Do you have a family member or loved one that you really care about?
Are they unhealthy and defensive about it?
Want to help them but they don’t want to be helped?
You’re not alone.
Today I want to try something a bit different on Nerd Fitness; two weeks ago, I received an email from a Rebel who has taken great strides to change her life. However, she has a family member that is headed towards an early grave, and she feels helpless while watching it happen.
I’m going to share my ideas, and then I’d love to hear your thoughts: what would you do in this situation?
Kelsey and her brother
Totally random, but a few months ago I subscribed to your mailing list while I was exploring the paleo lifestyle. I love all the material that you have put together, but the fact that you used gaming terminology really struck a chord in me. Well, I don’t know what the heck you’re talking about, but my brother, Mike, has been gaming obsessively for nearly 20 years. A story you are all too familiar with. He is morbidly obese, still lives at home, has no education (though he is brilliant), and no job. He is a month away from his 29th birthday, and I feel like I can’t avoid the issue much longer.
As you can imagine, the topic is touchy, hostile, and emotional. Historically, when his weight or apathy was brought up by my parents he would react explosively, probably to just deter them from bringing it up again. For the most part, that tactic has worked. I’ll spare you all the details of sadness and hurt, and get down to the point of why I am reaching out.
Have you had any experience with intervening? What might be a good way to reach a gamer like my brother and connect him to your community? I just was curious if you had any insights. I know that I can’t make someone do something that they don’t want to, but I have to try or I could lose him.
Thank you for what you do and your Nerd Fitness community at large. I have had great difficulty understanding my brother and his lifestyle, but reading all the emails you send have helped shed some light.
This is heartbreaking to read, but I’m really glad Kelsey reached out to me.
First and foremost: I am not a doctor or a therapist – just a nerd who’s thinking about what I would do if I were in Kelsey’s shoes. So, I would first recommend that Kelsey seek outside professional help if that’s an option. Speaking with a therapist or counselor and talking through a strategy could be incredibly beneficial.
Okay, now that THAT’S out of the way, here are my thoughts:
I’ve always said that you can’t force somebody to exercise – if they’re not interested in bettering themselves, yelling at them is a great way to get them to feel worse, get defensive, hostile, and feel even more negative thoughts about not being healthy.
You can’t force people to want to better themselves, but you can become that shining example of how great life is when you’re fit, constantly encouraging, supporting, and inviting loved ones to join you on fun activities that promote a further sense of well-being.
However, in this particular situation, it seems like there’s a bigger problem than being unhealthy and not having a job – Mike is stuck. Stuck perpetuating bad habits with no way out. His parents are enabling his behavior. With no job, no desire/need to get a job, an unhealthy lifestyle, and still living at home, it sounds like Kelsey’s parents are allowing Mike to live this way.
I don’t claim to know the whole story as to why Mike never moved out of his house, so I’m going to make a few educated assumptions to go along with my advice – I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an underlying issue here.
Let’s get one thing straight: Mike knows he’s overweight. He’s reminded every day by TV, gaming, magazines, his friends, movies, and so on. Making him more aware of this fact is only going to make matters worse. Telling him outright that he needs to lose weight and change isn’t going to work.
Negatively attacking him in hoping he will change ain’t gonna help either. If you’ve spent enough time on the internet/youtube, you’ve probably stumbled across Boogie2988, a hilarious video gamer also who happens to be overweight.
Although he’s usually a total goofball, he posted a really heartfelt video about what his life is like and what he struggles with on a daily basis. I believe it’s worth five minutes of your time:
Certainly as far as the lack of a job goes, Mike has to rediscover that personal responsibility is the greatest quality a human being can possess. I think it’s important to remember that we are all the masters of our fate, and over the years Mike has lost sight of that.
Yes, I know kicking Mike out of the house, cutting off his food supply, or forcing him to pay rent is an option, but situations like this are often more complicated than that.
Above all, there is one tactic I’ve seen help turn people’s entire lives around: getting healthy.
I have seen hundreds of people who have transformed themselves physically, built up momentum, and then ask themselves: “hey, what else am I capable of?”
Regardless of where Mike starts his Journey, with fitness or with other aspects of his life, he could use a win or two to prove to himself: “hey, I am in control, and I can change. What else can I change?”
I’m going to guess that he loves video games because it’s a chance to escape: to be somebody different, to be somebody respected, powerful and strong.
Seven years ago, when I had a job I hated, I counted down the minutes until I could rush home to play Everquest 2, in which I was a powerful wizard named Morphos that could rain fire down upon dragons…rather than a skinny guy, still dealing with acne, that sold construction equipment. Eventually, I decided to create my own game and then travel the world: I had to learn that leveling up myself and going on adventures was WAY more fun than any game I could ever play.
Mike needs to learn that life can be one giant video game too. I truly think Mike could benefit from Nerd Fitness, but he has to want to read it and take action on his own.
Depending on her relationship with Mike, she could take an active interest in his life, and have a candid conversation with him. Explain that she found a new great site that she loves and thinks he’d enjoy it. She could speak with Mike as a person, and be truthful, honest, and most of all positive with him.
Here are some more specific examples of articles that might resonate with him:
- How to Level up In the Game of Life: “Hey Mike, this dude turned life into an RPG. What’s your level 50? This is mine…”
- Real Life Roleplaying: What is Your Profession?: “Hey Mike, check this one out. I’m gonna be a scout. What class would you be?”
- A Hobbits Guide to Walking: “Hey Mike! You know Lord of the Rings Right? This is gonna sound crazy, but can you and I walk to Mordor? It’s all right here. Do you know anybody else that could join us? I know if you do it with me I won’t give up.”
When everything is going wrong, all it takes is one or two wins for things to change momentum in the other direction. I think Kelsey can do her part to help her brother have that one win.
Momentum is a powerful tool – right now, it’s all working against Mike. But it only takes a little bit to change one’s fate.
My favorite response
Have you ever read something and then go: “DAMN, I WISH I WROTE THAT!”?
That’s how I feel about Katja’s response below. Well said!
Katja: Until recently, I was very much like this person. It’s humiliating when the people who allegedly care about you are trying to change you so they can love you. That may not be the actual situation, but that is how it feels, like you’re being manipulated into a lifestyle and culture that has rejected you from day one.
You know what he wants? Look at what games he’s playing. THAT is the life he wants, and he actually has that in a virtual way: he is useful, he has skills, he makes decisions on his own. He wants quests and jobs to do. You don’t play games out of boredom, you play them for the feeling of accomplishment.
If you really want to get him moving, then offer him a life worth living, create adventures. Some have suggested LARP, but he may need to be eased into it at first. (The anonymity of gaming is part of its appeal.) Arrange a few road trips to places you’ve never been before, maybe under the guise of going to some nerd store. Go exploring. Kidnap him and get “lost.” In an extreme example, have a fake mental breakdown and run away with him in tow. Run out of money. Give him stories to tell about his crazy adventures; he’ll look for more.
Heroes need opportunities to be heroic.
Nobody plays a character they don’t want to be, so let him know it’s possible to be that character IRL. Encourage his aptitudes but not in a condescending way. Again, look to the games he plays: Does he shoot guns? Bows and arrows? He can do those things for real. Is he into magic-type things? Maybe he’s good at chemistry. It seems like there may be no one willing to know who he really is, or at least, he thinks he’ll be laughed at for wanting something so impossible.
Start strength training because you want to get stronger (YOU, not him.) Bet him money that he can’t lift more than you (with absolutely no talk about getting thinner. This must be about getting stronger.) Compare him to his gaming characters, favorably. Give him a challenge. Strength training is best because it’s not cardio (which sucks for anyone overweight) and you can immediately feel your muscles ache, which feels good in a weird way.
I actually work toward muscle ache now, because it means I’m getting stronger. Make a chart of YOUR workout, reps and sets (don’t make one for him.) Maybe you could do something wrong, or fail and he’ll want to give YOU advice. Don’t include the parents.
He doesn’t want this to be a family thing; it should bolster independence.
Eliminate the diet, weight, fat, obese and exercise conversations from your vocabulary. Those are triggers to emotional pain. And no leaving subliminal messages around, like fitness magazines and articles on the dangers of obesity. Do you think he’s a moron? Please. It’s just another thing to judge him and accuse him of being a loser.
Kicking him out, taking his game away, getting him arrested? Yeah, that’ll help (eyeroll.) Stop treating him like a problem and more like a person. The gaming makes him feel worthwhile, and the people around him don’t. Fix that first.
How Would the NF Community help?
In addition to Katja, a number of you gave some awesome insight and advice to Kelsey. I really appreciate those that took the time to chime in. We’re all in this together, and we’re all struggling with the same thing: a desire to live a better life, and make the lives of those around us better.
Here are some of my favorites:
Zachary wants to make this a team effort:
From what I read he still lives with the Parentals…Get them on board with eating properly, getting rid of all the sugar and canned/packaged products, and eating home cooked natural foods.
Since he doesn’t have a job he has no way to go and buy food that is worthless. If that doesn’t work he’ll have to go find a job to keep eating the way he currently does so either way it’s a win. Also, I agree with several others who say that he will not change unless he wants to.
Meriel shares her experience with her LARP group:
What I found really pushed me along weight loss wise was ending up joining a LARP group that met for events. As I was already a nerd, gamer and loved RPG-related stuff then it was like a revelation for me to be essentially, gaming in the real world.
Fighting, running about, doing objectives, interacting with characters, it was great, and it was a non-judgmental atmosphere so I did not feel self-conscious or inferior to fitter players, yet I found myself wanting to get fit, to work out and drop pounds because I wanted to look badass! It’s things like these, stuff that gets you out and about that can give a person a reason to start making changes and help make friends that’ll support and encourage them.
Rebecca wants to focus on the relationship:
I’d look at what my relationship was currently (Do we talk about heavy topics? Do we keep it light? Do we spend any time together?). If we have a superficial relationship, then I’d take steps first to deepen the relationship before I felt like we could have any conversation of significance. We have to earn the right to have a meaningful heart-to-heart with a loved one who is closed off. And to get there, we have to demonstrate we love them, unconditionally, for who they are right now.
Ruth thinks subtly sharing Nerd Fitness might help!
Have you ‘accidentally’ left any of Steve’s articles lying around for him to read? My particular favourite – even as a non-gamer – was trying to work out what character I was. A Druid or an elf? Maybe having that kind of context – Have you ‘accidentally’ left any of Steve’s articles lying around for him to read? My particular favourite – even as a non-gamer – was trying to work out what character I was. A Druid or an elf? Maybe having that kind of context – “hey bro – what character do you think you are??”! – might help start the conversation.
Paleo Dieting suggests bonding over hobbies:
Help to nurture what he’s good at. Encourage him to start trying to make money off of what he loves doing. My brother was the same. He started writing, as an independent writer, for gaming websites. He got his GED, got a job as editor-in-chief for Turbine, and lost 100 pounds!
Stasia shares her own experience:
A friend of mine was obese, hated herself for it but was absolutely petrified of taking action and because of this was too scared to step foot into a gym. At this point in my life I was really into Crossfit and clean healthy eating and wanted to share my new love with her.
So rather than saying “let’s do some exercise!” I’d ask her to walk to the shops or wherever with me and slowly started picking up the pace so she’d have to stride to keep up with me. I’d invite her over for dinner and make her paleo meals. This slowly subconsciously gave her the idea that she was physically capable of more than waddling from the fridge to her room and let her know I was there to catch her when she fell.
Katie wants to make sure Kelsey is sensitive:
If he’s sensitive, talking about changing your diet to “lose weight” will likely trigger him being defensive. Just make the change and don’t discuss it or judge him for servings and/or cheats. Let him watch his family eating healthy. When he’s ready to bring it up on his own, let him in on the conversation and contribute to ideas for the grocery list. If he feels like he has contributed good ideas and is part of the process, he’s more likely to stick to new eating habits.
Tina wants to focus on the mental aspects first:
It’s a vicious circle he’s in, because if you don’t address the mental, the physical won’t happen, but once you address the physical the mental usually takes care of itself.
Dillon wants to utilize his interests:
Check out local conventions in the area that involve things he likes. I’ve never been able to sit at a con. It’s mostly 8-12 hours of walking or standing. If he likes zombies and you’re in a major city look for any zombie crawl events. Laser tag is also a nice in-between for gaming and an active life.
What do You Think?
If you didn’t get a chance to chime in on Facebook, what are your thoughts?
Is Mike screwed? Should Kelsey take care of herself and hope Mike comes around?
Is Kelsey out of place for trying, or is it her responsibility to help take care of her family?
What would you do in this situation?
This is a difficult topic, and everybody will have different answers, but I’d love to hear from you. Please be VERY specific in your answers, with actionable steps that you would take if you were in this situation.
If Kelsey has emailed us this us with this situation, I’d guess there are probably hundreds of NF readers dealing with the same situation. I hope we can all accept, understand, support, and encourage our family members, and live long and happy lives with them in this game we call life.