Parents' Unhealthy Lifestyle

Archived Q&A and Reviews

Bothered about My Overweight Parents

Oct 2006

My Mother and her partner are both overweight for no other reason than they eat too much, eat unhealthy foods and don't exercise. It really bothers me and I've talked to them several times about getting healthy. They always have excuses as to why they don't do anything about it but are both retired and live in a community where they have a beautiful exercise facility to use for free. They obsess about food- talking about the next meal before the current one is over. Their plates are always cleaned and they eat dessert at least once a day. Quality is not important- just quantity. I believe you should have more respect for your body and your health. I know they're going to end up with health problems down the road and it makes me angry. My sister is the same way and I feel upset with her about this issue as well. It grosses me out to see people eat so much on a regular basis and not care about their body. Advice? dissapointed healthy one

I suspect you will get a lot of responses on this. I am a person of average weight who sometimes gets a little heavy, and this is a pervasive problem in my family. I understand eating habits as a lot about emotion and also about control. The times that people have scolded me about weight have been deeply unproductive: it just makes me feel shamed and less willing to be around those people. I promise you that weight issues aren't as easy as getting exercise and eating right; so much more is involved. Your e-mail reflects, at the very least, strong disapproval and, more likely, contempt and disgust for your parents. So a gulf is widening between you. If you want to support your parents' health, it might be more effective to try to get inside the way their minds and emotions work. Instead of talking about their weight, invite them to do something active and fun with you that might be a bonding experience. My weight went down when I stopped criticizing myself or internalizing others' disapproval and got involved with pleasurable, healthful activities that helped me overcome my compulsive eating habits Ignores scoldings

Dear Bothered,

I can't tell why you are bothered about this. Is it because you are concerned about the burden on you in caring for them down the road? Are you geuinely worried about their health? It sounds more like you are upset that they do not have the same values as you.

Ultimately, we all make our own choices about the life we lead. It's not your place to tell someone else how to live because you don't ''approve'' of their lifestyle. I think its fine to tell them you love them and are concerned...but let it go at that. Otherwise you will feel frustrated and they will (rightly) feel judged Anon

As a person who struggles with my weight, I can tell you that harassing your parents about their weight will only make matters worse. Let them know you care about their health but, after that, they have their lives to live and you have yours. - anon

Live and let live A

I'm afraid that this is their issue. Until they decide to be concerned about it, and do something, there is nothing you can do. Repeat: Nothing. In fact, the more you nag them about it, the less likely they are to do anything (and at this point, I'm guessing that even mentioning it in passing comes across as nagging). Your job is to accept them, as they are, and come to terms with the disappointment you feel anonymous

Hard though it is, you need to let it go. You cannot force them to change, and the more you pressure them, the less likely they are to respond. I think your only option is to grind your teeth and say no more to them! anon.

You might want to let this go, rather than being angry and disappointed. Your parents probably know you are angry and disappointed, grossed out by them, etc, so there isn't a lot of point in telling them that again and again. They may even feel angry and disappointed with themselves, or maybe they feel like they enjoy eating or that they are not ready to prioritize a healthy weight versus the necessary changes. In any case, you're making yourself unhappy over their weight, which is their responsibility, not yours. Congratulate yourself on not being overweight despite perhaps being taught unhealthy eating habits anonymous

What makes you a better person than your parents, and sister? Because you're ''healthier''? Ditch the ''holier-than-thou'' pitch and replace it with educated compassion if you hope to get them to ''hear'' your valid, (but poorly couched - no pun intended) concerns. Why are they in the shape they're in? Because they're ''weaker'' or ''less disciplined'' than you? What might the genetic or physiological differences be between you and them? Could it possibly be something ''hard-wired'', that, through the ''luck-of- the-draw'' you didn't get? Educate yourself about the psychological & physiological reasons for where they are today, and come back at it armed with a better attitude. -been there, on both sides

I appreciate your concern about your parents' health but by the way you stated the problem here, I don't think I would listen to you either. You say you are ''bothered'' and ''angry'''s not about you! So I think you want advice on how to be less annoyed AND how to make them listen. Hopefully the same things will work for each project. First, remember that they are grown-ups. You can't do anything for anyone else. Then, don't overstate the problem. You may be making it sound so dire that they feel there is nothing they can do, or that the solution is going to be terrible and depriving. They are retired, they are enjoying themselves and they don't want to stop. Finally, you or better yet, their doctor, should suggest some positive steps instead of things they need to stop doing. Probably some kind of physical activity first, rather than trying to change their diet first. If they start going for nice walks or something, they will have less time to just plan their next meal anon

You paint a picture of your Mother and her partner as being lazy and having no respect for themselves simply because they are overweight. I was saddened by the attitueds you are perpetuating. My advice is that you spend some time examining your own attitudes and issues about weight and body issues, because it sounds like you have a lot of charge around it. Saying that you are ''really bothered'', ''angry'' and ''grossed out'' by your mom's eating habits strikes me as a little intense.

Your mom and her partner are adults and have to make their own decisions about their lives. You have to do the same. If you choose to eat healthy and exercise that's great! Perhaps you could go for walks with your mom, or cook her some really delicious healthy meals. If your goal is to change her habits, you might have more luck by modeling than by nagging. At the end of the day, your job as her child is to love her unconditionally. That means loving her and respecting her whether she is fat, thin, sedentary or active. Heather

Hi, I was very curious about your post about being bothered by your overweight parents. I, too, have parents who have struggled with weight. However, I have had the opposite reaction: instead of being angry with them about their weight...I find myself noticing discrimination against them and other large people, and feeling empathy for them. After all, I love someone large. Perhaps my attitude relates to the years I spent in Al Anon letting go of my dad's drinking problems (he's been clean and sober now for 25 years). I have put my parents and their health issues into God's hands, and just try to enjoy them for as long as they're still here. --the skinny one in a BIG family

I'm trying hard not to have a knee-jerk reaction to your post, because I can relate to it too well - from the perspective of your parents. The judgment you have for them and for their behavior is very, very clear. That is a hard place to communicate from, and with. I have a sister who tried hard to make me change my behaviors for a long time - and my reaction was: I am fully aware that I have unhealthy behaviors. I would dearly love to change them, but I have not found a way to do it. I would do it for myself long before I'd do it for you, so you're wasting your efforts and only making me feel worse about myself (which is part of the problem). The key there being that if I could change, I would, for myself. I know people who don't have these behavior challenges don't get that, but it's true. I have behaviors I hate, behaviors that consume me with negative feelings, but that I have not found a way to change. Your judgment isn't going to be the magic bullet - in fact, it may even present an additional psychological barrier. We all want to be loved by our families. We want our strengths to be seen and acknowledged at least as much as our weaknesses are. I once said this to my sister: I feel as if I could win the Nobel peace prize, but the most important thing to you would still be my weight. Somehow she heard that, and backed off. Now she can be an ally when I try another avenue to addressing my weight - if she were still actively judging me I'd NEVER ask for her help or support with it.

Try to accept your parents as they are, and then without bringing up your judgments try to introduce them to foods and preparation techniques and even active pursuits they may like. Not to change them, but to offer them something they may value. Staying in the position you're in is unlikely to work, but is likely to create hard feelings and pain. Fat too

You can't force people to lose weight and take care of themselves. It is as simple as that. Until they think it is a problem or their doctor tells them they must do something about it, they won't do anything. You should stop giving them advice. But before you do, tell them simply and plainly that you love them and you want them in your life for as long as possible, and that is why is upsets you that they don't take care of themselves. Then let it go. Don't tell them you're grossed out. That sounds judgemental and it will make them much less likely to confide in you about their health or ask you for help in the future.

I sympathize with you but I think there is nothing you can do about/for your parents unless they think that there is a problem and want to be educated and it sounds like they don't. Yes, they may have health problems in the future and maybe then (if and when) they will want to make changes. Meanwhile when you are with them or your sister you can be an example of someone who maintains a healthy diet and feels good. If they ask you how you do it then you can say. I grew with a ''health nut'' mom so I've been aware of the importance of a healthy diet since I was 7 or 8...not that I cared back then, but I'm very grateful now. I've also battled on and off with my weight over the years even knowing all the right things to eat. It's a tough situation cause food has us so plugged in emotionally and socially as well. I think you may need to let this go. Hope this is helpful healthy and fit

You may be right that your mother and her partner have a pending health problem. But YOU have a current problem yourself that is eating you. (The clue that this is more YOUR problem comes at the end of your note when you say their eating makes you angry. Had you said worried or concerned, I might have reacted differently.) You need to let this go -- for your own health AND for theirs. They are mature adults who clearly are enjoying life. You've given them advice. They've heard you. Now it is time for you to demonstrate your love and respect for them by backing off. You should continue to model healthy behavior for them. You can prepare healthy meals for them when they visit or you go to their place. But nagging has not helped -- and it won't. I know. I made incredibly poor food choices for years. Now my husband and I eat delicious, healthy foods. But we had to come to that decision on our own. Please, for your sake and theirs, consider this something that is out of your control. Relax and enjoy your time together while you can Healthy & happy

It sounds as though this is your problem and not your parents' or your sister's. Maybe you should get some therapy for yourself to try to understand why you are so judgmental Just a thought

Um, the only thing that I can think of is for you to think about boundaries. Would you like someone hounding you -- with the best intentions -- about something you do ''wrong''?

Unless you're concerned that the burden of their future care is going to fall on you, you really have no part in their eating and exercise decisions. And if that is your concern, rather than just being ''bothered'' by their weight and eating patterns, all that you can legitimately say is what you will and won't do for them in the future.

It appears that by giving excuses, they've already told you that they hear you and aren't going to do anything about it. I can't say that what you describe doing would motivate me to change! We can't live other people's lives

You have already expressed your concerns to your parents, and apparently your sister, more than once and now you just need to drop it. You may not approve of how they are treating their bodies, but they are adults and this is not your body we are talking about. You get to decide what to do with YOU, not other people, even if they are family. Gain some perspective, make peace with this being out of your hands, and move on anon

Take a breath. The only person's weight you have any control over is your own. (Even for our children, we put healthy food on the table, but they decide how much they eat. And when they get a little older, a lot of their eating is at school and at activities.) If being with your family at times they will be eating bothers you, I would suggest planning outings with them -- parks, museums, easy walks. I am sure your family members are aware of their weight issues, and have made their own decisions about their lifestyles. anon

I understand that it is frustrating to see people you love hurting themselves. I also feel the same way about friends and family who are out of shape, excessive spenders, heavy drinkers, etc.

The problem is, this isn't your problem. Yes, your parents and sister are overweight and will certainly develop health problems in time. For now, though, they are food obsessed and just don't care -- at least, enough to make changes. So drop it.

A tip for you --- they know they are overweight. They can see and feel it every day. They know it is not healthy. Every possible message in the media states and restates it. If they get checkups, their doctors have certainly mentioned it.

You say you have talked to them several times --- as though they are hard of hearing and you think that just repeating yourself and speaking louder they eventually will hear you and say, ''Oh! Whoops! Sorry about that! We'll get right on it. Did you say there was a beautiful exercise facility nearby?''

If they won't do it for themselves, they aren't going to do it just for your sake, especially as your contempt is coming through loud and clear.

If telling a smoker that cigarettes are bad for them (hmmm, has that message ever been circulated to the general population?) nobody would smoke!

Your helpful hints, nagging, concern, and worry at a certain point have just become about your discomfort and your disgust.

Maybe you think -- ''Gee, I'm going to be stuck caring for the whole family down the road.'' Well, they could just as easily get sick from something entirely unrelated to weight. Would you care for them then? Maybe you would for them getting hit by a car, but not for something they ''deserved.''

You say the whole disgusting family really bothers you. Well, you have two choices: continue to think you can change them and drive yourself crazy that they don't want to be like your superior, healthy self, or LET IT GO. It is not your fault, it is not your problem, it is not contagious Chill out

It sounds like you really want to control something that is not in your control. It also sounds like you are really grossed out at the core of the issue. Do you know any ''fat'' peple who don't gross you out?(I'm not being mean-spirited, I'm really asking) There are men and women who are very fit and eat well who none the less are fat, chubby, etc. meanwhile there are lots of thin people who are in the unhealthy and unfit category. And there are lots of VERY attractive and appealing people who are round full-bodied types who eat with gusto. And again lots of unattractive thin people. I don't believe you can change a person who is unwilling. A person needs their own drive to make life-altering decisions. In the end, all you can do is be there being a good example and a supportive person NOT a judge. Interventions have even recently been shown to be COUNTERproductive in getting people to deal with their addictions or other problems if the context is NOT loving . You don't get to say what is right for someone else (well you can say all you want but if you are going for a particular outcome, that's not necessarily going to be effective or conducive to a caring relationship with your family). I'm asking you to re-think your attitude and I know that's not an easy thing to do when you may have already made up your mind, but in the spirit of family-caretaking that I assume your posting came from, try a compassionate tact. I bet that'll get better results. And if it doesn't, try being satisfied knowing you are available for your mom and her partner if they come to their OWN conclusions about it and need some help from you. Eating healthy foods and treating your body with care come from self-love and self-love often grows from the love of your family Dealt With Family Eating Issues Before

You signed your posting ''healthy one'' but frankly, your attitude doesn't sound all that healthy. It sounds troubled and cruel.

Concern about a parent's health is one thing, but you didn't mention any actual health problems that they have. Overweight does not automatically mean unfit and unhealthy, nor does trim mean health.

From what I read, your issue with their weight seems to be that it ''grosses'' you out (embarrasses you, perhaps?); therefore, I think the matter you might concern yourself with is your prejudice. Read up on body image issues and fat prejudice/acceptance (some places to start: Big Fat Blog, NAAFA, Fat!So?,, books by Kim Chernin and Susan Bordo). Do some self examination about why you have such strong feelings about other people's weight.

You won't inspire any one to adopt healthy eating habits by trying to shame them or showing disgust. You will only hurt them and create distance between you and them. Accept what you can change, let go of what you can't Karen

I've had a similar problem with a family member who had very unhealthy eating habits, but at the opposite end of the spectrum. She was extremely thin, and had a lot of anorexic like behavior. Everything revolved around when was going to eat her next meal, what it would be, and so on. When she visited me, the first thing she asked me every morning is what would be eating all day so that she could plan her consumption of the requisite 700 calories, or whatever, and when she could fit in her daily 8 mile run. She looked awful and all she ate was lettuce and candy. I think that's a lot worse than your parents. I would leave them alone.

I honestly fail to understand why it is any of your business. They are grown ups and if they like food and don't mind being overweight, why should you? I think it's more for you than being worried about thier health, you sound like you have issues about weight in general and the need to control others. I am currently ''average'' wieght but have previously been overwieght for many years and I have to say, it truly is the last discrimination that is okay to go off about. So they like food, I really think it is thier decision to enjoy food and exercise less and you need to accept that. It does not mean they will die earlier and you don't have any real certainty that it will effect thier health and even if it does, it is thier decision to take that risk enjoy thier cheesecake. Aren't thier other things to worry about? This country, especially California, treats fat people horribly. When I was fat, people took it personal that I should offend them with my wieght. They didn't look me in the eye and often ignored my presence and for the life of me, I still can not comprehend why it was my business to make them comfortable. You need to let it go and find out why what are the underlying issues of why this seems to bother you so much. Live and let live. Once Fat

I already answered this post, but I was startled to see an article in the New York Times today on the question of how we respond to obese people, and what behaviors those responses elicit. Interesting reading. Here's a snippet from the article ''For a World of Woes, We Blame Cookie Monsters,'' by Gina Kolata: ''One problem with blaming people for being fat, obesity researchers say, is that getting thin is not like quitting smoking. People struggle to stop smoking, but many, in the end, succeed. Obesity is different. It's not that the obese don't care. Instead, as science has shown over and over, they have limited personal control over their weight. Genes play a significant role, the science says.

That is not a popular message, Dr. Brownell says. And the notion that anyone can be thin with a little effort has consequences. Once weight is due to a personal failing, a lot of things follow, he said. There's the attitude that if you are fat, you deserve to be stigmatized. Maybe it will motivate you to lose weight. The opposite happens.

In a paper published Oct. 10 in Obesity, Dr. Brownell and his colleagues studied more than 3,000 fat people, asking them about their experiences of stigmatization and discrimination and how they responded.

Almost everyone said they ate more.'' Fatty

Get the book How To Change Anybody: Proven Techniques To Reshape Anyone's Attitude, Behavior, Feelings, Or Beliefs by David Lieberman, PhD It even has a section on how to get people to diet and exercise anon