LEE ANNE GRACE: Caution: Words have power to help or to hurt

By Lee Anne Grace

Our words carry enormous weight. What we choose to say can change the world around us by inspiring others to find the best in themselves. Words have the potential to provide the courage to press on towards a goal or to become another reason to just give up.
I only have to look as far as my own experiences to illustrate how powerful the spoken word can be. When I was 10 years old, an adult told me it was a shame I was so chubby because that meant I had two strikes against me: I was a girl and I was fat. She went on to say it really didn’t matter if I made good grades or not because I wouldn’t be successful, anyway. Because I valued her opinion, her words stung for many years.
When I was in college, a well-meaning roommate decided to make my weight loss her personal mission. Under different circumstances, I may have welcomed the opportunity to be her extreme makeover project. The only problem was that I never asked her for assistance with diet and exercise. Her desire to help was admirable, but you can’t change a person who isn’t motivated to change. Because I couldn’t live up to her expectations, I felt like a failure and once again turned to food in an attempt to anesthetize the pain.
There are many more examples I could give for how not to support a person trying to reduce their weight. Some are humorous, like, “Did you know that you are too fat/weigh too much/need to lose weight?” I was often tempted to respond, “Thank you so much for pointing that out. I had absolutely no clue.” In reality, I was all too painfully aware of my size, and it affected almost every facet of my life.
How does a person support a friend or relative trying to make healthy lifestyle changes? The motivation to change must be initiated by them. Once a person has decided to take steps to improve the quality of their life, your positive support can be vital to their success.
1. Be a cheerleader, not a coach. Don’t point out the things they are doing wrong, but instead encourage and cheer the things they are doing right. Don’t dwell on goals they haven’t met, particularly if they don’t bring them up.
2. Encourage a healthy lifestyle, not just weight loss. Be supportive by joining them in their efforts. Don’t just tell someone they need to walk more, offer to walk with them. Do something healthy and active that allows you to spend time together.
3. Show that you care about THEM, not their diet. Become involved in their lives, not just on the issue of their weight. Show that you care about them for who they are. Let them know they can count on your participation in their life – no matter what their size.
4. Be proactively supportive. Let your friend or family member know that you are there wanting to help. This does not mean nagging or becoming the food police. Instead, call, text or email frequently to let them know you’re thinking about them – not their weight. You don’t have to mention their weight or food, just be there for them.
5. Be positive. When you’re fighting a battle nothing can top the feeling of knowing there is someone who believes in your ability to win. If your family member or friend stumbles, remind them of their other accomplishments and encourage them to move forward. Whatever you do, don’t throw in the towel with them, no matter how discouraged they may be.
If you are the one trying to adopt a healthier lifestyle, don’t wait for others to come to you to ask how they can help. Take the initiative to reach out and tell people what type of support would be beneficial. People want to help. They just need some guidance as to how they can be supportive of you and your needs.
If you are struggling with any issues in your life and want to change, have a conversation with a friend or loved one. If you need help getting the conversation started, you could begin by handing them this column and saying, “I have been struggling. I need you there beside me to cheer me on.”
Life is about the relationships we have with one another.

Lee Anne Grace is an elementary music teacher for Tupelo Public Schools. After reaching a weight of almost 300 pounds and failing at numerous diets for over 25 years, she has been successful at losing weight and maintaining her weight loss for three years. She is the mother of two teenage daughters and enjoys running in her spare time.