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Old 12-29-2011, 04:05 PM   #1
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Question How to Best Help Obese Young People

I have a much younger brother and sister who are both obese and getting progressively heavier each year. He's 16; she's 12. And they're both unquestionably obese. My brother is ~6'4" and weighs well over 300lbs. My sister is currently 5'6" and appears to be pushing 200lbs. My brother's doctor finally acknowledged the issue about a year ago, but no serious action has been taken to get them moving in the right direction.

I know the root of the problem. My mother is a hoarder. Her hoarding and compulsive shopping has made their home practically unlivable. They never cook at home and rarely eat any meals there at all. Instead the three of them usually eat out or have takeout type meals over at another relative's house. My brother and sister rarely get regular meals and habitually overeat. (I don't live with or near them but visit often and have a pretty good understanding of what's going on.)

My mother has always struggled with her weight. She's swung from a low of 105lbs in her 20s to her current high of over 200lbs. (She's 5'6".) I thought she'd totally given up until I spotted a bottle of diet pills in her car. Ironically my mother is someone who knows about healthy habits. She's a medical professional who's worked a health educator. Although she knows what they should be doing, she's been completely neglient in addressing their weight issues. She's an adult and can make her own choices, but I'm very concerned for my brother and sister. I've talked to her about this, and all she does is make excuses. What can I do? I feel like my brother and sister are going to need to develop a real desire to lose weight because obviously the rest of the family is just making things worse for them. Since many of us were in their shoes when we were younger, what would you say to the younger you?
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Old 12-29-2011, 04:11 PM   #2
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I've been overweight/obese my whole life.. I just started college and leaving home made me realize that it is partly my parents fault. Obviously they are not fully responsible as I am definitely to blame too but it is SO much easier to make better choices when meals are not chosen for me. I would tell my younger self to hang in there, because it does get better!
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Old 12-29-2011, 04:41 PM   #3
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You have done what you can do - talking with your mom. Other than that the only others thing you should do is to lead by example. Not preach. Not harp. Just make good decisions and they will notice.

They KNOW they have a weight problem and that they don't eat well. When they are ready (and probably not until they are away from that situation) they will see it is possible because you did it.
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Old 12-29-2011, 06:05 PM   #4
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I just wanted to say that my heart goes out to you and your siblings. You're in a very tough spot. For anyone to lose weight, I think it takes a great deal of internal desire to do it. They're both still quite young and your mother's issues are affecting like them directly. If I were you, I would probably have another conversation with my mom...but a more forceful one. I'd tell her that it's her responsibility to make sure that they eat healthy. I would say that not providing your children with proper healthy food is bordering on either neglect or abuse. I'm not saying that's what it is because I don't know much about it, but I'd say that to my mom so that she would understand the gravity of the situation. However, everyone is different. Until either she or your siblings expresses a desire to change, there isn't much you can do. I'd just let them know how much you care about them and their health and let them know that you're available if they ever want to talk about it. Sorry for my ramble....and I really hope I didn't offend you with what I said.
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Old 12-29-2011, 06:29 PM   #5
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This is a tough situation, however if the house is a bad as you say, it might be time to call for a welfare check.

Is the house safe? Is it a fire hazard? If it caught fire, how accessible is any escape? Safety is probably more important right now than the weight issue.

Maybe your mother needs some counseling. I'm sure she means well, but sounds like she's become completely overwhelmed and may need some outside help to put some perspective on things.

Your siblings probably feel lost and overwhelmed as well, but don't know how to go about saying or doing anything.
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Old 12-29-2011, 06:41 PM   #6
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Is the house safe? Is it a fire hazard? If it caught fire, how accessible is any escape? Safety is probably more important right now than the weight issue.
This. If she is a genuine hoarder, the house needs to be assessed for the safety of your siblings.
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Old 12-29-2011, 08:51 PM   #7
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Yeah, if the house is practically unlivable, I'd be making a call to CPS. Your siblings are still minors.
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Old 12-29-2011, 09:05 PM   #8
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This. If she is a genuine hoarder, the house needs to be assessed for the safety of your siblings.
Yep.

This whole situation is a whooole lot of symptoms of a bigger problem. Your mom probably needs some 3rd person perspective and help..counseling sounds like a good start.
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Old 12-29-2011, 09:13 PM   #9
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I agree, they are trapped and need outside help. Their weight is a symptom of the larger problem. It would be almost impossible for them to climb out of this on their own.

If your mom is open to help, that is the best place to start. Maybe you can talk to a professional to see about the best type of intervention. You're probably not the best person to interject, as you're too close to the situation. Do they or you attend a church, know any counselors or social workers?

Sometimes a family friend can help intercede where a family member can't.
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Old 12-29-2011, 09:15 PM   #10
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oh my parents eating habits are a large portion of the cause of my obsesity.i never had a choice growing up obviously when youre a kid you dont have your own money to buy your own food and even if you did if no one teaches you whats right to eat or how to cook good food what are you going to do? it wasn't until i got out of my own when i started university that i slowly but surely learned the proper way or eating and cooking. it wasn't until i started dating a professional cook that i had someone teach me. after age 18 i had my own choices and resposibilities with my weight of course but reversing what youve known for 18 yrs takes time. i dont blame them completly but they failed at their job to educate and provide me with healthy food. now that i know the right way its incredibly easy to stay on track.

id say your mother has to educate her children and provide them with better food choices , i wish all parents had to mandatorily provide their kids with healthy food. i know alot of ppl will say oh but my kid cries if he doesnt get his whatever food. if a kid gets hungry enough they will eat whats in front of them, youre job is to be a parent not a friend
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Old 12-29-2011, 11:35 PM   #11
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oh my parents eating habits are a large portion of the cause of my obsesity.i never had a choice growing up obviously when youre a kid you dont have your own money to buy your own food and even if you did if no one teaches you whats right to eat or how to cook good food what are you going to do? it wasn't until i got out of my own when i started university that i slowly but surely learned the proper way or eating and cooking. it wasn't until i started dating a professional cook that i had someone teach me. after age 18 i had my own choices and resposibilities with my weight of course but reversing what youve known for 18 yrs takes time. i dont blame them completly but they failed at their job to educate and provide me with healthy food. now that i know the right way its incredibly easy to stay on track.

id say your mother has to educate her children and provide them with better food choices , i wish all parents had to mandatorily provide their kids with healthy food. i know alot of ppl will say oh but my kid cries if he doesnt get his whatever food. if a kid gets hungry enough they will eat whats in front of them, youre job is to be a parent not a friend
You do have a number of good points, however, if the parent is unstable, you can't expect them to teach their children anything. It's not that they don't want to, or that they don't care, they just don't have the tools or the back ground or are suffering from a trauma that is not allowing them to move forward and do what is right and responsible.

Sometimes folks don't need blame and finger pointing, they need help, love, forgiveness and acceptance. Help might be a tough row to hoe, acceptance and forgiveness, hard won, but worth it in the end.
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Old 12-29-2011, 11:52 PM   #12
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You do have a number of good points, however, if the parent is unstable, you can't expect them to teach their children anything. It's not that they don't want to, or that they don't care, they just don't have the tools or the back ground or are suffering from a trauma that is not allowing them to move forward and do what is right and responsible.

Sometimes folks don't need blame and finger pointing, they need help, love, forgiveness and acceptance. Help might be a tough row to hoe, acceptance and forgiveness, hard won, but worth it in the end.
well then shouldnt there be a program to teach those ppl the right life skills so they can pass those skills onto their children instead of just shrugging and saying oh well they cant help it let those children suffer so they can grow up and do the same to their kids and so on, its about doing something to end the cycle not just ignoring the problem. if you have that many issues in the first place are you even fit to have a child til you can properly raise them, children shouldn`t suffer for the sins of the parent. get the whole family help.
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Old 12-30-2011, 12:37 AM   #13
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Unfortunatley there's not a lot of resources for helping with obesity - especially for young people... Probably in part, because our culture largely still believes we shouldn't need it. It's taboo to give, accept, need, or admit the need for help. We're supposed to "just use willpower."

We "blame" the parents, but we don't offer them many resources - they're supposed to fix it because "we all know" what to do.

But the fact is we really don't. The biggest problem with mandating that parents "provide their kids with healthy food," is that even the "experts" disagree on what is healthy (not to mention that in many poor areas, healthy food isn't even available, let alone affordable. If you have no transportation and the only food in walking distance is a convenience store - you're going to buy food from a convenience store. If your power is getting shut off for inability to pay, you're not going to be buying foods that spoil easily).

The causes of obesity are legion, and the helps have to be too - and they're not.

If I could recommend one "help" it would be a weight loss support group, such as TOPS. A group just for kids would be awesome, but they're difficult to find (though it only takes four members to form a TOPS group).

Personally, I think every school should have a TOPS group as part of the extra-curricular activities. Unfortunately, that's not likely to happen any time soon, because if there's one thing that opens a kid up for ridicule more than being fat - it's trying to get help for, or doing something about being fat.


There is no easy solution. There is no socially acceptable solution. Whatever you do, it probably will make things worse, at least in the short term. There's nothing at all you can do without getting deeply involved (there are no magic words that will make anyone just do the right thing - progress is going to be very slow, and very small).

Slow, small, and uneven progress isn't socially acceptable. Often people treat imperfect success WORSE than we treat perfect failure. So the minute that progress lags or slows or isn't impressive, people will start sneering and criticising and deciding that the situation is hopeless "because you people don't really want help."

Weight loss is a long, hard, hazardous road - and it gets very little support, encouragement, and acknowledgement from others. Even when you succeed tremendously, people will point out and critique your failures (more when you succeed than when you fail).

Our culture boobytraps weight loss so that it takes an exceptional person to master it (though we give almost no credit for partial success. If you lose a lot, but don't get it all off, you're often seen as every bit a failure as having lost none).

It's hard enough for an adult to be on this journey, let alone a kid. We really need to make help more accessible and less taboo - but how exactly do you MAKE people be compassionate?

The only thing you can do is seek out the people who can be - and unfortunately there aren't a lot of resources. TOPS is about the only non-profit group I can think of that's readily available (or createable).

For how widespread the problem is, TOPS groups and other non-profit weight loss programs should be on every corner, but they're not - because of the stigma of letting anyone know that you know that you have a problem (even though it's obvious to anyone with eyes).

I don't know why the stigma against doing something about obesity is worse than the actual stigma against being obese, but that's the culture we live in. To change it, is to do battle - and to break taboos.

I don't know how to tell you how to do it right. I'm not sure there even is a right way, or a way that works well more than a fraction of the time, but at some point we need to realize that it "takes a village" to fight obesity.

I love my TOPS village, and I wish everyone of every age had access to one (well everyone does - because it only takes 4 people to start a group - but you've got to know it's possible, and you've got to find 3 other people willing to go in with you).
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Old 12-30-2011, 12:38 AM   #14
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Have you established an ongoing dialogue with your siblings about their health and other aspects of their lives? It's extremely difficult to imagine that they're not aware that they're obese. Is their weight something that they are mentally prepared to deal with and have the knowledge and resources to address, is it taking a back issue to other issues in their lives, or are they just not concerned about it?

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Originally Posted by January Snow View Post
I know the root of the problem. My mother is a hoarder. Her hoarding and compulsive shopping has made their home practically unlivable. They never cook at home and rarely eat any meals there at all. Instead the three of them usually eat out or have takeout type meals over at another relative's house. My brother and sister rarely get regular meals and habitually overeat. (I don't live with or near them but visit often and have a pretty good understanding of what's going on.)
That definitely sounds like a very dysfunctional, very unhealthy living situation. That seems like it would be a really stressful and unpleasant way to grow up - no real space or order, irregular and unhealthy meals, and - worst of all - no real control over the situation. It's no wonder they've got weight problems.

Even assuming that you're right about their home life being the major contributor to your minor siblings' obesity, they (presumably) don't have much control over the state of their household or the way their lives are structured at the moment. What have the adults in their lives done to address that situation (other than talking to your mother, who sounds like she may be mentally ill)?

Has your mother been evaluated for mental illness/fitness to be a custodial parent? Has the agency that's responsible for protecting children's welfare been contacted about the conditions your siblings are living in? Has your mother's or your sibs' primary physicians been contacted about their living situation? Do your siblings have regular access to healthy food choices for breakfast and/or lunch at school? Have your siblings been evaluated for underlying physical or mental health issues that may be contributing to their weight?

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What can I do? I feel like my brother and sister are going to need to develop a real desire to lose weight because obviously the rest of the family is just making things worse for them. Since many of us were in their shoes when we were younger, what would you say to the younger you?
I don't think your siblings need to be pushed "to develop a real desire to lose weight." They almost undoubtedly know they're much heavier than is healthy for them, and chances are that they would probably like to be thinner but don't have the knowledge, resources, and support they need to make it happen because their lives are in such disarray. Frankly, I think it's unrealistic (and downright ridiculous, actually) to expect any child (especially one as young as 12) to lose a substantial amount of weight healthily and safely and keep it off in what sounds like a severely dysfunctional and unsupportive environment.

You are clearly very concerned about their welfare. However, telling them that they "should" do something about a problem that they're almost certainly already aware of and that they've probably both been criticized or otherwise made to feel badly about by others isn't likely to help them. That is information that they almost certainly already have. What they probably don't have (judging from your post) is the support they need to attain and maintain a healthy weight.

I grew up overweight in a stable, functional, generally supportive family. My parents didn't do a great job of teaching me healthy eating habits or portion control, but my diet wasn't horrible. My major problem was having a misdiagnosed (and therefore improperly treated) mental issue from which comorbid conditions evolved (which were diagnosed but that nobody bothered to teach me how to effectively manage). I knew I was fat. I even had a vague idea of what I should do about it. However, I didn't have healthy eating habits in place already and I was exhausting myself trying to stay functional and out of trouble - I didn't have the mental energy to deal with my weight. Plenty of people, from family members to complete strangers, felt that it was appropriate to tell me that I was fat, that I just needed to use some willpower, that I was lazy, or that I just didn't want it bad enough. These comments tended to make me very angry, since I was already trying my heart out just to do everything else that was expected of me. They didn't make angry in an "oh - now I want it bad enough" sort of way, they made me angry in an "I'd like to humiliate, torture and/or kill you" sort of way. They also made me feel hopeless, because I felt like I was expending heroic amounts of energy jumping through all the other hoops people wanted me to jump through and putting up with everybody else's bull**** - and then people said crap like that and it made me feel like all my effort and all my other accomplishments were worthless in their eyes. I didn't need to be told I was fat. I needed help. I needed the correct diagnosis, appropriate therapies, better meals at home, and a lot of nutritional education and support. My parents tried - we did WW once or twice while I was in high school and my parents supported my athletic endeavors, such as they were, but they didn't provide the comprehensive nutritional education and support I needed and couldn't provide for myself.

What support - emotional, educational, financial, etc. - are you able and willing to give them to help them lose weight?

What support are they able to accept from you? Are they strong-willed and ready enough to focus on their weight that they can succeed in that with the support you can give them? Are they preoccupied with other issues in their lives? Are they in denial? Have they bought into your mother's dysfunctions and excuses?

Try to determine where they're at mentally before you go in telling them what they need to do or what you want to do for them. Their priorities may not be yours, and their mental maturity and the environment they live in may mean that other attitudes and habits need to be addressed before they can work on getting to a healthy weight.

I'm definitely not an expert at talking to kids, but I think that if you do talk to them about this you should do it when they're calm, in a chatty mood, and away from your mother and other relatives (and probably each other, esp. if they're sensitive or would pick at each other). Make the conversation about your love for them, your concern for their health and well-being, and your desire to help them help themselves. Don't be judgmental, don't tell them that they just need to make themselves want weight loss bad enough (although if it's appropriate to the conversation you could totally talk about the rewards of hard work and perseverance in your own weight loss journey), and don't harp more than is necessary on the potential negative effects of obesity. If the 16yo is reasonably mature and intelligent and is open to discussing the topic, you might, after broaching the subject and expressing your concern, ask him what he thinks he needs (he might not know), and offer what you think is appropriate and you're able to give. If what he needs/you can give and what he wants don't coincide, do offer him some sort of explanation for the discrepancy so he doesn't think you're just screwing with him. With the 12yo (and the 16yo if he's really immature), you might do better just to tell her what you want to do to help her (and make it sound interesting/fun) and try to get her on board like that. Don't despair if they blow you off or temporarily block you out (or agree to accept your help but then flake out or don't follow through). Whether they're open to help or not at that particular point in time, reiterate that you love them, that you're there for them, and that you're willing to help them be the best they can be. If they accept your offer, you've got to follow through. If they blow you off, keep the lines of communication open, continue being a healthy role model for them, and broach the subject again at some opportune moment. At least, that's probably what I would do, but what do I know. Of course, if your conversation with them turned up any red flags, such as thoughts and behaviors indicative of an incipient eating disorder, other evidence of disordered thinking (more than one would expect in any teen), substance abuse, etc. it would be diligent and loving of you to try to get those issues identified and taken care of as well.

Beyond the general support that they need and haven't been getting, I think your siblings may need something else that you could provide: advocacy for their best interests.

The conditions you describe your siblings growing up in are abnormal and are having a negative impact on their health. You wrote that your mother's house is "practically unlivable." If that is the case, then why are the children allowed to live there (let alone be expected to be able to successfully compensate for their lack of care)?

You wrote that she was "negligent" in attending to their healthcare needs.

Is that okay?

Your siblings aren't in a position to advocate for their own well-being. They shouldn't have to. Have you or any other members of your family stepped up and said "this isn't right, it's hurting the kids, and I'm pursuing actions to get this fixed?" You've tried to talk to your mother about one aspect of the family's problems (your brother's weight) and got nowhere. Is that the end of it? The kids just have to learn to deal? There are no other options? I know situations get complicated and I'm not trying to be a jerk, but it really sounds like your family needs help.

Best of luck.
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Old 12-30-2011, 12:56 AM   #15
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Unfortunatley there's not a lot of resources for helping with obesity - especially for young people... Probably in part, because our culture largely still believes we shouldn't need it. It's taboo to give, accept, need, or admit the need for help. We're supposed to "just use willpower."

We "blame" the parents, but we don't offer them many resources - they're supposed to fix it because "we all know" what to do.

But the fact is we really don't. The biggest problem with mandating that parents "provide their kids with healthy food," is that even the "experts" disagree on what is healthy (not to mention that in many poor areas, healthy food isn't even available, let alone affordable. If you have no transportation and the only food in walking distance is a convenience store - you're going to buy food from a convenience store. If your power is getting shut off for inability to pay, you're not going to be buying foods that spoil easily).

The causes of obesity are legion, and the helps have to be too - and they're not
i worked as a homecare health worker and im a poli sci student , both of which have shown me how poor of a quality of life ppl end up in often times from learned behavior from their parents.i want to change how this situation is. i want their to be resources for everyone to learn life skills not just eating well but every life skill they will need to lead a better quality of life. im not saying everyone has to eat nothing but lettuce and apples, but growing up learning that 3 fastfood meals a day is normal isn't the best situation for anyone. moderation is something not many ppl ever learn. fastfood and convience food and junk food isn't any cheaper than regular food, atleast not in my area. my food costs around 30 bucks a week for myself. if i bought fastfood and junk 3 times a day it would probably be 150 a week for myself, though when i lived in the states i did notice that regular food was much more expensive than say taco bell, but i found in general american foods to taste funny and the fastfood to be akin to poison there (please dont take offense to this anyone), i lived on peanut butter the whole 4 months it was terrible but anything else made me violently ill. i guess you use diff oils and stuff i have no idea but the costs were very diff there indeed. anyways my point is i also agree that it takes a village, there needs to be support groups and NGOs that people can go to for help with obesity and other issues ie hoarding, smoking, abuse, etc, im not blaming the parents so much as im playing the cycle that continues. im not saying lets force everyone to get help if they are overweight, skinny ppl can eat unhealthily as well, we shouldnt force anyone to get help, but offer it if they want it, but if kids are involved thats diff. if a kid goes to school and hes 8 yrs old and 250lbs theres obviously something going on there that shouldnt be. i have a feeling im gonna to anger alot of ppl in my views but they are just my views, i just want to help ppl get the help they need and want
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