Is Your Significant Other Sabotaging Your Weight Loss Goals?

I heard something not too long ago within my industry and it’s escaping me where the insight came from.

The belief was that, as a trainer, if you start coaching a particular client for weight loss and later their partner decides to start training with you as well, that the latter is the one who is more resistant to change.

When I read that, I had to think long and hard about that statement. There were no statistics. It was an observation.

As I tend to frequently do, I look at my sample size of clients. From the current ones to the former ones, do I see the same things that other coaches in other cities, states and countries see?

Let’s come back to that in a bit.

I do not sugarcoat the fact that dieting, when done responsibly and sustainably, as opposed to aggressively and somewhat carelessly is difficult.

That’s me being kind about it.

Yes, it’s about taking in fewer calories than you expend done consistently over time but it’s just not that easy to fit weight loss goals into the framework of our stressful, emotional and unpredictable lives.

If you were a single person, living alone, no kids, and working full-time, you would have difficulty adhering to a diet plan. However, one could argue this might be the ideal circumstance to lose weight in. There is less resistance in your life.

When you add in the dynamics of a spouse/significant other and children of any number, the resistance in your life increases.

Couple this with the fact that many people use food as a way to cope with stress, to show love and to be social. It is a necessary and vital part of our lives.

Yet, something strange tends to happen when one partner decides they want to lose weight. This is something I started to write about several months ago. They upset the status quo.

Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock and you’ve never tried this whole dieting thing before, you’ll know that something has to give if you want to lose weight.

So, you start that conversation with your partner and you say something along the lines of: “You know, I really don’t feel so good about my body lately. I’ve decided I need to try and lose some weight.”

Maybe you have a weight loss goal in mind or maybe it’s to get yourself down to a certain size of pants. You may decide whether or not to share those goals with your loved one.

In our household, it went something like this:

After our son, Sebastian, was born, my wife lost a fair amount of weight initially and then she plateaued.

Eager to get back to her pre-baby weight, she asked for me to help her continue her weight loss.

Knowing her habits the way I do, it became less a conversation of “Here’s how many calories you need to eat” and more about reminding her what eating behaviors worked best for her.

In Marissa’s case, she can normally start her day with just a cup of coffee and then go several hours with little to nothing to eat. She can usually eat a small snack and then tide herself over until dinner time.

Shortly after Sebastian was born, I started cooking more at home and I knew approximately what portion sizes would work best for her. So, in her specific case, she could generally get by with one small meal/snack and then a larger dinner. That was it.

Before anyone gets carried away trying to replicate this, I will caution that Marissa’s own spin on intermittent fasting works well for her because it’s the way she’s eaten for most of her life (before she ever knew the term intermittent fasting).

I also don’t recommend this tactic for most people because I can’t replicate her results over and over again.

From what I’ve seen, most spouses will show a sign of support. That might come off as something like: “Well, I think you look beautiful/handsome as you are but if you’re going to do it, I support you. Just let me know how I can help.”

This might seem like the ideal scenario. Partner A wants to lose weight and Partner B shows support for that goal.

By comparison, a more skeptical or pessimistic spouse might ask: “How much is that going to cost?”,”Do you even have time to work out with your busy schedule?”, or “We’ve been down this road before…”

This is, obviously, where resistance can creep in right from the beginning.

I should also mention that the first example of the more supportive partner can still turn against you.

The same supportive spouse can come home after both of you have had a busy week and say “You know what, let’s not cook tonight. We’ll order takeout instead.”

And if you’re a woman, you typically don’t have a lot of calories to play around with and still be successful at weight loss. So, you can take Monday through Friday of “good eating” and literally lose all the ground you had worked towards with one average meal from a restaurant. Then you’ll hop on the scale a couple of days later thinking you had 5-6 “good days” and wonder why you didn’t lose weight…

Oh, and regarding that theory of the latter partner being more resistant to change? Yes, I’ve found the same thing to be true (usually) with my clients as well. It’s not necessarily out of malice. Sometimes, the first of the couple to come through my doors has decided they’re fed up with their circumstances and they need my help. Often, the partner is either not needing to lose weight or is not ready to tackle the challenges that come along with doing so.

Here are some tips to help make sure your significant other is a help and not a hindrance when you’re trying to lose weight:

  1. Have The Uncomfortable Conversation. Know the verbiage that helps you get through to your loved ones. The same words that you might use to discuss finances will be similar to successful weight loss. It’s a team effort and it’s a sensitive subject. Talk about your triggers (foods and situations you don’t feel in control of) and talk about the words/phrases that shut you down or make you rebel.
  2. Control The Food Environment. Can you eat potato chips, pretzels or crackers with reckless abandon? Think about the foods that you feel you cannot moderate successfully. Ask your significant other if they can limit the frequency of those items being in the house or not have them visible to you if they are purchased. Imagine if one of you were trying to abstain from alcohol for any particular reason but the other person always has a drink in front of you. What is your reaction to this? Can you control your diet behaviors under these circumstances?
  3. Enlist The Help Of A Therapist. Dieting and weight loss don’t fix every problem we have. Sometimes, you need a professional to dig deeper into the emotional core of why you eat the way you do or why you use food to heal those problems. This may also require your significant other to be present so they can hear another perspective on your food relationship and how they can help at home.
  4. Find Other Nighttime Strategies. If the routine is dinner, then television, then snacking, then bed, how can you change that? What can you and your family do that doesn’t involve food beyond dinner time? Many people are motivated to eat when they watch television so ask your significant other what other activities you can be engaged in that don’t stimulate your appetite. (HINT: This may include going to bed earlier than you’re used to).
  5. Remember That This Is Temporary. Much like the lockdowns and quarantine most of us experienced over the last two months, fat loss, done right, is a temporary solution. You follow the plan, hit the best weight for your body and lifestyle and live at maintenance. The more your significant other stands in the way, the longer that “temporary” stands to last which only ends up frustrating and discouraging all parties involved. Make a pact to support the cause and control the necessary variables.

As of this writing, Marissa is down to a weight she was before she was pregnant with Sebastian. It didn’t come quickly and there was no race to the finish. It was steady effort from her knowing what style of eating she naturally could work with and me knowing how to help with meals when we are both home together.

It took candid conversations and it took patience.

Because the basics still work, if you work them. You just need the right support to help you get there.

“We Make Great People Greater”

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