You Need To Gain
by Sandra Gordon
Your husband wants his pizza. Your kids scream for McDonald’s. Here’s how to get your family and friends to support, not sabotage, your diet.
Weight loss isn’t just a numbers game. In fact, the biggest predictor of long-term success can’t be computed on a calculator. “Social support is a major factor,” says John Foreyt, PhD, director of the Behavioral Medicine Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. “If you’re surrounded by people who encourage you, you’ll be better able to weather the ups and downs of weight loss.”
By giving you perspective when the scale refuses to budge, rearranging schedules so that you can fit in a workout or simply lending an ear, your friends and family can help keep you motivated. However, they often can use a little support themselves. The changes you’re making indirectly affect them. Your newly slim figure might inspire jealously in your friends, while your increased confidence could be threatening to family members.
To keep everyone on your side, you’ll need to turn any negativity they may unwittingly toss your way into positive support. These strategies, tailor-made to address the most important people in your life, can help you do just that.
It’s only natural that any change in weight will alter the equilibrium of your marriage. After all, appearance played a role in your initial attraction to each other. “Because of the intimacy you share, your decision to change your life could alter the nature of your relationship,” explains Edward Abramson, PhD, author of Marriage Made Me Fat! (Kensington, $5.99).
But beware: Your decision can also trigger feelings of abandonment. “When one of my patients lost 136 pounds, her husband fought her every step of the way,” says Dr. Foreyt. “He was afraid she was going to leave him after she lost the weight.” To keep his support strong, you should:
Introduce changes slowly. “Be sensitive to the fact that his lifestyle is changing by default,” says Dr. Foreyt. You might welcome fresh fruit and vegetables, but he could be yearning for the days when you shared a pizza and a pint of ice cream. Rather than force him to change his eating habits, be as accommodating as you can. Go to the pizza parlor, for example, but order a salad. Stock the fridge with regular ice cream (for him) and chocolate sorbet (for you). Respect the adjustment process. In time, he might even prefer your foods to his.
Make realistic requests. Tell him exactly what you want from him. Ask him to keep the oversize bag of chips out of the house or to join you for a walk after dinner. “The more realistic your requests, the better,” says Dr. Foreyt. “A couch potato isn’t likely to run a marathon with you.”
Provide counter-support. If your partner seems to be reacting negatively to your progress, try to find out why. Does he feel threatened by your weight loss because he’s worried that he won’t measure up physically? If so, reassure him that even though you’re changing, your love for him isn’t. Does he fear that your success will force him to focus on things in his life he needs to change? Boost his confidence by lending an ear, offering advice and supporting his goals.
Losing weight can be especially challenging when you have young children because food is a constant companion, whether you’re preparing lunches and snacks, baking cookies for a school fund-raiser or shuttling to and from the grocery store. Scheduling regular exercise can also be tough, and dealing with the everyday stress of managing a household can sap your willpower.
However, it’s important to realize that you set the eating tone. Frequenting the drive-thru or serving meals such as chicken nuggets and French fries night after night can sabotage your diet success. “Many parents buy certain foods or adopt certain habits because they don’t want to deprive their kids, but in reality they don’t want to deprive themselves,” says Daniel C. Stettner, PhD, a Michigan psychologist specializing in health and weight.
Maybe you’re guilty of making up rituals, such as going to McDonald’s every Saturday, or of rationalizing that you must have Fritos and onion dip in the house because your kids like them (but really they’re your splurge food). Here’s how to get your family life more in line with your goals:
Introduce your kids to healthier food. Researchers have found that mothers are powerful food role models. Kids are more inclined to switch to new foods if you eat them yourself. If you can’t refuse your child’s desperate cries for cheese curls, buy single-serving packages. Or look for healthier versions.
Minimize temptation. Instead of eating off your kids’ plates, dole out a proper serving for yourself so you can keep better tabs on calories. Or, talk to yourself. Repeat, “This is my child’s food, not mine,” suggests Dr. Stettner. Also, teach your kids to empty their own plates into the garbage when they’re through (doable at around age 3).
Make good use of downtime. “The stress of always doing for others can lead to emotional overeating,” says Joy Bauer, R., author of The 90/10 Weight Loss Plan (Renaissance Books, $14.95). It’s important to use every last bit of downtime to satisfy your personal needs. Give yourself a manicure, write in your journal, run a bath. The more ritualized the experience, the more personal it feels and the more effective the escape.
Join a gym that offers sitting services. If your kids are older, trade off with your husband. On the nights you go to the gym, he stays home and makes dinner, and vice versa. If you just can’t get out of the house, play soccer or tag with your kids in the backyard, take a vigorous stroll or rev up your housework. Hauling laundry and kids up and down stairs can be a workout.
Close friends who have weight issues can feel left behind when you start to slim down. Jealousy can also be a factor. Your pals might be happy for you but wish they had the determination to achieve similar goals. “As you garner more attention from others, they may feel ignored,” says Dr. Stettner. However, friends can be tremendously helpful, especially during plateaus, when your self-confidence can lag. Keep them on your side with these strategies:
Get them involved. Invite a friend to the gym, to try out a new class or to go power strolling with you at the local mall. But try not to discuss your weight-loss progress too much, which can invite envy and irritation.
Emphasize your common interests. Instead of focusing on your weight or your diet, strive for common ground by exploring what initially sparked your companionship, such as your kids and their latest escapades. Try to keep food out of the relationship for a while; it’s just as easy to catch up when you’re shopping or walking.
After you’ve both adjusted to the changes in your friendship, go ahead and reintroduce food-related outings, such as trying out new healthy restaurants. By then, you’ll feel more confident about the changes you’re making and everyone else will too.
Sandra Gordon is a freelance writer.