The Background

I have grown up in a very athletic household. Every season, a different sport. On vacation, our family would constantly be biking around, swimming at the beach, skiing in the winter, hiking in the spring and fall.

Growing up, I resented this, but today I am incredibly grateful for the passion for sports, athletics, and outdoors that my mother and father instilled in me. Growing up, I was a bit chubby, but now I have found sports that I love, that fit my lifestyle, that allow me to be in good health and great athletic condition. I am happier, healthier, more confident, and more comfortable in my own skin.

My father is an incredibly blunt and forceful type A personality. A leader at work and at home, he expects obedience in all facets of life. He has an idea of how every person around him could change to suit his liking. He is a loving, caring, and good man at heart, but with a very "my way or the highway" philosophy. I again used to clash with this during high school, but have since come around to many of his points of view, acknowledging that he is right in many cases, despite his harsh and tactless delivery. Living and interacting with him, I have been forced to learn how to work and communicate around problems I cannot face head on, around people I cannot change.

The Problem

My sister is much more like my father. She is strong willed, hard working, intelligent, and motivated. She has always clashed with my father due to their unwillingness to compromise and make peace. She has a good job, a good boyfriend (my father would disagree of course), a good degree, and is happier than ever. However, she has always been a big, much like I was growing up. After high school, she stopped participating in high intensity athletics, and has gained some weight. Out of our family, she is the only one who is not in good shape, the only one who does not participate in high intensity athletics 4+ times a week.

She is obviously uncomfortable with this, and tries hard to be healthy (to limited effect). Every time my sister comes home for holidays, there is conflict on this front. My father will bluntly and honestly tell her that she could lose some weight, that it is unhealthy, etc. This leads to big fights, where my sister will yell about how dare he bring it up, how hard she tries, etc, and my mother will come in to protect her kid.

My father blames my mother for being an enabler, and it hurts their relationship. It obviously hurts the relationship between my father and sister, who otherwise have been getting along much better since she moved out. It hurts my relationship with my father, as this behavior is unacceptable and uncivil.

I do not want to tell my sister what to do. I do not want to tell her how to live her life. I do want to resolve this conflict that is damaging my family

The Solution

By (the absolutely crazy) American standards, my sister would not be considered particularly fat. However, I am sure she wants to lose weight and be healthier. She has stated to me personally, and to my family at large, that that is a goal of hers. My father wants this, I want this, it would be a good thing. However, I believe this conflict makes it less likely that my sister will be able to make this transition.

I cannot change what my father will do, what he will say, how he will act. It is not feasible, and I do not wish to attempt to due to the conflict it will cause. I don't really know how to move forward. I am worried that any attempt to reach out to my sister on the subject will immediately be interpreted as an action of my father (and she would be right, he has often asked me to take his side) and rejected.

Is there a solution to this problem? I have thought about talking about my own experience, changing my diet, my portion sizes, and finding athletics that I enjoy, but I don't know if it will work.

The easiest solution is for my sister to cut contact with my father. It is what I had planned to do when I was in the same situation. Is there a solution that will not damage our family (however deserving this damage is)?

I'd also like to say that I have been largely silent on the issue, not attacking my sister as is implied in several answers. I would like to intervene, but I do not know how.

Edit: If there is anything I can do to improve this question, please let me know. Please do not downvote without giving me the opportunity to improve my question.

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    What habits do you think your sister can/should adopt that she isn't already doing? Is it just the high-intensity exercise? You mentioned that she tries to be healthy and (apparently) wants the same thing as you and your father want for her-- do you have any idea why her current efforts are falling short? How are you defining "good shape"?
    – Upper_Case
    Jul 11, 2018 at 13:11
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    @Daniel I've gone back to the question and tried to clarify. I personally wish the conflict to be over. I am looking for alternate solutions, besides splitting our family over the issue. I may have come off as narcissistic, but I was attempting to illustrate how I feel I was in a similar situation as my sister, and how much my life has improved after I was able to find a more healthy lifestyle.
    – Dent7777
    Jul 11, 2018 at 13:37
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    You say in your question that you don't want to (or can't) tell your sister nor your father how to live their lives. But then you ask how you can intervene. Your goals are very conflicting. Is this question about intervening yourself into this situation, or are you looking for an answer that you can relay to your sister as advice? Are you asking how to start a conversation about health and weight? Are you asking how to stop your dad from being a bully? It seems like a huge mixture of all these things. Right now, this question is far too broad.
    – Clay07g
    Jul 11, 2018 at 16:15
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    @Dent7777 You should probably try to narrow it down if you can, to something specific and concise, even if it doesn't cover the entire situation. Figure out what you want to accomplish, first, and ask how to achieve it. Since you want the family relationship to remain, without changing either your sister or father, perhaps a good thing to ask is "How to talk to my father about tolerating my sister's choices?". That is specific enough to answer. You can also ask "How to open up a discussion with my sister about her physical health?". I'm probably going to vote to close if it remains broad.
    – Clay07g
    Jul 11, 2018 at 16:50
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    @RK These averages point to the fact that a large majority are at the very least overweight, bordering on obese. Being overweight, let alone obese, carries a host of associated health problems, both in the short and long term. Being overweight and obese is "normal" and acceptable in American society. These are the standards to which I refer. I tried to find specific hip-waist ratio or dexa data, but I struggled to do so. Body fat percentage is what I'm after in the end, but is a more or less a secondary statistic, so I'd rather look at the raw data sets.
    – Dent7777
    Jul 20, 2018 at 13:24

3 Answers 3


My 2 cents: I have and currently am in the same boat as your sister. My mom is extremely athletic, but my dad and sister are also extremely not. I grew up doing varisty everything and like your sister, quit everything cold turkey in college (also due to injuries). I gained weight, a lot more than probably your sister did. I have been trying for a decade now to lose it, but reoccurring injuries and health problems have prevented it.

I would have greatly appreciated the support from my parents, particularly my mom. Instead of her encouraging me to try and being positive, she takes a negative approach for encouragement. I have even been slapped in the back of the head by her once (lightly but still know her intent) and asked me why I can't look like one of those well-built rugby players on TV. It has been a point of constant harass even if they think they are intending to be well and look out for my health. It is not your choice to decide how my body looks. If I decide I am done with athletics and want to be heavy, then that is my choice. If I want to start working out again, that is my choice. But that is a choice that you guys cannot decide for her. All you are doing is body shaming her in hopes that you break her into listening to you guys. Maybe that works for you, but it clearly does not work for your sister.

So if you want to truly help her, start with LISTENING to her. Find out what she has tried, offer suggestions on routines to change up. Suggest various activities she might like. But listen to her. If she says she doesn't like CrossFit, then don't force her to do CrossFit. If she mentions how she likes running, suggest helping her come up with a running routine for her to do. Be attentive to her and SUPPORTIVE. If there is a week she misses because life got in the way, don't yell at her, support her with positive encouragement to get back at it. If there was a day she wanted to run 10 miles but only ran 3, congratulate her for going out on a run and doing the best she could for that day.

Stuff like that keeps people motivated and encouraged. Losing weight is one of the hardest things there is in life for those of us with normal/slow metabolism. It takes years to remove what sometimes takes only a short couple of months to put on. Why would someone want to struggle to lose weight, deal with the disappointment and stress of not seeing the scale move, and then turn around and get harassed by her entire family? It's not worth it and anyone's motivation and will would break easily.

Be the brother she needs. Supportive, positive, encouraging. As a comment said, how do you even know she wants to lose weight? You are again assuming that for her. Having a healthy lifestyle doesn't mean they want a 6 pack. So again find out what her goals are, her honest goals are and not the goals she feels pressured to say because it's expected of her.

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    @ggianquin I am aware that I do not, and should not, get to decide how my sister lives her life. I clarified in the question that I have not really spoken on this issue, and I have especially not body shamed my sister. I also clarified that my sister has said that she is not where she wants to be weight wise, and that she explicitly wants to lose weight. Finally, thank you for a well thought out and reasonable answer.
    – Dent7777
    Jul 11, 2018 at 13:47
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    @Dent7777 Yes by you I meant your family, not you individually. You seem to be generally well-meaning and that's why you came here to ask how you can get help. Maybe I should rephrase it a tad to not point it so much at you as your general family.
    – ggiaquin16
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:17

I am sorry to have to frame-challenge you here but: The way I see it, the only way to truly solve this conflict is to make your father accept minimum standards of human rights and of decency.

  1. It´s your Sisters right as a human being to live her live as she chooses. If she wants to be fat, let her be fat. If she wants to be thin support her. Support means: Help, when asked to - not force yourself upon her.

  2. Sure it´s your and your fathers right to voice your opinion. From what you told us, that opinion has been well heard. Everything beyond that is just plain harassment. Remember, if you hurt somebody it does not really matter if it´s in good faith - it hurts just the same. You know this, your father knows this - so stop it or it becomes just plain evil.

So the way I see it you can either stand up for your sister - just like I´m sure you would do with any outsider bully - and show your father where the line is in decent human behavior or you can stand aside an watch the spectacle.

Even if you somehow forced your sister into compliance with the BMI-issue you wont have solved the conflict. Your father will surely find the next thing to criticize.

As per your Edits, again: Your father is part of the problem so he must be part of the solution. If you deem that as impossible, the conflict is impossible to solve. Cutting contact may be the next best option as to freeze and minimize damage. Again, that would be your sisters decision and you can only support her when she does.

The only thing you can do to get better access to your sister, is to show her that you support her and accept her no matter what she chooses to be right for herself. Only through this you can build trust and gain some influence. Note that this is fundamentally different than just thinking your part, and not attacking her about it. She will probably note if you judge her, even if you keep your thoughts to yourself!

(This post reflects my deeply held believes as a product of western liberal civilization so I don´t have any specific scientific sources for this. I had some success improving the relationship with my younger brother with the approach in the last paragraph though)


Personally speaking, I can empathize with your sister, as I used to be fairly overweight and out of shape with parents who forced me to exercise constantly. This caused me to hate physical activity which caused further health deterioration. Fortunately, I learned on my own how to exercise and eat healthily to the point where I actually now enjoy both. But it was ultimately my choice to do so.

I will refrain discussing the relationship with you/your sister vs. your father, but I will offer advice on how you can intervene and introduce her to a healthier lifestyle.

Offer to do activities together

This can be hikes, walks outside, cooking healthy meals together, etc. This allows an activity that you both can bond over while still being active and healthy. Hopefully, she will soon subconsciously associate exercise and activity not as a chore or a burden, but spending time with her brother. While it's important that you always offer, if she says no, never press.

Support her decisions

As many have stated, you can't force her to do anything. In order for healthy habits to form, it has to be her choice to want to be healthy. Your job as a brother is to support her with how she's feeling. Be a constant positive feedback loop to her. Regardless of whether she's active or resting, it's really important that she feels that she can come to you for support. Don't focus on the number of pounds she loses, focus on helping her lead a healthier lifestyle.

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