Sabotage Tactics

You're on a diet - again - and judging by your moodiness, everyone knows it. Even though you've made your weight-loss intentions clear, your best friend sits down and inhales an entire bag of cookies in front of you. Your husband surprises you with a fancy dinner as a reward for your hard work. At the family barbecue, your mom turns to you and whispers, "You've lost so much weight - you can have one little piece of cake."

So now ask yourself, why do our loved ones make losing weight so difficult?

Research shows the company you keep can have a tremendous impact on your weight. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicates that obesity spreads within social networks. For example, your chances of becoming obese increase by 57 percent if you have a close friend who becomes obese. If that friend is of the same gender, your odds increase to 71 percent. If a sibling becomes obese, your chance of becoming obese increases by 40 percent. A spouse becoming obese increases the likelihood of the other spouse becoming obese by 37 percent. These negative influences exist even if friends and relatives live a long distance from one another.

We know weight gain can spread to family and friends. But does it spread unintentionally, simply because we grow accustomed to the lifestyle of those around us, or are friends and family deliberately sabotaging each other's efforts to lose weight?

Whether intentional or unintentional, family and friends have the ability to derail even our most whole-hearted attempts to lose weight. Common sabotage tactics include complaining about the amount of time you dedicate to the gym, tempting you with fattening foods, making comments or observations that you don't look like you've lost weight, and predicting that you'll gain all of the weight back. Friends may feign "fear" for your health by commenting that you're losing too much weight too fast. Mom may complain that you don't like her famous homemade chicken pot pie anymore, which must mean you don't love her anymore, either. Co-workers may exclude you from group festivities if you don't "party" with food and drink the way they do.

Why are your closest companions trying to sabotage you? Here are a few common reasons:
  • They don't realize they are being negative or making comments that spoil your efforts.
  • They feel insecure about their own weight (remember, two-thirds of Americans are overweight) and your weight loss makes them feel badly about themselves or puts pressure on them to get in shape. If they can convince you to eat more, they're assured your weight is "normal," and they can feel good about meeting the status quo.
  • They're afraid your change in lifestyle may affect your relationship with them or change who you are. This is especially true in romantic relationships where spouses fear you'll become more and more attractive to the opposite sex as you slim down.
  • They don't understand the health risks and seriousness of your efforts to lose weight. They assume small treats and indulgences won't do much harm.
  • They want you to accept yourself as you are, or they hate to see you depriving yourself of something that at least appeared to bring you joy in the past.
  • They feel competitive with you and don't like that you're "winning."
  • They have grown accustomed to enabling your negative behaviors or controlling you, and old habits die hard.
  • They don't want to lose their food buddy. Food defines your relationship, and without it you have no common ground.
  • They use food to show their love and affection and are offended that you won't accept.
  • They don't understand why you're so worried about your weight. They've never had a weight problem and can't fathom that maintaining a healthy weight is hard work for you.

Putting a Stop to Negative Behaviors

These types of negative behaviors from those closest to you can be disheartening, especially when you're already teetering on diet failure. You may not be able to control the actions of others, but you can control your own. Here are several strategies you can use to counteract their attempts at foul play:

Talk it out. Explain to family and friends the guidelines for your diet and how much it means to you to lose weight, so they can help you meet your goals. Let them know that when they ask you out to dinner or encourage you to eat certain foods, it makes it painfully difficult for you to stay on your diet. Try to assuage their fears and insecurities that your diet will lead to spending less time together or that you won't understand each other anymore.

Make a proposal. See if your loved ones are interested in joining your weight-loss crusade. Research shows that when dieters recruit a buddy into their weight-loss program, they're more likely to stick with it. Of course, you don't want to lecture or talk down to the people you care about, but you can offer cooking and shopping tips, share personal training lessons, or plan active outings together.

Take the high road. If friends and family judge or criticize you, remember that these statements usually stem from their own feelings of inadequacy. Give them the benefit of the doubt and realize they don't know what it's like to walk in your shoes. Don't take the comments personally and don't let them defeat you. Stay strong knowing you're doing something good for yourself.

Show some enthusiasm. Let your loved ones see your enthusiasm and excitement as you shed the pounds. Celebrate as you reach milestones in your diet and show everyone you're proud of your success. Your joy will be contagious and your friends and family will be inspired to offer their support. In the midst of your rejoicing, try to be sensitive to how others may interpret your success, and don't be condescending or judgmental of their lifestyle choices.

Explore new activities. Food often is the focus of social gatherings. Instead of hitting the buffet or gorging on gallons of ice cream and renting a movie, find new ways to connect with friends and family. Take walks, shop, work in the garden, or go to the gym together instead.

Plan in advance. If a food pusher tries to tempt you with something unhealthy, have a few canned responses in mind. Try a delay tactic like, "It looks delicious. I'll try some later" or "Thanks, but I just ate." If the judgment keeps coming, say firmly, "I'm trying to do something good for myself. Please support me in this." Worst case scenario, take the food and just let it sit until you can throw it away without incident.

Take responsibility. You are accountable for your food choices. While your friends and family may not make it easy on you, ultimately you're responsible for your own health. Ask yourself whether your loved ones are truly sabotaging your diet, or whether you are using their comments as an excuse to fail. Take advantage of negative attitudes as an opportunity to develop a sense of personal power. After all, you're adopting a healthier lifestyle for you, not someone else.

Find support elsewhere. People don't always respond in the ways you'd hoped, and you can't control their behavior. If your friends and family just can't be as supportive as you'd like, make some new friends at the gym, take walks with the neighbor, find a diet buddy at work, enroll in a healthy cooking class, or join an online support group. There's not one single person that can meet all of your needs - one person may serve as a great role model, another may be a great cheerleader to help you celebrate your successes, another may be the firm hand that keeps you on track, another may be an expert motivator after you've faced a setback. With a team of supporters behind you, you can achieve even greater success than you'd imagined.

People who truly love and care about you will want what's best for you and will support you in achieving your goals. If your path to a healthier, happier you is paved with bad company, success may be more difficult than you expected.

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