Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Dear Carolyn: My youngest sister is 14. She recently spent 10 days at my house visiting and we had a wonderful time. She is a little overweight and concerned about how to fix it, so I spent this week teaching her how to work out, get active and make healthier food choices. She is enthusiastic about getting healthy when she gets home but is concerned about my mom.
Our whole family is overweight except for me. There is history of heart attacks, blood clots, diabetes and other health issues. My sister and I desperately want to avoid these. My mother refuses to buy healthy food, thinks working out is manly and women shouldn't have muscles or "be skinny" — which is not what I'm advocating — and that taking care of your body is sinful and making it an idol.
I don't live at home and am able to buy my own groceries and work out. My sister obviously doesn't have that ability yet. How do I make my mom see the real risks in fighting my sister's attempts to get healthy? I don't want my sister to have a poor body image and hate herself like I did.
Carolyn says: Yay for you. You're a true ally.
However, "My mother refuses to buy healthy food [and] thinks ... taking care of your body is sinful"? I think this is the very definition of a lost cause. Because, wow.
Ignorance, you can fix through education — willful ignorance is the choice of a true believer in something plainly counter to fact, and that's not a matter of education or even persuasion anymore. It would take deprogramming, if that's even possible, practical, or your place.
Your sister doesn't have the time for this. She needs a way to take care of herself now that she can manage under (and over and around) your mother's rules.
So when she asks, teach her about portion sizes, nutrition labeling and healthful opportunities away from home, like school lunch and stealth convenience-store assets like nuts and seeds and seltzers. Help her get her exercise through daily activity — walking, gardening, work around the house — and in her moments to herself. She can do planks and YouTube yoga in her room, no? Just for example.
These tools can benefit your sister starting today, where the Make Mother See project has no effective day in sight.
Readers also suggested:
• A regular Skype/FaceTime call where you do yoga together, or [otherwise] be virtual exercise buddies.
• Talking to her school nurse. Maybe there is a healthy weight loss program at low- or no-cost through her school?
• Sending her gift cards for healthy eating options.
• Assuring her she has your emotional support, and explaining how to access areas of adult support through school counselors, teachers, friends' mothers, etc., in case one is taken away by your mother.
• Encouraging her to participate in dance, which would appear "unmanly" to Mother. In time, perhaps you can be her sponsor to a school or job away from home.
• Several good apps and online resources to help a person learn the right way to count calories.
• Exercise apps designed for people who don't have access to equipment.
Carolyn says: Good stuff, everybody, thank you.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.