Today I’m going to write about a subject that can be touchy – it’s gonna be a long one. I’m talking about spouses, family members and living partners. They are a huge factor in your weight loss journey. They can undermine and sabotage, usually unknowingly but sometimes completely on purpose. They can also be incredible supporters and the key to your success. Sometimes whether you have a supporter or a sabotager depends on how you approach the situation.
In times past, the opinion of my partner or roommate has totally derailed my progress. Or more accurately, my perception (often inaccurate) of their opinion has been an excuse I’ve used to derail my own progress. I have worried about jealousy, about taking away things they love, and more. Once I gave up weight training because I didn’t like the advice my partner was giving me. That was stubborn and honestly pretty foolish of me. Their advice wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t prepared to listen. So instead of thinking about what they were saying, I gave up, and started gaining weight again.
I am lucky because my spouse is very supportive, and doesn’t act jealous of my success. I’m really grateful for that. Even if she did, at this point, I think I would probably continue my journey – because I’m ultimately doing this for myself and no one else. However it has taken a LOT of work to get to that point. Self respect and self care are like anything else, habits you have to build up if you aren’t good at them. The good news is, you can do it with enough persistence! For example, in the past I have had some long periods where I didn’t think I should put my foot down and follow a healthy plan because it was selfish, while at the same time I was also acting completely selfishly in other ways and in deep denial about it. Yep, I have some serious warts there. The truth is, it’s not selfish to care for yourself because then you can care for others in a better way. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
When your partner is undermining your progress
In weight loss forums I hear quite a bit about people who have spouses who bring in unhealthy food or snacks that they then have trouble resisting. I understand the desire to not disrupt another person’s life in the quest for health. I’ve been terrified of becoming THAT health nut, the one who made life miserable for other people around them.
Compromises are totally possible though. They usually start with a little honest, open conversation. A lot of people will just live in the same way until acted upon by an outside force, so that’s why communication is great! Something I’ve often had a hard time remembering is, most spouses and partners are actually pretty happy to help if you can come up with a clear way to do so. For example “could you please keep your snacks in the cupboard so they are out of my sight and I’m less tempted by them? I don’t want you to have to do without something you enjoy but I’m trying to avoid that stuff right now.”
If you have a spouse, partner, family member, etc who isn’t supportive of your weight loss journey it can also help to talk about why you are doing it, so they know more about what you are doing and that you aren’t going on some extreme crash diet. “You know, I haven’t been feeling very good lately, and I could stand to lose a few pounds. Would you mind if we ate some more salads?” It can start as simply as that.
A hard truth is that sometimes we use our partners, spouses, family as excuses so we can get out of something we don’t really want to do. I’ve done this. I’ve used someone else’s eating habits as a reason to eat more, have things that aren’t good for me, or keep treats around that I find hard to resist. It’s because I wasn’t truly motivated to change, and I was often afraid to advocate for myself. Afraid of what? Nothing direct, but I grew up with an issue around asking for things. I’m still working on that.
What I did in my case was use a weight loss contest as a bribe! I said to my spouse, “look, this is a really good prize, and I think I can win. If you help me out, and support me with what I need to do, I’ll split it with you.” Later when the contest was canceled (I really was winning, but Covid) I continued my healthy habits and she didn’t mind because she saw what kind of a difference it was making for me. A year and a half later and I’m 97 pounds down, which is about three times what I’ve ever managed to lose before.
What do you do when they want to lose, but can’t?
There’s one other problem that comes up. In my case my dear spouse would love to lose weight, and is having some success, but isn’t doing all the things required to lose weight. I’m not very comfortable counseling her about this kind of thing, so I will drop bits of information here and there and try really hard to avoid lecturing. So when she consumes extra calories in the form of sugars and carby snacks, and continues to use a lot of oil to fry with, I bite my tongue – but continue to suggest healthy meal ideas. Yesterday we had good talk about her needs, which are very different than mine, and I was actually able to advocate for my needs too. Sometimes that’s all that is needed, is a good conversation.
Another thing I have to remind myself constantly is that her journey is not mine, and vice versa. I can enjoy being active and eating lots of low sugar foods, and lots of vegetables, because I am a lot lighter than my spouse, who has many health problems that I don’t have. She deals with arthritis, neurological challenges, social anxiety, issues with digestion that are exacerbated by too much fiber, and has a really bad reaction to most protein powders and non sugar sweeteners. She doesn’t need me bugging her about things she can’t control. Instead we need to focus on other things we CAN control like portion size, and making more of my famous loaded salads.
Sometimes the people in our lives just get tired of hearing about our healthy journey. I can understand that, I would have before I got on my journey. So I limit what I say about it, so my spouse doesn’t get overloaded. I channel part of that energy into blogging to try and help others, and giving support to my MyFitnessPal friends. That helps a lot and gives my energy and enthusiasm a good direction.
So if you have a spouse or partner who really needs a health makeover, I think gentle, non confrontational conversations are best – depending on the person of course. Succeeding will prove to them that what you are doing is right, and you can also extend the hand of help. If the situation is dire you might want to tell them that you care about them and want to help them have a healthier life, but they won’t start until they are ready.
Above all, for whatever reason, don’t give up a healthy journey because of anyone else. This is YOUR life and your health, after all!
What if they won’t even try?
A person WILL NOT lose weight or gain health until they choose to for themselves. They must see, deep down, what’s in it for them, choose to do it, and think it’s possible. I can say this from both sides of things. If any of those three things are missing it won’t work. If a person wants to get healthy but doesn’t think they can, they won’t! Or they’ll try, halfheartedly, give up when it gets difficult, and say “see? I told you I can’t lose weight.”
So, in those cases where someone wants to get healthy but isn’t doing anything about it, it can be useful to figure out where their barriers are, just as you may have at the beginning of your journey. For example, do they think weight loss means you have to sweat all day and kill yourself doing cardio? It doesn’t. Maybe they think you have to eat like a rabbit and give up all flavor? It doesn’t. Maybe they think keto, or Paleo, or going vegan, or doing juice cleanses, is the only way? Well they aren’t! Or maybe they have a messed up idea of what weight loss means and think if they don’t lose five pounds a week, every week, they are a failure? Well it’s not! Very successful people lose a pound a week, or half a pound a week, and do just fine!
So, screwed up ideas of weight loss and what it means can be a serious detriment, especially since quite a few beginning dieters haven’t done the massive research on the subject that some of us have, and may believe the ads and magazines giving bad advice out there.
Still, just as you didn’t lose weight until you decided to, they won’t either until they believe they can, and want to do it. Gentle, non pressuring persuasion is probably the best way to go. Cooking healthy, flavorful meals for them when you are together, inviting them on walks, suggesting healthy activities to do together, being a good role model – without lecturing – usually works best. Let them see the joy that you take in life. Invite them along for the journey but don’t overwhelm them with detail at first. Baby steps.
For me I think about how I would have reacted to myself if I came along to the me of two or three years ago – I wouldn’t have trusted me at all! I wouldn’t have believed what I can do! I would have said “you’re nuts, now let me get back to my snacks!”
And yet… here I am.