's ready to change. And not to be a downer but he may never change. I know my dad is 57 and could lose weight ,50 lbs say but he won't change as he's too set in his way. Just got to love him as is and hope he changes.
Robin/Orlando Turtle Runner April 30, 2010 at 9:27 pm
This IS a tough subject! Interestingly, I wrote a post recently on a similar topic, with reference to spouses who exercise and their partners who do not (or vice versa). Apparently, my husband, who could be confused with a couch potato when home, must've read it and took it to heart. We've walked a few nights this week, and he's requested salads/healthy food... go figure. The blog spoke to him, for me - unintended outcome, to be sure. Does your SD read blogs?? My MIL weighed (maybe) 130 lbs when I met her (7 yrs ago)... she's now close to 300, and has (apparently) been at this weight before. It's tough watching the ones we love ....
LC @ Let Them Eat Lentils August 24, 2010 at 1:31 pm
Interesting discussion topic, and post. Have you heard about the book, "I'm with Fatty?" It just came out today, but I read an except from the first chapter and it is hysterical/heart-breaking. It's about a 49 year old dad in a similar situation, with sleep apnea, who basically has to lose the weight for his wife (the snoring was killing her!) Maybe you might want to check that out? I could see your step-dad relating to it, and the author is really funny about it. Same thing happened with my brother-in-law and it took his wife getting pregnant for the second time and saying, "You can not leave me alone because of your choices. It's not about you anymore, it's about this family, and I need you to do whatever is in your power to be around for us for a long time." I'm not usually a fan of the intervention technique, but it worked in this case because it came out of love.
Heather August 25, 2010 at 4:31 pm
Ooo I haven't heard of that book but I definitely want to check it out! Thanks for sharing! :) Glad things worked out for your brother in law!
@stampylisa August 27, 2010 at 2:16 pm
my mom is obese, has been for as long as I've been around, has had diabetes for 35 or so years, and now, just for her 70th bday (8/9), spent it again in the hospital with trouble breathing, her congestive heart failure put too much fluid on her lungs, and her kidneys have now failed due to years of sedentary/diabetic-who-didn't-ever-eat-right lifestyle. She's yo-yo'd up and down for years, 40 lbs here, gain it back, 50 lbs there, gain it back. She's now out of rehab, and has 6 days a week of either dialysis (3 days) or a visiting nurse, Occup therap. or phys therapist. I hope you can arm your step dad with the proper tools to avoid this. but your readers are right, they have to want to change. I want to change, and have been eating healthy a while now, and vegetarian since March of this year. was almost vege before then anyhow. I am guessing i need to go raw/vegan to get the weight off cause I gained back the 10 I lost over the winter last year. I try and walk at least 1.5 miles if not more daily. on weekends when I have time, I'll do 3-4 miles those days. It's just not enough and it's not easy. but baby steps are going to be what he needs to take. and how much better he'll feel. and he's lucky cause he's a guy and they seem to be able to replace fat w/muscle much faster than women. Just keep informing him. if he's a reader, get him the stuff out recently about reversing diabetes. I don't wish my mom's stuff on anyone.
noobrunner September 28, 2010 at 2:53 pm
You could try the family and friends support meetings for over eaters anonymous. Or if you are like me, I detest meetings and crowds, you can read up on the material. I find the al - anon (relatives of alcoholics) stuff fascinating. It might be good for your mother to read up on, to see if maybe she (or the rest of the family) inadvertently makes it easier for him to stay unhealthy? Or she might just find comfort in knowing that she is not alone.
Eleanor@eatinglikeahorse October 30, 2010 at 8:48 am
That's such a tricky one because usually the person knows it deep down but doesn't want to admit it or hear it... Has your mum tried the "putting him on a diet but not telling him" thing? ie cooking more healthily, substituting whole foods or lower-fat items for the bad stuff, etc, etc but not telling him? There was some research showing that so many wives had done that and their husbands had lost loads of weight without noticing. I know it's not a solution in that it doesn't change the cause, but it would help the short-term effects which might inspire him to do more once he feels better for it? Eleanor@eatinglikeahorse Just blogged...Dunked- good and proper
Heather October 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm
He does ALL the cooking & grocery shopping ;)

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