A group of charities and medics has set out an ambitious 10-year plan to tackle obesity in the UK. The Obesity Health Alliance says the government needs to reframe the issue – which is forecast to cost the NHS £9.7 billion a year by 2050 – as one of “collective rather than personal responsibility”.
The report describes the dangers of an “obesogenic environment… in which calorie-dense, nutrient-poor food is accessible, abundant, affordable and normalised and where physical activity opportunities are not built into everyday life.”
While it’s down to regulators and industry chiefs to make changes in terms of advertising and marketing, we can all take steps to encourage healthy lifestyle choices – something that’s particularly important if you have a friend or family member who’s trying to lose weight.
Here, experts explain the key dos and don’ts if you want help – not hinder – a loved one with their weight loss goal…
Support their decision
You may think you’re being kind when you say, “You don’t need to lose weight!” But in reality, it’s not helpful.
“The desire for weight loss is very personal and often arises from multifaceted deeper reasons,” says nutrition coach Ravneet Panesar, founder of Neet Nutrition.
“Remind your friend or family member how much they matter. You can complement them on a personal trait, such as their generosity, good humour or reliability, and avoid commenting on their weight. Follow this up by showing support for their decision to improve their health, not simply to lose weight.”
Get active together
From brunches to coffee dates to dinners, a lot of social activities revolve around food and drink, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
“Rather than hitting up a bar or fast food restaurant together, suggest new ways to spend time that improve wellbeing,” says nutritionist Rohini Bajekal. “Walking in nature, going to a group yoga class or cooking a nutritious plant-based meal together are all great ways to support your friend. You could also try more playful activities, such as rollerblading or going bowling – all activities that support their health goals too.
Don’t rush them
Being supportive is great, but remember that when it comes to weight loss, slow and steady is best, and there may be setbacks along the way.
“Contrary to the mainstream messaging, remind them that there is no rush,” Panesar says. “Pressure is not good for their mental health and is unlikely to support a positive change in their physical health. This is why New Year resolutions often don’t stick! People put too much pressure on themselves to do too much too soon.”
Ask what they need
“Everyone is different, so ask what your friend needs, so you can support them best,” says Bajekal. “Perhaps they would benefit from you offering to look after their kids for a couple of hours so they can go to the gym, or would love to attend a cooking class with you.”
Don’t be the food police
Unless your friend has told you they prefer the ‘tough love’ approach, it’s best to offer encouragement, not criticism.
“Shame-based motivation doesn’t work in the long term,” Bajekal explains. “Be careful how you discuss weight as it is a sensitive issue, and don’t offer unsolicited weight loss tips or advice e.g. ‘I did this and I lost the weight’.”
Ultimately, you want to be “a source of support not stress – no one likes a lecture or interrogation about their eating and lifestyle habits”.
Motivate with rewards
“This is the best part!” Panesar says. “Help your loved one brainstorm rewards and incentives to keep them motivated.”
But, obviously, an indulgent meal out isn’t the best option. “It’s a conflict of interest, so encourage them to make a list of non-food rewards for sticking to their plan, such as a facial, a new kitchen tool, extra social media time, online shopping or saving up for a spa day.”