How do you make someone change?


One of the hardest questions I get about my journey in losing weight and reversing type 2 diabetes usually comes in the form of…

‘How do I talk to someone I love/know/care about that they need to lose weight?’

The basic answer, based on my personal experience, is; you really should NOT.

You can not motivate someone else to embrace big changes.

Any of the other folks I’ve talked to who have embarked on significant life changes echo my sentiments.  We all seem to agree that we were ultimately motivated by some seemingly random moment in time or collection of small happenings or a ‘critical’ incident. The decision to make the lasting hard changes was never spurred on by someone’s ‘helpful comments’.

In fact, the opposite seems to be true.  Those times people tried to talk to us about being overweight, unhealthy?  We were NOT ready to listen, resentful to the message bearer and/or defensive that someone should personally attack us about our food or weight.

Not exactly a great set-up or fertile ground for healthy conversations.

Nothing anyone ever said to me about my weight or T2 Diabetes EVER convinced me to change for the long term.

Subtle, friendly, mean, direct, scientific, jokingly.

None of it.

Sure, the times someone approached me or talked to me about my weight or health or how my body looked, I’d make short-term/panicked changes out of grief or embarrassment or blind-hope even. But I wasn’t ready to do the hard-as-hell, wholesale, gritty work needed to make a sustainable change. No one could have convinced, guilted, cajoled or begged me into doing it until I was READY.

  • I was 350-400 pounds, grocery shopping.  Yet again embarking on another diet I’d found in some magazine or had been told about by a friend who was miraculously and easily shedding weight. I was loading up my grocery cart for a successful start to a new diet.  I had ‘light’ everything — including ice cream and ‘diet’ cookies. Everything in the cart was ‘on the diet’. This skinny, older man stopped me in the pasta aisle, looking in my cart and then looked me square in the eye and said loudly ‘You really don’t need all that ice cream and junk food.’  I remember leaving the fully loaded cart in the middle of the aisle and going home — totally mortified.
  • I had an aunt tell me ‘You don’t think drinking diet soda is all it will take to make you thin do you?’ (I was about 13 and remembered thinking that I did, in fact, think diet soda was at least one of the answers that was going to save me. I mean it wasn’t sugar soda and Weight Watcher’s said it was Ok…)
  • I had multiple friends in a variety of ways tell me that the reason I was single was because guys don’t date ‘fat chicks’ and if I could just lose weight I would find that elusive happiness and find the right guy.
  • ‘Do you really need to eat that?’, ‘Aren’t you on a diet?’, ‘Should you be eating that?’.
  • Another relative gave me the ‘we care about you and you’re killing yourself and you won’t be around to see your nephews grow up’ ultimatum.

These comments and interactions may have meant to inspire, enlighten, encourage, scare or spur me into action, but they were by and large (pun intended) destructive and hurtful no matter how the message was delivered or who said it.

When you’re fat/unhealthy/overweight/out of shape; YOU DO NOT NEED SOMEONE TO TELL YOU ANY OF THAT.

You already know it… In all it’s painful and degrading glory.

You are well aware of your situation.

Someone telling you this obvious truth doesn’t make you instantly go… ‘Wow.  Geez.  I didn’t know that.  I should do something about that.  I am so glad they said something!’

It makes you feel deep shame. It pisses you off. Wounds you.

It beats you down because you know you’ve tried so, so many different things and none of them seemed to work and you really, truly do not know what else to do…

You’re humiliated.  You can’t hide the problem of being overweight or obese.  Hell, you publicly WEAR your problem for the whole world to see every minute of every day.

In no way did anyone’s ‘helpful’ comments ever give me the power and energy to embark on the changes that I ultimately would have to make.

Fat chance.

From everything I’ve read about the paradigm of change; telling someone they have a problem doesn’t usually help them move into action to resolve the problem. The trigger for real, lasting change usually comes from a seemingly innocuous, yet life-defining moment, a health scare, turning of the years or some other very personal ‘bottom moment’.

The moment when inspiration for change strikes and STICKS is very personal and pretty darn hard to explain.

If you are that person who is still insisting that someone in your life really needs to make a change, needs to lose weight, needs to get healthy.  You care deeply, are afraid for their health and you genuinely  want to help. You…

The list below are the traits I sought out for my ‘team’ when I was finally ready to face the truth, do the work and make a change.  In hindsight, these are the things my friends had been slowly and quietly doing over the years to try to get me to a healthier place. These are THEIR tricks…

{Actions speak far more loudly than words ever will.}

  • Listen.  Listen for open doors or pleas for help or blatant defensiveness or fear.  Then, and only when they open the door and invite you in, do you have permission to engage in the conversation about how you can help them.  Don’t answer questions that have NOT been asked. Don’t offer advice that has NOT been asked for.
  • Set an example. Sign up for a 5K and invite them to join you to train for it and walk or run it. Move your normal meeting spots to a walk or coffee shop instead of a bakery or fast food lunch. Find subtle, genuine ways to shift the patterns of your friendship away from food and toward conversation, activity.
  • Be ready to embrace their change WITHOUT JUDGEMENT.  There are all kinds of programs that people lean on/cling to/buy into when they are ready to commit to losing weight and changing their lifestyle. Programs and options we may or may not agree with or understand. BUT if someone wants to lose weight, learn new eating habits and get moving — GET OUT OF THEIR WAY!  If someone is simply jazzed that they have found something to be excited about — be excited with them!  If they’re willing to own it, work it and make it part of their life; who are we to judge?!  Our job is to unequivocally support them.

‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can not make it drink.’

The horse will drink when it’s good and thirsty.

Not when YOU think they’re thirsty.



Miles. (Wade, Guest blogger)

Wade and Betsy

Meet Wade!  Not sure how much of an introduction he really needs.  His post perfectly describes the strength and fabric of our friendship.

He is one of the people who has been with me through this entire journey.  He knew me at my heaviest.  He was the very first person I told when I decided that I was going to get started saving my own life…

I could not have done this without him.  You’ll see that for yourself.

It’s all yours Wade…


“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

~ Lao Tzu

January 27, 2013 at 12:12am (EST)

Betsy: “Think about something… HOW would you even begin to go about the permitting processes for a NAKED 5K? Logistical nightmare.”

That is approximately the 3,700th Facebook message between Betsy and I. She sent it to me, it was the first message in the conversation that day… Nudity, logistics, running… Somehow it is a perfect representation of our relationship.

We’ve known each other since late 2007. Since that time we have amassed over 4,000 Facebook messages, an unknowable number of text messages, and hours on the phone.

September 17, 2009 at 1:16am (EDT)

Betsy: “We have 142 friends in common. I didn’t know I had 142 friends. I just noticed that little factoid on FB. 142 is a lot.”

142 is a lot, it’s 46 friends fewer than we have in common now, and it’s also 92 less than pounds lost on this journey…

Think about the last substantial road trip you shared with friends, you learned something about each other. You saw the good, the bad, the ugly, and the hilarious. And at the end, hopefully you are better for it. AND there is always more to the road trip than gets reported when you are showing off photos…

Betsy’s journey so far has covered many miles but what six years of Facebook messages revealed is that it really did begin with the first step…

Monday, May 24, 2010 at 4:52pm (EDT)

I’m gonna lose 25 pounds. When I do – I’m buying this (a Tiffany Bracelet). And I’m not telling ANYONE but you. Not my dad. Not my sister. And I don’t want you checking in on me. Just wanted someone to kinda/sorta hold me accountable… I want the bracelet.

There may have been little steps before this one, but this was the one, the shot across the bow. When Betsy brings up Tiffany you know it’s serious. It was followed a few days later by an email and subsequent message that she was joining Weight Watchers. While the bulk of the message was the how, the important part was this:

Monday, May 31, 2010 at 11:51pm (EDT)

Weight Watchers starts tomorrow. (Actually – I’ve been doing it most of the weekend, just because I’m that ready to get going.) Attaching the link — so you can see the basics of the program… All good stuff. And yes — I’m that much of a brat that I need to pay someone to tell me the things I already know. Snacks packed for tomorrow. Lunch packed too. I’m gonna do it this time Wade. I really, really want to. I really, really intend to. Wish me luck…

And then a week later this:

Monday, June 7 at 12:10pm (EDT)

Betsy: Weight watchers not working… This is what other folks have used and been successful on. What do you think?

Wade: I think you need to give it more than a week…

Betsy: Walking to a full sweat each day. And I’ve gained 8 pounds in 8 days. Am I just doomed to be fat??? This is so discouraging.

I’ve never done anything like what Betsy has done, many of us haven’t, and god willing won’t have to. I can’t fully understand what it takes to make that kind of a lifestyle change (this is just eating and exercising, just wait until you find out what losing that much weight does with your skin…).

The one thing these messages show is that it is not easy.

Just as with any journey there are bumps in the road (or concrete barriers). But if you manage to crawl (yes crawl) over them then you can get to this:

November 16, 2010 at 4:37pm (EST)

So — I’ve been dropping down on my insulin and the most HAPPY, exciting thing has happened… I’m not as hungry. I’ve lost about 2 pounds. Which I know isn’t a big deal – but the decrease in appetite is HUGE NEWS. My doc gave me the approval to try to get my numbers of insulin waaaaay down and after a bit of a mixed-result start — I think it’s going to work. Less insulin = less hungry = less Betsy… 🙂

And then you get to this:

August 2, 2011 at 12:22am (EDT) … (YES we have odd message times)

Diet this time is odd…I’m solidly happy and committed.

I’m walking 2 miles a day.

It took over a year to go from almost a meltdown when the latest diet didn’t work, to being solidly happy, committed and walking 2 miles a day. 2 miles is a far cry from a 50k, but it’s a hell of a lot better than a burger, fries, and large coke at the drive through on the way home.

There are a lot more steps and milestones in our years of conversation, like when Betsy decided to sign up for a 5k, and then discovered good running shoes. Or when she said she actually enjoyed vegetables.

What I think this shows (I really don’t know much, but this is a blog so I must be right) is that Betsy’s blog posts cover up some of the details. It takes seeing the day-in-day-out conversations to realize just how much work this really takes.

So whether you’re setting out to lose weight, get in shape, or just eat healthier, remember that at one point our fitness freak, Betsy Hartley, was melting down because she gained weight on Weight Watchers.

For the record she stuck with it and it worked, but it was not always rainbows and trail runs…

The journey of a thousand miles may begin with the first step, but, if you don’t keep walking you’re not going to make it very far.

Pacific Crest Endurance Triathlon (Wade) and Duathlon (Betsy). 2014. We signed up a year ahead – and spent the year being training partners at a distance. Wade in DC, Bets in OR. Friendship and support knows no bounds. 🙂

Success AND failure…

My sis. 🙂

My sister called me out the other day. As only a sister can.

In a blog, I said I had failed at ALL kinds of diets. I listed Weight Watchers (WW) as a failure.

My relationship with WW is actually a much more complicated and nuanced story than simple success or failure.

WW was an important part of my recent weight loss journey. I was with the program for over 2 years (2011-2013). Never missed a meeting in all that time. They taught and fostered habits I wouldn’t have learned any other way.

My sister was right to call me out on not giving them proper credit.

I was trying to make the point that I had tried and failed at a ton of programs because I wasn’t MENTALLY ready to commit and succeed. My history with WW had been fraught with failure.  It remains the most failed diet program of all time for me.  I attempted WW at least 14 times that I can remember.  It was the very first diet I ever did with my mom when I was 12-13.

Why was I successful this time around??!

I was mentally READY.  

WW worked well for me this time around for 2+ years and 100+ pounds BECAUSE I was really, truly ready to work at it.

Have whiplash yet? 🙂

So then, what prompted me to list WW as a failure?

I reached a point, a year ago, where WW was no longer working for the life I was trying to build. It was not a decision I made lightly or easily. It was like breaking-up with a long-time friend…

After a lengthy discussion with Jim, my WW leader, he said; “The need for you to transition to something else simply shows your growth and life changes. It is not a flaw in the WW program.”

He is right.

Here is what Jim and I talked about…

My needs were becoming drastically different. I was active and falling in love with endurance sports. Being focused on calorie restriction WHILE trying to run longer distances was driving me crazy. I made the decision that my focus for 2014 was going to be training hard to run long distances, eating to fuel what I wanted to do and learning to not worry about what I weighed.


I had become obsessed with the numbers on the scale. Anxiety over the weekly weigh-ins. Stepping on my home scale 2-3 times a day to make sure I wasn’t gaining DURING THE DAY. I would not eat or drink the day of a weigh-in if I felt I was in jeopardy of gaining for the week. Even on days when I was running or working out.

At this point in the story folks usually become alarmed…

Rightfully so. 

This was NOT EVEN REMOTELY HEALTHY behavior.  It was stupid, unsafe, unhealthy, mental BS.  And WW would NEVER, EVER condone that type of behavior if they were aware of it.

I felt trapped in a ‘competition’ against a scale.

It had to end.

Lastly, I encountered a philosophical difference with WW. The part of my brain that wanted to have a relationship with food that was intentional and thoughtful had been fighting against a ‘free for all’ mentality.  Let me explain…

Weight Watchers is trying to help people eat healthier foods while restricting calories so they can lose weight. They have a category of ‘free‘ foods (essentially lower-carb fruits/veggies) that you can eat until you are satisfied and you don’t have to count the calories.

How many of us who seek out weight loss programs (especially those of us who are repeat customers…) are truly capable of discerning ‘full to satisfaction‘?  Or are capable of eating in moderation?!??  If we were capable of ANY of that we WOULD NOT NEED the program.  Just saying…

Here’s how my messed-up brain works…

So, I have eating/food issues, I habitually and willingly overeat and you are telling me FOOD IS FREE?!! Awesome!  Even if it’s food I don’t like — I like it now.  It’s free!  I can eat ALL I WANT! I have permission to over-eat, because it’s FREE! And I WILL find a way to overeat, I have spent a life time doing it.  I’m DAMN good at it.

*Spoiler alert*

As it turns out all foods have caloric and nutritional values. Nothing is really free. 

I have finally accepted and embraced this not-at-all-sexy-cool-or-fun truth.

I now count calories. ALL the calories.

My sister was right. WW deserves due credit for giving me tools, structure, support and help. To an outsider it looked like I had nothing but success with the program. Then I left, quietly. Most of the WW folks have no clue what my history was, what my reasons were.

WW gave me some great tools, helped me establish some critical and needed habits.

And I do need to thank WW for those fundamental gifts.

(For the record… My sister is still speaking to me. 🙂 )

Jim! My current friend and former WW leader. And trail running partner. We were 2.5 hours into a 5 hour run. 🙂