When you are successfully controlling your weight the people around you often react in contradictory ways. Some become your cheerleader, celebrating every victory and reveling in your success. Others try to test your resolve by tempting you with foods you are trying to limit or avoid. The husband of one of my clients brought her large boxes of candy to celebrate her weight loss. There was no stopping him. So, she’d thank him profusely, eat one piece and take the rest to work the next day. He finally got tired to buying expensive candy for her office mates and switched to large bouquets of flowers. He got the message but many do not.
In a study from North Carolina State University, Lynsey Romo, PhD, attempted to identify strategies people use, in their interpersonal relationships, to prevent their weight loss goals from being derailed. Dr. Romo found that people who lose weight often experience a lean stigma from friends, family and coworkers who either consciously or subconsciously sabotage their efforts. Many people are confronted with criticism and declines in social support while they are trying to lose weight or after they have achieved success. All the people that she interviewed for the study reported having people in their lives try to belittle or undermine their weight loss efforts. They reported snide remarks about healthy eating habits or having people tell them that they were going to gain all the weight back again.
Most of the study participants had come up with lean stigma strategies that helped them maintain their weight loss success while navigating personal relationships. The strategies they used fell into two broad categories.
Help people save face. Participants helped those around them not feel so uncomfortable about their weight loss success. Some confided in people about their weight loss goals. They explained how important it was for them to lose weight and how committed they were to success. They might ask for support, so the job would be easier. For those around you that you don’t wish to extend this level of trust you can still help people save face by just not sharing the scope of your lifestyle changes. You can eat very small portions of unhealthy food you are given at gatherings. You can accept food from people but not eat it, like taking a piece of office birthday day and saying, “I’m going to save this for later.” You can even declare a cheat day for a night out with friends. All of these coping strategies will help the people in your life be more comfortable with your weight changes and none of them will sabotage your ultimate goal.
Focus on damage control. For those people you interact with who simply won’t cut you a break and keep trying to throw obstacles in your path, the participants of the study refocused their reasons for trying to lose weight. They provided reasonable excuses for needing to drop pounds such as for health problems, in order to have more energy, to lower blood pressure, or to achieve an activity goal. By redirecting the reason for losing weight it lifted the focus off lean stigma. It is harder to criticize a person’s health goals.
Losing weight is not for the faint of heart. Not only do you have to deal with your own difficult food issues but you have to navigate the way you interact with people around you. Everyone trying to lose weight hits trouble spots either with food or the people in their lives, sometimes it is both. Simply knowing that interpersonal relationships are part of your total dieting experience and there are ways to deal with them can help you achieve your ultimate success.
Friends who continue to try to derail your new eating plan may actually be jealous of your success. If all your efforts to navigate your relationship with them are unsuccessful, interact with them less often for the time being. Good friends help, they don’t hinder.
© NRH Nutrition Consultants, Inc.
Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN is a registered dietitian and the author of 30 books. Available as eBooks from iTunes and Kindle/Amazon:
Healthy Wholefoods Counter
Complete Food Counter
Fat and Cholesterol Counter
Available in print from Gallery Books:
Most Complete Food Counter, 3rd Ed.
Your Complete Food Counter App: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/your-complete-food-counter/id444558777?mt=8
For more information on Jo-Ann and her books, go to: www.TheNutritionExperts.com.