“I’m going to lose weight and everyone in my inner circle–my family and my friends–are all going to be super supportive of my change.”
Wouldn’t it be great if that statement were true? Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and that’s why in stage six of the eight stages of drastic weight loss we must figure out how to handle people close to us who do not give us the support we’re looking for. We call this stage “re-negotiating your relationships”, because in essence what we have to do is help our friends and family develop a relationship with the new person that we are becoming. The simple fact is that losing a drastic amount of weight is a life-changing event that will change the way the world interacts with you, and if you are going to be successful in keeping the weight off in the long term, you must prepare for this and know how to deal with it.
First the good—becoming an agent of change
Before we discuss how to handle people who are not supportive of our efforts to lose weight, let’s talk about the opportunity presented by those who are supportive. What we find in cases where someone embraces your weight loss journey is that you might have the chance to become what I like to call an agent of change.
What I mean by “agent of change” is that you have the ability to potentially impact their life by helping them in their health journey. Many of my patients tell me about how they went through a weight loss transformation and saw people at their office or some of their friends begin to lose weight with them. In essence, their friends were inspired by their example, and once they saw that losing drastic amounts of weight was possible, they began following the program.
A great example of someone who became an agent of change is Steve (not his real name), who is one of the contestants from NBC’s The Biggest Loser show who participated in my drastic weight loss study. When he came home from being on the show, he found that his wife had lost 100 lbs, and his parents had lost weight as well—all inspired by him. This went a long way towards helping Steve to re-write his personal story by becoming someone who helps others lose weight.
What happens when people don’t support you
Not all of Steve’s friends were as supportive of him as his wife and parents, and unfortunately this is a very common problem. In fact, many people who go through drastic weight loss will find that their friends and loved ones actively try to undermine their success.
Most of the time, people won’t actually come out and say “I don’t support you”. Instead, they will communicate their lack of support in more passive-aggressive ways. For example, perhaps you tell your companion that to help maintain your diet you can’t be around bagels and cream cheese, and then they come home with bagels and cream cheese for three weeks in a row. The reason people react this way is that your success makes them more conscious of their own relationship with food, especially if they are overweight themselves. In the study with NBC’s The Biggest Loser Jessica talk about dealing with sabotage in extreme forms. Her friends wouldn’t even have their picture taken with her anymore because they said she made them look fat. When they first saw her after her weight loss transformation they openly discussed what they’d feed her to, “fatten her back up.”
While this is a more extreme example of people being unsupportive, you can expect to experience at least some resistance or push-back from friends or family as you go through your weight loss process.
The good news for you is that experiencing resistance is not an indicator of your eventual success or failure in keeping the weight off—it is your reaction to the resistance that makes the difference. You must maintain a delicate balance of patience and firmness when dealing with people who are less than supportive. You must be patient with them because they might not be ready for the change that is occurring in you, and perhaps didn’t even want or ask for it. On the other hand, you must be firm and let them know that whether they like it or not, things are different now, and they will need to eventually get used to that if they want to continue to have a relationship with you.
In short, you need to give them time and space to adjust to the “new you”, but if they refuse to adjust and continue to attempt to undermine you, you must be willing to re-evaluate your relationship with them.
Re-negotiating your marriage
One alarming statistic is that 75% of marriages in which one spouse undergoes a drastic weight loss process end up in divorce. As sad as this is, I think it is not surprising when you consider what a life-changing event drastic weight loss truly is. The problem is that unlike losing a job or experiencing the death of a child, many people don’t recognize drastic weight loss as a life-changing event, and therefore are not prepared for the changes it brings about.
For example, if both people in a marriage are overweight and part of their lifestyle together involves eating unhealthy foods and engaging in sedentary activities, and one person decides to change their lifestyle, it may have a big effect on their relationship. Not only that, if by losing weight someone suddenly becomes much more attractive to the opposite sex, it might make their spouse feel threatened or jealous.
While these problems are very real and very serious, they are not impossible to overcome if couples talk about these issues before, during, and after a weight loss program. As with so many things in our relationships, good communication is the key. As I like to say in regards to stage six, “It’s a season, not a sentence”—meaning, while your relationships will go through a period of transformation, it doesn’t mean they will be ruined forever. By going through a process of re-negotiating your relationships, this is the stage where you can really make a transformation that will help you keep the weight off for good and get the life you’ve always wanted.