Approaching health concerns

  • Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dear Liz,

I am worried about my mother's health. I am 29, she is 51. She has gained a lot of weight in the last 10 years and subsequently has developed high blood pressure and diabetes. Those are managed with medication (with side effects). She has trouble with her knees and back. She has three adult children, including me, and eight grandchildren, who she treasures. She gets red-faced running after the grandkids and wants to keep up and enjoy them.

We have all hinted, but are afraid to hurt her feelings. She complains/jokes about her weight — but admits she doesn't want to talk about it and is embarrassed. Our father takes pretty good care of his health, thank goodness, but says he really doesn't “dare” bring it up.

What is the best way to talk about my/our concerns?

“Worried son”

“Dear “Worried...,”

You are a loving son justifiably concerned for your mother. And yes, it is one of the touchiest subjects to talk about. But, if she were taking poison (which some foods can be for some people), I'm sure you'd intervene.

If you look at it as a medical condition (with psychological/social/spiritual overlays) perhaps that will help you be objective, and kind. Disordered eating can be compulsive/addictive in nature, a way to relieve stress, comfort oneself, and have power. It can have early trauma, such as sexual abuse, as an underlying contributor. It requires solid expert medical/psychological/social/spiritual intervention. I suggest first doing some research into resources available to her. In this area we have hospital-based bariatric medical centers (including surgical interventions), (MUSC also has a special weight management center — a great resource), free-standing weight management centers, Weight Watchers, nutritionists, Over-eaters Anonymous (following the “AA” 12-step program), church-based programs and more.

Each person has a unique combination of past and current issues contributing to obesity. The most important thing is to communicate your concern, face-to-face, in a sincere and loving manner. Say something like, “Mom, you know how much I love and adore you — and the grandkids do too. But we are worried about your health, and it seems to be getting worse. What can I do to support you in getting healthier?”

I have permission to share what a highway patrolman told his mother, following her taking a proactive approach to her health and was losing a lot of weight in a physician-guided program augmented with counseling.

He said, fighting tears, “Mom, I have been worried sick over you, but didn't want to insult you. I always worried not just for your declining health, but in a car accident, large people are at greater risk. Sometimes we just cannot get a large person out of a crashed car in time. I am so grateful you are now able to run after the grandchildren with ease!”

Perhaps share the column. Blame me.

Please send your questions and comments to asksharpliz@ gmail.com. Liz Brisacher Sharp is a Masters-level Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice with 35 years experience in mental health including serving as a school counselor, and as a consultant and mediator.

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