At Gem Academy we get contacted frequently by girls who are interested in Gem and have identified that their weight has reached a clinically high level and need help to take back control of their health. They know they need something drastically different than what they’re currently doing, but have no idea how to bring it up with their family. Some wonder if they even should bring it up.

Let me address that clearly: if you’re one of these girls, you absolutely can and absolutely should bring it up with your family. You deserve to live a healthy life, free from worry about obesity and the laundry list of related health problems. You deserve a life without joint issues, back pain, and all the other chronic health conditions associated with long-term, untreated obesity. I won’t mention the fact you also deserve a life free from the social and interpersonal issues surrounding obesity.

But now the question is how do you even start the conversation? In most cases, the conversation has been started in ways you haven’t wanted.

There have probably been more than a few occasions when weight came up and instead of a conversation it became an argument. Or worse yet, you get more than your share of unsolicited advice. You probably felt cornered, blamed, and shamed. When you realized it wasn’t going well, you may have gotten defensive and shut down. You came away from the conversation feeling you were the one who was supposed to have the answers and you didn’t.

Or the opposite happens. Maybe weight never comes up in your family. It’s avoided at all cost and tiptoed around like a live landmine. You feel the discomfort everyone else has with the subject and you know exactly why. You feel like talking about it would bring this awkwardness to a head. You think you’d get barraged with veiled encouragement and affirmations because in their minds you asking for help would be mistaken as a cue for everyone to help you with your self-esteem and not to just listen to you.

In both cases you feel misunderstood, and in both cases you feel like getting help with your weight is the last topic you want to tackle. This may be why and where it ends for many young women who don’t get the help they need. That’s why it’s important to push through the discomfort, talk with the people who care about you. and get the help you know you need.

If they offer to be the help you’re asking for, be tolerant. In a small number of cases an accountability buddy is all you need in the same way that in a small number of cases a good listener will suffice instead of a trained therapist – but these cases are not frequent.

So where do you start?

Be Authentic

Resist the urge to sell or pitch. Say what you need to say, not what you think they want to hear. Be honest and authentic. You may want to fit in with other people your age, but the truth is you’re scared your condition is going to get worse, and you have a vivid picture of how your future is going to look if something doesn’t change. In order to be honest with your family, you need to be honest with yourself. Fear will keep you stuck. It may be fear of blame, fear of letting people down, but the greatest fear is fear of the unknown. You don’t know how it’s supposed to go or  if your best will be good enough. You want the guarantee of the outcome before you risk putting ourselves out there again. But you know it doesn’t work that way.

Practice Empathy

This is a vulnerable moment for your parents, too. Something that doesn’t get talked about often is that parents feel responsible for everything that goes on with or happens to their children. It’s not rational and it’s not up for debate, it’s just part of being parent. So when you start discussing your fears with them, that taps into a core part of being a parent: their drive to make your fears go away. They did it when you were little, and acknowledging they can’t do it for you anymore is difficult to deal with. It may even sound like they’re minimizing the problem when they say things like “…if you just got a little more active…” In more cases than not, this isn’t because they don’t think it’s a problem, it’s because, deep down, they understand it is a very serious problem and they can’t fix it. They can’t fix a problem that’s not only affecting your quality of life, but could one day cut it short. That’s a level of helplessness that’s terrifying for a parent to face.

Be Open

We all have a desire to feel like we can fix things for ourselves. Even after asking for help, we might look for an opportunity to yank the reins back. Or we resort to a dysfunctional pattern where we declare specifically how the help is to be administered. Basically, we say “I have the solution. I just need you to make it work (even though I’ve tried 20 times and haven’t been able to make it work).” This is fear of the unknown – again. Parts of your journey will be uncomfortable. This should be expected, because it’s a necessary part of the process.

Be Clear with Your Intention

Your parents may ask “Why this time?” or “How is this time different?” or “What is your plan?” That’s fair. You’re asking for them to provide an option that you need, so asking how you’re going to make the best use of it should be expected.

A program like Gem Academy is structured specifically to help teens take control of their health. In the beginning, we assess where you are currently and what it will take to get you out of harm’s way. We don’t stop until we get there. We stay engaged with you for as long as you need or want. Our experts provide the education and support in nutrition, activities, and therapeutic support to help find where your patterns started and what will anchor new behaviors and a new belief in yourself.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s comprehensive and complete. None of these issues were created in weeks, and they won’t be resolved in weeks. Acknowledging that will help illustrate to your parents that you’re really ready to do the work.

I’m often reminded of a story a parent told me about when his daughter asked to go to a specialized program like Gem for a year to get control of her health. She told him she need this help “because she didn’t want to die before he did.” She went to that program, made good on her promise, and now years later it’s still one of his proudest moments as a father.

We are here to help – and you are worth it!