Many couples have difficulty negotiating eating and weight issues. For example, maybe you’re fit as a fiddle and wish your couch-potato hubby would join you for a run once in awhile. Or, you’re working on eating more nutritiously while your partner continues to snack on high-fat, high-sugar foods. These situations can produce feelings of distress, frustration and helplessness—generating the exact wrong attitudes and behaviors needed to encourage and support change. Knowing precisely how to help the one you love makes all the difference.
You may have been raised with criticism and put-downs as a motivator and therefore have a learned mindset that being hard on yourself breeds success. Even TV programs have gotten into the act of trying to shame people into becoming healthier eaters and more active individuals. Ouch! To shame someone is to intentionally hurt them. Trust me, overweight folks already feel badly that they can’t manage their food intake well or aren’t in great shape.
For example, telling your lover, “If you didn’t do this and did that instead, you’d be thinner.” doesn’t help them. Think: how do you feel when you’re blamed for your inadequacies?
On the other side of the coin, enabling is the most common mistake people make when trying to convince someone to eat better and exercise more. When your partner isn’t acting responsibly around food, what’s more natural than for you to step in? Enabling your partner means that you’re making yourself responsible for actions that they should be responsible for. Relationships work best and are the healthiest emotionally when we are each accountable for ourselves. I guarantee that the more you try to control your partner’s eating, the less your partner will do it for him or herself. If you’re doing it, why should he or she bother?
Many husbands and wives end up sabotaging the weight loss efforts of their spouses because it triggers their own personal issues. Although you may feel enthusiastic about your husband losing weight, you may also wonder what will happen when he’s thinner or fitter—will he get “hit on”, will he enjoy the attention, will he act on it? Explore your own fears and insecurities about the relationship and acknowledge if you’re in any way threatened by your spouse’s weight loss. If so, make sure you take care of your own issues so they don’t spill over into the relationship.
In this fat-phobic society, people who are heavy tend to forget all of their wonderful attributes because thinness is held in such ridiculously, arbitrarily high esteem. Remind your partner that he’s more than a body and help him focus on what you love about him—his creativity, drive, sensitivity, sense of humor, or sound ethics.
Changing eating habits and weight loss takes time—in my clinical experience, many months to a few years. Rather than push for your beloved to diet and shed pounds quickly, let her know that you understand how long the process will take and that that’s okay with you. Be there for her when she’s frustrated at having overeaten or when weight loss has stalled. Let her know that you understand how hard it is for her and that you know she’s trying. Empathize with her frustration and make sure to point out her successes, because it’s common for troubled eaters to recall only their food failures.
We could all use a little help losing weight. The key is finding the right kind of weight loss support and realizing that not all of your current friends may be providing it. Be on the lookout for these personality profiles and scenarios that could work against your efforts to lose weight: (Everyday Health, Are your friends making you fat?, 11/11/13)
There are several ways to handle these types of friends. Many of them may not even realize what they are doing to sabotage your weight loss. Consider giving them some time to adjust to the new you, or talk openly with them about what you see happening to the relationship. Some friends may understand and change their behavior. Others may refuse to change or be incapable of it. In that case, Grieve says, “With friends like these, who needs enemies!” You should simply move on.
At the top of the list of losing weight is to take responsibility for yourself. You are accountable to you, so focus on your own progress. Do not let your partner’s or friends’ habits become your undoing. You are the priority!