How Do I Help My Friend Make a Healthy Change? (& gain myself a training buddy!)

How Do I Help My Friend Make a Healthy Change? (& gain myself a training buddy!)

If you have a close friend who is struggling with their weight and you want to help them, then this article is for you. Also, it will help you to be a better friend to yourself if you want to make a healthy change too. If you are both wanting to make a change then you can help and support each other as “health buddies”!!

My first question if you want to help a friend who is struggling with their weight is to check your intentions. Do you really have their highest and best interest in your heart? If so then there are many, many ways you can help and encourage them to make a positive change in their lives, without offending and while still being an authentic friend.

The key to helping your friend is to become their unofficial coach. Then you can use some great coaching techniques to help them make a massive change in their lives.

Some of the keys to being a good friend-coach are:

  • to be totally non-judgmental and accepting of the person.
  • to realise that the person and their behaviour are not the same. Awesome people sometimes do strange or even uncool behaviours.
  • That every behaviour has a positive intent of some kind. (Otherwise they wouldn’t do it, right?)
  • to be ruthlessly compassionately truthful in mirroring back the behaviour you notice.
  • to talk about the behaviour in a way that separates the person from the behaviour. i.e. “I noticed that you weren’t at your training session today”; rather than “Hey, why are you such a lazy bastard?”
  • really believe in them and their ability to make this change. See it as having already happened.

Ok so with that in mind, I can teach you this super cool coaching model. It’s called the “Axes of Change” and it’s a model from Meta-Coaching.


How to help using the Axes of Change

1. Frame your approach and intention

Initially the most important thing to do is to frame your wanting to help in the way that it truly is; coming from a place of love and care for them as a person. Many people who struggle with their weight do enough beating themselves up in their own head, and chances are, they already know they are overweight, and are pretty self-conscious about it, so there’s no need to dwell on that. It’s not helpful or useful. Mention that you really care about them and are concerned for their health and would love to support them to make a positive, healthy change in their life.

2. Ask if they want your help

There’s no use trying to help someone who doesn’t want help, and everyone is at a different stage of their journey, so just ask: “Would you like me to help and support you to make this change?” If they say no, remember to be ok with that too, if you get upset because they turn down your offer to help, check back with yourself and make sure that your offer is really coming from a selfless place of love. Maybe they’re not ready for help, or just don’t want your friendship to become all about their weight and health journey.

So, assuming that they say yes, “help me” you can…

3. Create momentum, and motivation for the change: Challenge – Awaken

Help your friend get more motivation to change by helping them to think about the painful consequences of not doing something about their health, and also the inspiring possibilities for their life if they do take action to get healthier. This is the motivation axis and it will create momentum and a drive for forward motion. You need to help them to think about the pain of staying the same, or getting worse: fatness, disease, low energy, poor self-esteem etc. in order to challenge the inertia, and then awaken and inspire them to the possibilities that lie ahead. They will want to move forward to get away from the pain and towards the pleasure.


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4. Encourage self-awareness, and commitment: Probe – Provoke

Once there is motivation to change, then you can help your friend explore what the problem is really about. Be their confidante; open and supportive for them to talk to you, a real D&M (Deep & Meaningful). Usually a surface problem like weight is just the symptom of a deeper problem, like a lack of self belief, self-worth or past trauma. Because you aren’t actually a coach or therapist, the most helpful and easiest way to do this is to be open yourself, share with your friend a time when you have felt vulnerable or faced a big challenge, and what happened for you. If they open up to you, that’s great, if not, that’s ok too, just knowing that they have a friend who’s there for them will be a big motivation and help. If they do really  open up and share some emotional stuff; they may cry, this is normal, just listen and be supportive. Remember that crying is ok, it’s allowed, it’s just an emotion after all!  Let them tell their story fully, and empty out. Just having someone listen fully to their inner self can be amazingly transformative. Nod and listen with care and compassion. (P.S It’s not your job to fix it, just listen.)

When they are empty, the other end of this axis is to gently ask them for a commitment. Ask them if they have had enough of living with this problem and if they are willing to do what it takes to change. Encourage them to make a commitment; “Do you really want this? Have you had enough of this problem? How resolved are you to make this change?”

5. Create a plan for success: Co-create – Actualise

The next step is to create a plan. You can help create a plan by thinking about and exploring different options how to change. You could suggest local fitness programs, offer to try some new cooking class out together, or show them some awesome health, fitness and motivation based websites (ahem, I hear is pretty cool)  Oh, and stick to things that are based on real food, exercise, and long term strategies, that do not contain the word “diet” or “lose 20lbs in 2 weeks” or crap like that. Once you’ve explored some different options it’s time to actualise a plan. What’s the end point goal? How long will it take to get there? What are the steps in between? What’s the first step they can take right now? Book it in.

6. Celebrate and make the change last: Reinforce – Test

The key to making a change last is to celebrate and reinforce every small positive step. Most people who struggle with their weight only focus on what they’re doing wrong and don’t notice what they’re doing right. Help them notice all the things they are doing right, and get them to stop and celebrate those positive steps. Positive reinforcement feels good and encourages more of the same positive actions. Help celebrate every win. You can also really help by solidifying and testing the action plan. Be there to encourage if their actions do not yield immediate results. Be the voice of reason; do they just need to keep at it, or do they need to make a change to the plan, up the ante, or test something else. Keep reinforcing the action steps and testing the plan against the real world results to make sure it is the right plan. If not, go back to co-create and work out a modified plan, tweak it to make it work. Often it is just a matter of keeping at it over time. Health is a lifelong journey. Keep celebrating every positive step.

I know there are a few steps in there, and you may need to go through the cycle on a micro or macro scale many times through the whole journey of supporting them with this change.  It will take time.

A really important thing to remember is to totally and wholeheartedly believe that they can make the change and to imagine them as the slim, healthy future person who has already overcome this challenge. When you do this, even without saying a word, your whole approach to them will reinforce their own self-belief and help them uncover their own inner courage to make the change.

(If you want to know more about Meta Coaching where this model comes from check out:

Join the Conversation.

  • If one of your friends had tried to help you using this approach would you like it? Be ok with it? Would you be offended?
  • Have you lost weight, got “evangelical” and tried to help someone who didn’t want your help?
  • Have your friends or family  tried to “help” and it’s not really been helpful, or was more about them secretly sabotaging you? What’s your experience of this?
  • Comment below and let’s have a conversation!

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