It's Complicated Advice Q&A: "How Do I Help an Overweight Family Member Eat Better?"

My stepdaughter has fought her weight for years and, since having kids, has become obese. She drinks a 12-pack of cola a day and keeps lots of candy at home. She has said, in front of her kids, "I don't like vegetables." The kids aren't overweight but are obsessed with having dessert, and the middle 7-year-old girl already says she is "dieting." The 9-year-old has been on laxatives since he was a baby (his doctor put him on them), but if he ate right, he wouldn't need them, as I see it. Suggesting a healthy diet for him, or telling his mother that she shouldn't drink so much soda, hasn't helped. I worry about her and her kids. What can her dad and I do or say to help them be healthier? - P.D., 51, Sylva, NC

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I wish I could tell you that if you sat your step-daughter down and listed everything that was wrong with her diet and the way she's raising her kids to think about food, she'd see the light. But as you've observed, it doesn't work that way.

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The best - and only - thing you can do now is to set a good example about eating when you're around her children. Kids tend to be intrigued about how food is handled in others' homes. My daughter, who's now 16, still remembers the time she stayed with her grandparents for two weeks when she was in third grade and how her grandma gave her two types of fruit for lunch and no cookies and how they had strawberry yogurt for dessert. So try inviting them all over regularly for Sunday dinner, or offer to take the kids for the weekend now and then, or have a standing lunch date - anything that exposes them to your (presumably) healthy eating habits.

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As for your stepdaughter, perhaps the best strategy is to accept her the way she is. Just let her behavior go and try to enjoy your relationship with her. If you stop focusing on her eating habits for now, the day may come when she's feeling supported and confident enough to change her ways, which is something only she can do for herself.

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Karen Karbo is an award-winning writer and author of The Gospel According to Coco Chanel: Life Lessons from the World's Most Elegant Woman. She's also a mom, a writing teacher, and a horse owner. Check out more advice from Karen.

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