One of the unforeseen consequences of losing weight is the potential to create an existential crisis in some of your closest relationships.
Working out and eating healthy will not only help you lose weight, it can also boost your self-esteem, elevate your mood, and change your outlook on life in lots of positive ways. Like many women, you might assume that making these changes to improve your health and boost your happiness will be met with encouragement from the people around you.
Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.
Sometimes a lack of support signals genuine concern. Family and friends may be the first to recognize unhealthy weight loss methods and obsessive behavior for the dangers they pose to your long term well-being. Similarly, if you are being pressured into losing weight by a partner or motivated to do so primarily to compete with other women, your friends may intervene to help you gain some much needed perspective.
On the other hand, lukewarm interest from your inner circle can indicate increased tension and resistance to the changes you undergo during the weight loss process. Spending time in the gym instead of at happy hour, shopping for a smaller clothing size, and becoming more accepting of your body can challenge the subtle subtext, unacknowledged hierarchy and power balance in some of your relationships.
The following 7-step process outlines how to navigate these common challenges so that you can maintain healthy personal connections and have the solid support system you need to reach your weight loss goal successfully!
1. Assume total responsibility.
Your health is ultimately your responsibility. Therefore, you and you alone are accountable for the choices you make that move you closer to or further away from your weight loss goal. A huge determining factor in the quality of your relationships during this transition period will be the extent to which you resist the urge to use your friends and family as excuses for why you didn’t follow through with your diet or exercise program. Avoid playing the blame game at all costs and recognize that statements such as, “My kids wanted pizza” or “My roommate threw a party and there was alcohol and tacos” are not valid reasons for why you cheated on your diet. Rather, they are ways of deflecting your own responsibility to those around you and it may alienate people who would otherwise rally to support your cause. Remember that no one likes to be blamed for things they’re not responsible for, especially if it’s something they truly have no control over. So put yourself in the driver’s seat of your transformation and stay there!
2. Share your process.
Among the more common rationales for transitioning to a healthier lifestyle is the desire to be more physically and emotionally available for the people who mean the most to you. So establishing a good pattern of communication will play a crucial role in sustaining and deepening these ties. Let the people who play an important role in your life know that you are making a lifestyle change and inform them about what the process involves. If it’s all new to you, it’s probably new to them too. Prepare them for what to expect and be transparent when you make choices that align with your new lifestyle so that your loved ones feel included rather than being resentful of anything that strays from their familiar norms.
3. Assign a supportive role.
For the most part, the members of your “tribe” want to help you succeed; they may not know exactly how to facilitate it, however. If bonding over comfort food when you’re stressed out has been the foundation of your shared experience over the years, it may be difficult for them to find an alternative that adheres to your new lifestyle on their own. So you will need to create a role for them in your transformation process. For example, give your spouse the role of taking your weekly progress pictures or include your kids in a safe part of your food prep process as a fun activity. The more you can find ways to establish normality and maintain intimacy with the people close to you during this process, the less shut-out they will feel by all the new things you’re doing.
4. Recognize the signs of sabotage.
There may be a subset of your circle who will withhold their support for reasons that go beyond confusion about how to play an active role in your success. More specifically, the manifestations of your commitment to fitness can trigger subconscious feelings of envy or hostility towards you. Oddly worded inquiries about your process and direct challenges to your efforts to adhere to your nutrition or workout program can snowball into more obvious and tangible acts of sabotage. Common examples include the coworker who leaves donuts on your desk despite knowing you are on a diet; the warnings from a close friend not to “get too small” lest men stop being attracted to you; and the roommate who continues to eat your perfectly portioned prepared meals. These subversive actions aim to impede your progress primarily because your success calls attention to the refusal, inability, or lack of readiness of those around you to take action and change their own lives in similar ways.
5. Take stock.
If you find yourself being undermined by someone, you’ll need to take some time to reflect on the relationship itself. Is this is a new development or is it an existing fault line in the relationship? Has this person previously failed to support you or deliberately undermined other attempts you’ve made to improve your life? Is this a core relationship in your life that warrants a solution-oriented heart-to-heart or is this a peripheral relationship, like a Facebook friend or colleague you occasionally run into, wherein you can simply put some distance between yourself and their negativity? Take serious stock of these relationships and assess how they fit into your life both as it is currently oriented and in light of the vision of yourself you are working towards.
6. Establish boundaries.
Sneaky sabotaging behavior from a friend or loved one may leave you feeling like you have to sacrifice your fitness goals because your choices make them uncomfortable. The best way to move forward in these circumstances is to establish firm boundaries. Communicate clearly that you are pursuing something you really want, of your own volition, and would appreciate their support. However, you should also make clear that you won’t respond to or be put off by their negativity. Delineate your boundaries early on and state your preferences regarding which aspects of your process you’re open to talking about and what social activities you will or will not engage in. This is particularly true in a workplace setting where relationships are often compounded by interpersonal dynamics that aren’t necessarily based in love, acceptance, and friendship. Also, be especially vigilant in instances where criticisms are concealed in humor and decline to be the butt of jokes made at your expense. In extreme cases where diplomacy, forthrightness, and appeal to the friendship are ineffective, it may be necessary to limit contact with those people for the duration of your fitness journey.
7. Share your successes.
Everyone loves a winner. Sharing your successes, big or small, with the people around you shows them the positive results of your sacrifices and can often inspire friends and family to make similar choices to improve their health. However, be careful to strike a balance between being excited about your successes and bragging about your new lifestyle.
The beauty of having to contemplate how to negotiate these relationship third rails during your weight loss journey is that you are not alone and you share your life with others in a way that has mutual daily impact. So while navigating these issues may be difficult and tricky, it’s well worth it to both gain the health and psychic benefits of improving your fitness while effectively managing the responses to change among the people closest to you. Successfully balancing your fitness goals with your relationships will depend on your willingness to take a solutions-oriented approach that is based on proactive planning, open communication, and intentional inclusion.
Originally published at medium.com