I'm in my late twenties and my brother is in his late teens. He has always been a skinny kid so recently we decided that I would be taking over his physical development. He explicitly told me that he wanted to get bigger and would be willing to follow my guidance.

I set up a system where I'd be tracking calories and preparing meals for us both. It's a simple thing but very time consuming, so my plan was to introduce him to these tasks gradually, eventually splitting the load with him 50/50.

We started out well enough but within a month it devolved into me having to interrogate him every day on his weight and whether he'd eaten all the food I prepared. Most of the time he was unenthusiastic and had some excuse as to why he hadn't.

At the peak of my frustration with his inability to appreciate my efforts, I gave him a heated monologue about how lazy and ungrateful he is and that basically if I'm playing the housewife the least he could do is eat the food I'm preparing. He took it well and improved for a couple of days but quickly went back to his old ways. I have since stopped preparing his meals or reminding him of his other chores and our communication has become tense.

He's my brother so I don't want to have a massive falling out over this thing, but continuing in this thankless duty is probably more than I can handle in the long term. An outside perspective might just be the key to resolving this optimally.

I am worried that I am coming on too strong in this. How do I confront him about this intelligently and really ascertain his willingness to keep doing this?

  • 5
    "He has always been a skinny kid so recently we decided that I would be taking over his physical development." Who are we? Is he an adult already (legally)? Nov 21, 2017 at 10:13
  • 6
    Do you really want to confront him, or would it be okay to just approach him about it? Nov 21, 2017 at 12:45
  • You need to get to the root cause of why he's not eating before choosing your approach. Is he depressed? Is there another cause? Nov 21, 2017 at 15:56
  • I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because the best interpersonal advice there is cannot put muscle on a body that is not exercising. Diet and exercise go hand-in-hand in improving physique. A vital half of the Question is missing.
    – user1760
    Nov 23, 2017 at 1:33

6 Answers 6


Your brother and you are not on the same page. I'm assuming no malice from his side; because that would dramatically affect the answer (away from an IPS approach).

We started out well enough but within a month it devolved into me having to interrogate him every day on his weight and whether he'd eaten all the food I prepared and most of the time he was unenthusiastic and had some excuse as to why he hadn't.

  • Being unenthusiastic isn't something you can be upset about. If that's how he truly feels, he's essentially being open and honest to you. However, that doesn't mean you can't address the fact that you fear his lack of enthusiasm is an obstacle on the road to achieving what he wants. But try to approach that without blaming or reprimanding him, because he can't help his emotions.
  • Not eating the food you prepare for him, however, is an issue. You're free to address the fact that you put effort into the food, and that it's not nice to see your effort go to waste. Unless he has a valid reason to avoid eating it (e.g. issues digesting the food); I'd suggest you put the choice before him: eat the food that you make for him (within reason), or make it himself. Offer him the recipes etc.
  • Note that since we're talking about bulking up, it's not impossible for him to feel sick from eating too much. Some people quickly feel sick when they eat too little, other people quickly feel sick when they eat too much. If this is the case for your brother, you can't really fault him for that. He might even be silent to you about it in an effort to not make you feel like your effort is wasted (but sadly achieving the opposite effect).
  • If he opts for making the food himself and he ends up not doing it, then simply check in with him once in a while about his progress (without an underlying "I told you so" tone). If he raises a problem with not achieving his goals, stress the importance of eating the meals.

  • "Interrogating" him for his weight sounds a bit aggressive from your side. If you came across as a hard-ass initially, that can explain why your brother has lost enthusiasm or possibly hides the fact that he can't eat all the food.

  • It's also possible that your (current) dislike of the situation influenced your use of "interrogated", and you did initially ask it nicely. If so, the previous bullet point is null and void.

At the peak of my frustration with his inability to appreciate my efforts, I gave him a heated monologue about how lazy and ungrateful he is

  • Did you confirm that it was indeed laziness? I mentioned a few alternate explanations (which may or may not be correct). If you assume laziness when it is not the case, you're essentially fueling your brother's unenthusiastic responses.
  • There is a massive difference between "you're ungrateful" and "your actions make me feel like you're ungrateful". The latter is not only more polite, it's also more correct (from what I read in your question).

and that basically if I'm playing the housewife the least he could do is eat the food I'm preparing.

  • It's a fair argument, but it could be phrased better. If this is how you phrased it to him, your message carries a clear feeling of resentment, which generally creates more IPS problems than it could ever solve.
  • Similar to the earlier point, phrase it more correctly. Instead of telling him what he should do, tell him how him not doing it makes you feel. He gets to choose what he does, your only job is to inform him of the impact it has on you.

He took it well and improved for a couple of days but quickly went back to his old ways.

  • To me, this seems a clear indication that he is trying but failing. From your phrasing so far, it's possible that the way you've responded to him (intentional or not) has made him afraid to upset you, and leads him to hide his failure from you.

I have since stopped preparing his meals or reminding him of his other chores

  • Given that he is trying but failing; this is the opposite of what you should do. You've essentially confirmed his fear about upsetting you, which is likely going to end up damaging your relationship in more ways than the weight gain.

and our communication has become tense.

  • I can definitely see why.


I can't make an accurate judgment, because I'm seeing the problem through your eyes, and it's not impossible that you contributed to the problems (and are not seeing it). So let me offer alternate options here:

Your brother is trying, failing, and not getting the needed support from you in a way that actually helps him.

  • Instead of telling him what to do; ask him what he's struggling with.
  • Before you suggest solutions to the problem, ask him if he has an idea on how to fix it (it gets him to engage, which can solve the lack of enthusiasm)
  • Don't berate him for failing to do what he needs to do. If he were able to do so; he wouldn't have needed your help in the first place. A teacher who immediately berates the student for their ignorance, is not a good teacher.
  • Understand that your brother intends no malice. He's asking for your help after all. His failure to adhere to the schedule is not a matter of willful disobedience, it's a matter of misunderstanding and needing to adapt.
  • I know this is a bit extreme, but in action movies, villains are often proven to be villains when they punish an underling's failure as if it were malice. I'm not berating you, but it's an interesting analogy, because I think your brother feels like he's in a similar (but less extreme) position.

Your brother has actually given up and hasn't bothered to tell you.

  • This puts your brother at fault. However, based on certain things you've told me (after being reprimanded, he put in more effort for a while), I think this is unlikely.
  • If this is indeed the case, you can justifiably withdraw from helping him.
  • However, since you'll obviously have an ongoing relationship with your brother, don't just cut and run. Offer him the resources (recipes, knowledge, some tips). Make a "hand off" of information so he can continue by himself if he wants to.

You can try to solve your problems without blaming your brother.

Your annoyance stems from particular things that cost effort but get seemingly ignored by your brother. However, it's possible that your brother means no harm and is simply this unenthused and apprehensive of things. Just like how it's unfair for you to have to put in wasted effort, it's unfair to tell him how to feel. But there are ways to avoid the conflict:

  • I infer that checking in with his weight and food intake daily is annoying you. Have you considered making him use tools such as MyFitnessPal for this exact purpose? It sends out reminders (so you don't have to), and it gives your brother the option to post things (which informs you).
  • If you still feel like the food is going to waste, maybe try and change to recipes that stay edible longer. If your brother can't eat it all, at least he can eat it over the next few days. Your effort doesn't go to waste, and your brother doesn't need to force himself to keep you happy. If your brother complains that this new food isn't as good, then try to get an agreement going: you make the good food, if it doesn't go to waste.
  • Your annoyance stems from having to repeatedly remind your brother; rather than from your brother's inability to get it right. So automate it. Give him a calendar (digital or not) that tracks milestones. Use an app that sends out daily reminders (whether MyFitnessPal, or an app that only provides preset reminders/alarms).

I can't conclusively answer your question, because I can't be sure which is the case here; I'm seeing the problem through your eyes. However, I think it's likely that the way you've approached your brother has exacerbated the issues; and this is the main source of tension between you.

You already considered the option of coming on too strong, and I think that it is indeed the cause, even if only partially.

  • I slightly disagree with "he can't help his emotions." I know that emotional reactions (initial emotions) happen whether we want them to or not. And obviously, there are various emotional and psychological issues which play a big part in how we process things. But generally, we can choose how we respond to emotions, and good choices (even small choices) over time develop discipline which will change our emotional reactions as well. Certainly not a perfect system, but I think a valuable clarification.
    – wildbagel
    Nov 21, 2017 at 15:30
  • 3
    @wildbagel: My point is more that experiencing an emotion is not malicious, nor is it inherently a sign of laziness. In order words, OP can't justifiably blame or reprimand his brother for honestly feeling the way he does. Of course people should exercise some form of control over their emotions in order to better themselves, but that's not really what I was focusing on in my answer.
    – Flater
    Nov 21, 2017 at 15:34

How do I confront him about this intelligently and really ascertain his willingness to keep doing this?

Don't beat around the bush. Tell him you need to talk. Mention about when he agreed to take your guidance. Remind him the goal: he wanted to get bigger.

Do you really still want to get bigger, like you said before? Yes, or no?

Most likely he will hesitant to answer. I think he does still want it, but never thought it will be much hassle to keep up with discipline with the program.

If he said yes, then mention that he needs to cooperate, both in following your program, and in supplying the information when you asked for it. Tell him that you expect to introduce him to tracking his calories and preparing meal for himself eventually. This is important because he needs to know that you are not going to do this for him forever. I think it's better to start teaching him sooner than later, so that he can be responsible for his own development.

If he said no, then we're done.

  • 5
    If he says yes, and still doesnt input the required effort, switch him to a 'no'. If he wants it to be yes again, let him pro-actively proof it.
    – Martijn
    Nov 21, 2017 at 12:13
  • I'm not looking for an out; he's my brother, I want him to succeed. If he says 'yes' just to avoid disappointing me (or himself), then we'll be back at square one in no time.
    – John
    Nov 21, 2017 at 12:39
  • 3
    @John then you need to ask a different question, linking to this question: "How can I encourage my brother through his training program?"
    – Vylix
    Nov 21, 2017 at 12:42
  • 1
    I mostly agree, except for Tell him that you expect to introduce him to tracking his calories and preparing meal for himself eventually. In my opinion, "eventually" has to be replaced with a fixed time (one month, two weeks, at 160lbs, ... ). If the brother is already hesitant to get more involved, then an open ended timeline will likely get you in the same position a little while down the road. Nov 21, 2017 at 14:47
  • 4
    @LordFarquaad "Eventually" could even be replaced with "now". If the brother says "yes", then OP could continue with "cool. Okay, so here is how this is done..." Nov 21, 2017 at 16:52

I don't think you are guiding, instead you come across as controlling. Leave your brother alone for a bit, and let him take back control.

  • Any form of self-improvement ultimately has to be controlled by him. He has to "own" it. When you take over, you create resentment, because he is no longer in control.

  • Doing something for someone with the expectation of a reciprocal action will usually dissappoint. When you give your time and effort, do so without condition or expectation. This is a good rule to follow for general happiness.

  • Don't lecture him, he is almost a fully grown adult. Start treating him as an equal. This can be difficult, it needs to be a conscious effort but it will improve your relationship.

One last point, your brother is in his late teens and has still a few years before he stops growing. He may well get bigger naturally with age. I was skinny in my late teens then filled out in my mid twenties.

  • 1
    I suggest to make small and generic goals so he can invest himself. Everybody is unique, so there is no universal solution. Generic goals will leave room to the brother to adapt and develop solution to achieve the goals to get specifics results from his day to day life.
    – Tom Sawyer
    Nov 21, 2017 at 15:06
  • 1
    And may be one goal per period of time, not food, exercises, etc. at the same time is a drastic change.
    – Tom Sawyer
    Nov 21, 2017 at 15:08
  • 3
    Reminds me of the quote "If you keep score, you always end up losing" Nov 21, 2017 at 15:47

How do I confront him about this intelligently and really ascertain his willingness to keep doing this? Am I coming on too strong? Should I drop this matter entirely until he himself comes to me for help?

Consider the possibility that your brother may have felt some need to please you when he agreed to "bulk up". But perhaps that's not what he wants for himself and he may feel no personal need to bulk up.

My impression is that he may be feeling that eating as much as you want is not something he wants to do at heart.

Perhaps the correct approach is to find out if he really wants to bulk up and to express to him that if he doesn't want to it's fine and you still love your brother and that if he wants to stop, just say the word and you're good with it.

Sometimes people agree to things because they want to please other people, but the answer is sometimes to make sure they know you accept them as-is. He may simply need to hear this and see you mean it.

Your brother may feel trapped by the conflicting desire to bulk up to, as he sees it, please you, and his personal desire to just be himself.

Unless there is an urgent medical need for him to eat more, then getting him to do that should be a secondary concern. Focus on making him feel accepted ans special regardless of size and shape.


I'm going to take a slightly different approach to this, as someone who is working to "get bigger" and healthier themselves.

Perhaps your approach is either too much for him right away, or just isn't going to work for him.

Everyone has different ways to handle these types of things that work better for them. Maybe the meals you're planning for him don't taste very good to him. In that case, I can see why he wouldn't want to eat them. As he is your brother, and likely to some extent looks to you as a role model, I can also see how he may be hesitant to tell you that he doesn't like them.

If he does like them, it might be that you're pushing him too fast. Long term habits take time to build, and trying to build a huge habit all at once is difficult for a lot of people.

Take the time to sit down with your brother and ask him some questions to figure out if this is the problem. For example:

You've tried my method for a short time now. What do you think about it? I noticed you're having some trouble and I want to help you succeed, if this is still what you want to do. If you don't, you need to tell me so I'm not pushing you to do something you don't want to do.

Then really listen to what he has to say. Try your best to keep calm and open about this, and not to let it devolve into an argument.

If he says it's too much all at once, try scaling back. Perhaps instead of every meal being planned, try starting with just one. Instead of counting calories for every meal, teach him to track one meal a day. After a couple weeks, when he's really getting the hang of things, move him up to two meals a day. Start teaching him small steps first, and he'll have a better chance to integrate them fully into his life.

To give an example, my mother worries about my health, as mothers do. She often gives advice and really pushes for me to do things like exercise and change my diet. Trying to please her has me burnt out on trying to change many things at once, which does me no good.

Likewise, my younger brother tries to help. This is worse, as he is 1) much more fit and able to do things than me, 2) living with me, and 3) a veteran who knows so many more exercises and tips and tricks than I do.

I finally had to tell my brother that I love him, and I love that he's trying to help me, but I just cannot make changes at the pace he's wanting me to. He was pushing me too hard, and it both made me hate what I was doing and made me feel like a failure.

Once my brother backed off and I stopped trying to please my mother, I started to slowly make changes. Instead of chips and candy bars to snack at work, I have protein snacks. Instead of never exercising, I moved my equipment to my office, so I can catch up on things I've missed while doing some reps. Instead of just sitting all the time at work, I switch between sitting, standing, and going for walks.

All of this advice I have gotten and used from Nerd Fitness and articles they have linked to. The example I had in mind, or one of them, is Habit Change for Newbies. You may be able to find other useful advice, or even other things for you and your brother to try, there.

  • 3
    I like that you are coming at it from the perspective of the younger, less fit brother. It's hard to change, and it's even harder teach someone else to change.
    – Karen
    Nov 21, 2017 at 18:49
  • And it's even harder to teach someone else to change without making them completely resent the change, the process, and perhaps even you. Which is why I spoke up to my brother when I did. But that's easier for an older sibling to do- A younger, especially teenage, sibling standing up to an older, adult sibling... I can imagine that being next to impossible for some teens, especially if they really look up to the older sibling.
    – Kendra
    Nov 21, 2017 at 21:51

This sound like a failure to openly communicate.

I am going to lead with something that may be misunderstood: you can get most people to agree to something if you leverage their pride, especially with you being the older sibling and most likely him wanting your approval. Since there has been a clash at this point, I would back off and tell him that you are willing to help when he is ready for it. Then, if you are 'helping/supporting' him, then you should do just that. Just let him know you are there to help in any way you can, but you are not going to push him into something he doesn't want.

I have faced this issue internally, externally for weight loss and bulking up and the fact of the matter is that it's difficult. And with anything that's difficult you must be committed or it will eventually fail. Having said that, being committed is something that cannot be forced on somebody, especially something that spans such a long timeframe. It's not like you're helping him to move furniture, which most likely he would share the load willingly.

So why what are the differences here?

  • Time span
  • Clear goal
  • Who benefits
  • Who is in control

So I will talk about the first two together: time span and clear goal. Since the time span for something like this is most likely several years, it helps to break it into smaller portions and assign a goal to each. I would say set a monthly goal. This will give feedback and assurance. It is important here that the first couple goals should be easy, very easy. Getting quick wins will increase buy-in and effort.

The next two points can also be taken together. The person who benefits should always ultimately be in control. This will add ownership which leads to increased responsibility. There is nothing wrong with cooking for him or helping track calories, but he should be choosing what to cook and what his calorie goals are. At some point you will need to transition some of this load to him as well, but I'd do it gradually after he has bought in. Also, if his name is John, I'd suggest naming it the 'John Diet', and treating it like the 'John Diet'.

At the end of the day if it's not important to him, then it's not important to him. And if this is really about you and not him, then it will be about you and not him. The main conflict, like most, seems to stem from a lack of communication on both parts. Finding a structured way to open communication where everyone knows what is expected of them should make this task go much more smoothly.

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