Weight loss and your relationships
Many have the idea that weight loss is a panacea, that if they could only lose 50# everything about their life would be better. While it is true that many people who are able to take off a significant amount of weight report dramatic improvements in their confidence and physical health which in turn opens doors previously closed to them, these improvements are often balanced by more negative effects.
Weight loss and the lifestyle changes that must accompany it bring about a disruption in relationships that can be both positive and negative. It is important to recognize that this lifestyle change has the potential to impact your relationship with yourself, your partner and with your friends and family.
A Change Within
Many come to a point where they realize they must take control of their weight after years of putting their health on the back burner. Eating for convenience or entertainment, failing to prioritize exercise, and not being able to say no are just a few habits that reflect an unbalanced relationship with one's health.
We often hear patients at the start of their weight loss journey say that they expect to have increased confidence as a result of weight loss. In truth, many do find increased confidence but likely this confidence stems more from the journey than the end result. Watching oneself do all the hard things one must do to lose weight inspires increased confidence and improved self-esteem. When we begin to form healthier habits they often trickle down in unexpected ways. For example, eating healthier meals may result in improved energy and efficiency in the workplace. We may feel able for the first time to set challenging professional or personal goals unrelated to our weight. Settling into a new habit of regular exercise may help us to see ourselves as strong and capable. Hearing yourself say “No” to temptations while dieting may be good practice for saying “No” to overcommitting.
When you value and prioritize yourself and your health, all of your other priorities have to shift. Making time for exercise, meal prep or grocery shopping will mean less time for other things you are used to doing. It will also mean that your entire life is more structured and routine. Although this can be a positive springboard for other personal growth, it might be a complete overhaul of the picture you have of yourself. How have you identified yourself in the past? The freewheeling, easy-going, always ready-to-go grab drinks and nachos person you used to be might not have a place in the healthier lifestyle you are building. Are you ready to re-define yourself?
How might your weight loss journey transform the way you interact with your friends and family? Do you find that most of your socializing happens around food? Will your adherence to a healthier way of eating be impacted by your social life? These are just a few questions to consider as you set off on a journey toward improved health. In any relationship there is potential for us to be the influencer or the one who is influenced: will your healthier choices around food and exercise inspire healthier behaviors among your friends and family or will they feel threatened by your healthier self?
Have you ever experienced a situation that felt like ‘dietary sabotage’ inflicted by a friend or family member? Perhaps this sabotage is unintentional but many of my patients report having a friend encourage them to have ‘just one little cheat’. Or maybe you have experienced a well-meaning colleague who brings a healthy treat to the office and gets offended when you abstain from partaking in their offering because it doesn’t meet the requirements of your diet plan.
Your weight loss will very likely affect your relationship with your partner. What this effect will be depends on many variables. If you are undertaking the journey to improved health on your own, your partner, regardless of his or her weight, may feel insecure about the changes. As you lose weight, your sense of yourself as an attractive, desirable person may change. Is your partner certain that this new body confidence won’t lead you to trade him or her in for a newer model? Having an open and honest discussion with your partner about your reasons for wanting to lose weight may go a long way towards reassuring him that you aren’t going anywhere.
Your partner may support you fully and embrace the improved energy and vitality that better health brings to the relationship. Or, they may feel left behind in their unhealthy habits or that the two of you no longer share common interests. Again, it is important to talk to your partner about your desire to lose weight and communicate openly about what it means for your relationship and daily life: will Friday night pizza be a thing of the past? Will they join you on your weekend hikes or bike rides or sit home alone without you?
When only one member of a couple begins a weight loss transformation, the other member often reports that their dieting partner wants to talk about health-related topics more frequently. If they are health-minded as well, this can be a good thing, something that brings them together. If they are ‘left behind’ in an unhealthy lifestyle around food and exercise, they may take all the health talk as nagging. The dieting partner may feel as though the other is secretly trying to sabotage their efforts to get healthy by bringing home ice cream or donuts. If your partner seems reluctant to get behind your efforts, remind him of all the ways he may benefit from your weight loss. For example, even a 10% weight loss can result in fewer symptoms of sleep apnea, including snoring. Many non-losing partners report better quality of life simply related to their improved sleep as their partner snores less.
Some couples undertake a weight loss journey together. This can benefit both partners when it comes to having an accountability or workout buddy. As both individuals realize improved health, energy, and vitality they may be able co-create a new way of interacting. Some couples in our program have established daily walking habits together, while others pursue their exercise independently. Date night can take on a whole new meaning: less Netflix and Chill, more rock-climbing, bowling or other more active, adventurous pursuits. When your partner is by your side for the journey, not only will your journey be more enjoyable, but it is much more likely you will reach your goals.
Losing weight with your partner is not always smooth sailing. If one of the duo assumes the role of food police it can create tension. Of course, the other side of that risk is when neither partner takes responsibility for staying on the plan. You could easily lead each other astray. Additionally, it can be challenging as a woman if your partner is a man. He will almost always lose weight more quickly and easily than you even if he cheats more often.
There are so many positives associated with losing weight and improving your health that it can be easy to overlook some of the potential downsides. Being aware of what you may encounter in all of your relationships may help you be better prepared to deal with the challenges as they arise.