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I caught up with a friend recently, and she mentioned that she is trying to lose weight (she is overweight). She told me about the program she is using for it which sounded great and supportive. But then she confided in me that she was worried she was developing unhealthy habits which could turn into an eating disorder if left unchecked (e.g. bingeing on a 'cheat day', obsession with tracking calories).

I don't have any experience with eating disorders and was a bit taken by surprise by the whole conversation, so I didn't really know what to say. I'd like to support her in losing weight in a healthy way, but I don't know how to do so without accidentally encouraging unhealthy dieting behavior. (Plus if it's really an eating disorder she should probably see a professional, right?) She also didn't specifically ask me to help keep her on track, so I don't want to come off as pushy if I send her a healthy recipe, or talk about another type of diet, or something like that.

For context, we work in the same office, and although we haven't hung out very often, I think we'd both like to become better friends.

What are appropriate ways to support someone who is trying to lose weight? How can I encourage her in a healthy way?

  • Could you estimate (as a percentage) how much above what you estimate her normal weight to be is? – user3169 Aug 28 '17 at 20:14
  • @user3169 hmm I'm really bad at estimating things like that, why do you ask? It's obvious from appearances but not like she's morbidly obese either, if that helps? – Em C Aug 28 '17 at 20:42
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    I ask because some people will diet or have weight issues if they are 20 lbs. overweight, but others could be 100 lbs. overweight. The first one may be more of a personal image issue, while the second one would clearly be a health issue at the minimum – user3169 Aug 28 '17 at 20:45
  • @user3169 That's definitely true. Most of the people who go to see my uncle (works at a weight-loss clinic) only need to lose 10-20 lbs. – Catija Aug 29 '17 at 15:49
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It is very simple! Don't tell, show. Team up!

If you can share a healthy lunch on one (or more) workday per week it will both be fun and will help lose weight.

Ready-made food often drips calories. Home made food with well-chosen ingredients make a nutritious meal that helps to keep the body weight down. Do it together to keep one another on the straight. Swap cooking lunch to share the effort and have some plain old fun!

For example bring those tiny tasty tomatoes to use as in between snack/for bad moments.

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    I love this idea. So many people where I used to work ate out of the vending machine due to lack of breaks and not preparing (long hours, high stress job), so I started bringing my crockpot to work and asked people to sign up for lunches. I would then buy ingredients, send everyone an email with the receipt (split between the people eating) and I would prep the food when I arrived and by lunch we all had something fresh and delicious and cheap. I'd love to say I was worried about their health, but mostly I thought it contributed to being crabby. LOL – threetimes Aug 28 '17 at 15:26
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    @threetimes The crockpot idea is brilliant! I might have to suggest that. – Em C Aug 28 '17 at 15:46
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    I'd say that this is encouraging from more than one point of view. First, you share her experiences, which is nice, polite and encouraging. Second, you will very likely actually enjoy healthier diet (as long as it's really healthier and it's not a tasteless crap like some "healthy" food), and I'm sure that this very fact will encourage her even more! From a personal experience: one family member (whom I meet regularly at my parents') is on a healthy diet and we all started eating some healthier food. – yo' Sep 8 '17 at 12:09
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I can answer from the "trying to lose weight and encountering difficulties" perspective, though not from the "concerned it's medically bad" one.

If she told you this unprompted, then a good first response is to ask "how would you like me to support you?". Maybe this is her way of saying "hey, could we have some healthy snacks along with the free chips and weekly doughnuts?" or "could we consider breaking our habit of always going to Mega-Burger Barn for lunch?". Or perhaps she's noticed that you take walks at lunch time regularly and she's interested in joining you but doesn't want to intrude. Or perhaps she just wants friendly encouragement. Instead of guessing, ask.

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Support her by being a model yourself. And work with friends!

I have a friend (call him "Bob") who doesn't like vegetables. I'd go so far as to say that he despises most of them. His preferred foods are burgers, cheese pizzas and fries. Needless to say, this is not a great diet to have, and I would love to get him off it.

As athletes, we still need to consume quite a lot of calories - but the right ones. Nutrition is paramount; my friend needs to get the right balance of fruits, vegetables, carbohydrates (the right kind), protein, dairy, etc. Rather than just send Bob off to the salad bar each meal, therefore, my friends and I guide him by selecting things ourselves.

For instance, on Sunday nights we try to get him to have a salad. A healthy salad contains for him a nice mixture of vegetables, and isn't too fatty. Bob's preferred way of eating a salad is to slather it in enough dressing that you can't see the lettuce. That's unhealthy, just like binging is.

What we do, therefore, is make salads of our own. Each of us does something different; I, for instance, prefer to add black beans and corn to a nice mix of lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Another friend of mine is a huge carrot fan, so his salad has a lot of carrots. Bob gets a mix of things, taking advice from all of us. He ends up with a pretty healthy meal (obviously not just salad).

I'd recommend that you do something similar yourself, and get some mutual friends involved. You don't have to join the program, or eat all the same things your friend is having. But eat similar things; if your friend is having egg whites as part of breakfast, for instance, try a nice protein-filled omelet.

You can't do this with every meal; you probably don't have the time. But you can also work with other mutual friends, and get them to do the same. Your dieting friend doesn't have to eat every meal with someone else, but she should eat, when feasible, with a friend who is willing to walk part of the way along the dieting road with her. Losing weight can be a challenge; doing it with people who care about you and support you makes things much easier, both mentally and emotionally.

  • This is a really nice example of an experience-based answer. – user288 Sep 1 '17 at 4:28
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"They also serve who only stand and wait." (Milton) What your friend needs more than anything else is moral support. So stand by and provide it.

If she's doing anything obviously wrong (to a layman) such binge eating, point it out.

You're not a professional so there isn't a whole lot that you should be doing.

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What are appropriate ways to support someone who is trying to lose weight? How can I encourage her in a healthy way?

Get her to do a little bit of exercise. I'm not talking about going to the gym unless that's your thing, but you can do very simple things, like having a walk together while chatting. Use your smartphone GPS, start low like a few miles, and make sure you got proper shoes. At first the goal is not to exercise, but to get her out of the "I can't exercise because it's too hard" mindset (if that is indeed the case, maybe she's already exercising).

Anyway, try to convince her that a little afterwork walk is a relaxing way to end a stressful day, aim for 30-60 minutes of gentle exercise. That burns little calories, you gotta be careful about what you eat afterward because it'll make you hungry, but it works. Once she's a little bit fitter, you can suggest other, more intense activities, but it is important to start low so she's not discouraged.

I did somethink like that a while ago with a buddy: we got shredded by drinking beer every day after work. The trick is that we had to have the beer in a bar which was 10km away, and get there using our bicycles... then when it got too easy we picked a bar further away. The record was 160km roundtrip, but you really gotta do that on weekend, because it does take a while!

As for food, it's simple: no processed sugars, no junk food, medium amount of fat, veggies, and sort the rest by glycemic index, make sure you cook and not buy processed junk, and make it tasty.

If you both get hungry and crave for a snack in the middle of the afternoon, I've found adding lentils to the menu at midday to be quite excellent. You can cook them in many ways (like curry etc), they taste quite good, and they're a really slow burning fuel (low glycemic index).

I was looking for food that was easy to carry in a backpack and would get me on top of the mountain nearby without getting too hungry on the way, so I tried various combinations, and found out that stuff like lentils, peas, whole grain rice, basically everything that has carbs but low glycemic index provides energy for a really long time without craving for a snack...

This worked on my dad too. He has a little bit of diabetes. His breakfast was white bread slices dipped in tea, so by 11AM he was in hypoglycemia and binging on junk food. Fix was to reduce the bread and switch to brown bread, and add like 50 grams of lentils or baked beans to the breakfast, maybe an egg or a bit of fat like a sausage... no more hypoglycemia!

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Since she has concerns whether her program is healthy for her or not (there are so many out there), I would advise her to see a nutritionist or related health professional.

Unless she tells you, you do not know her personal or medical background. There are plenty of reasons that her weight might not be only from her diet.
Usually it is not just about the food.

If you notice she is losing weight, of course compliment her. Otherwise, I don't think you have the information to advise her properly. Supporting her is OK, but really it is her responsibility to find the best way.

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Cook with them.

Go shopping with them - on a "95% of the shopping cart contents should be what a skilled cook would call an ingredient" policy.

Don't limit the choice of recipe - most "junk foods" are reasonably difficult and work-intensive if you want to make them yourself to a good standard. And it is good exactly that way - you are not taking anything away but convenience, and you get physical activity out of it. Example: a good plate of chips, done the oldschool way (starting with spuds), means you have to pay plenty of attention to making your food (especially if working with a pan, not an appliance deep frier.).

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The biggest problem is your encouragement to keep on track will quickly be felt like you are watching over her. The next problem is your idea of what a healthy diet is may be different to hers and so you may find yourself questioning her decisions.

Just to pick up a few things from other answers, for example:

Personally, I think the best thing you could do is suggest she try a low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet, because these help people lose weight without hunger.

protected by Community Feb 21 at 11:39

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