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By Charles Stuart Platkin

Is your loved one harboring several extra pounds? Have you wanted to say something for the longest time, but were afraid of starting World War III? If so, you’re not alone. It’s tough to tell someone you love that he or she needs to lose weight.

There are millions of people who care about their family members or significant others and don’t want to see them at increased risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, sleep apnea or any of the many other problems related to being overweight. If you are one of them, what should you do?

Telling your partner that he or she is overweight could be a big help. A study done at the University of Colorado Health Science Center and reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates that for most weight-loss maintainers, success was preceded by a “trigger event or critical incident.

“This conversation can spark a wide range of reactions — anything from crying to withholding affection to walking out the door,” says Gerard J. Musante, Ph.D., of Structure House in Durham, N.C. But will it harm a relationship permanently? Not if it’s done right, says Musante. Here are a few tips.

don’t be judgmental : Frame it in a positive way. Don’t make it just about his or her appearance. “This is a sensitive issue that can result in a defensive reaction if your partner feels he or she is not loved or no longer attractive to you,” says Alan Delamater, a professor of psychology at the University of Miami.

• Expert advice : “It’s important to pick a time when you and your partner can fully focus on the conversation,” says New York City psychologist Jennifer L. Hartstein. “Express how much you care about him/her and how important he/she is in your life. Then you want to express your concerns and highlight the fact that weight loss is an important part of your concern. You may want to validate how difficult changing can be and offer to be a primary source of support,” she adds. Discuss how to start the process, keeping in mind this could be rough and you may not get a very good response the first time. Stay focused on your ultimate goal — to have a healthier partner.

Come Clea n: Be clear about your motivation. Why would you like your loved one to lose weight? Are you truly concerned about his/her health?

• Expert advice : “There are many dimensions to the relationship, and it’s OK to talk about the physical dimension, and how physical appearance may affect how attracted you feel toward your partner. The key is to do this from a position of love and respect,” adds Delamater.

However, some experts believe that you need to find a reason other than appearance for this discussion to go well. “Ask yourself if this issue is about weight or deeper issues related to feelings of intimacy and connection,” says Florida based family therapist Linda Miles.

Enabler ?: Do you bring home unhealthy food as a reward for you partner? Are you a food pusher? Often times we facilitate our partners’ unhealthy behaviors because we want to see them happy.

• Expert advice : Stop. Become part of the solution, not the problem.

Check Your Own House : “How could you possibly be telling me I need to ‘lose a few’ when your life is complete chaos?” Do you need to lose weight, too?

• Expert advice : Lead by example. Maybe you can simply start living a “clean and healthy” life yourself — without saying a word.

Buddy Up : Studies have shown that a solid family and social network can positively influence your health.

• Expert advice : “If you want your partner to adopt more healthy habits, arrange activities together, such as walking, riding bikes, playing tennis, etc.,” says Delamater.

Make a Plan: Make it specific, clear, possible (a program everyone can adhere to) and formal (write it down).

• Expert advice : “Make sure that the plan is one for which your partner has taken responsibility, rather than one that is essentially yours and to which he or she has simply agreed,” says Delamater.

Charles Stuart Platkin is a nutrition and public-health advocate, founder of DietDetective.com, and host of the new WE television series, I Want To Save Your Life . Copyright 2008-2009 by Charles Stuart Platkin. All rights reserved. Sign up for the free Diet Detective newsletter and iTunes podcast at www.DietDetective.com.