When I decided I was ready to change my life I knew I needed support from the person I had the closest relationship with: my husband. My decision to have lap-band surgery worried him initially; the surgical risks are not insignificant, and the cost was a strain on our already maxed-out budget. But when I explained how important the surgery was to my getting better, and he could see that I was committed to doing everything I could to be successful, he backed me 100 percent. We faced my surgery, my recovery, and everything that I needed to change about my lifestyle together, as a united front.
My kids were also completely supportive of the changes that I needed to make. Initially, my cooking habits didn’t change much, but as I lost weight I gradually started cooking with healthier ingredients. Ground turkey rather than beef (now I make buffalo and even elk burgers!), quinoa instead of rice, and kale as an occasional alternative to leaf lettuce. Some of my kids are more aligned with my eating habits than others, but most important, they supported me when I needed them most.
A while ago I was on a “patient success stories” panel at the clinic where I had my lap-band surgery. We were each asked to describe how our families reacted to our decision to lose weight. I went first and reported what I just told you: that my family was incredibly supportive, even though sometimes it’s been difficult for them because I’m busy working out or am just not as available as I once was. They’re proud of me, and I feel their love and encouragement daily.
“Well, that’s great, but it’s not all rainbows and unicorns for the rest of us, is it?” the facilitator said to the audience. She went on to talk about how some people have pushback from family members. Children may complain about different foods showing up on the dinner table; spouses may grumble about not having their favorite ice cream in the house. Worse, they may try to manipulate or derail their loved one’s weight-loss efforts.
Despite the harshness of her comment, I could see there was truth to what she said. Not everyone has a “rainbows and unicorns” kind of experience when they try to enlist their family’s help in their weight loss. In their defense, these family members may not even be aware that they’re undermining their loved one’s success. But the facilitator’s point was that we’re the ones who must be alert to sabotage by others so that we won’t fall into the trap and abandon our goals just to keep the peace. She’s absolutely right about that.
I hear from people all the time whose husbands cook unhealthy meals, even though they know their wife is trying to lose weight. Or a girlfriend offers to treat for brunch at their favorite guilty-pleasure cafe, tempting with mile-high pan- cakes and mimosas. Ugh, this stuff is so hard to resist, isn’t it?
But the more important question is why someone who loves you would act in a way that completely disregards your stated wishes. If you’re clear in your goal to make better food choices, exercise, lose weight, and live healthier, why would a loved one do anything other than support that effort? I think you already know the answer to that question: they have some reason why they don’t want you to succeed. Again, they may not be conscious of it, but your decision to change may feel threatening to them. They may be afraid that if you become fit and healthy you might leave. Or perhaps they feel defensive because your decision to live healthier stands as a challenge to their own bad habits.
A very important part of my journey has been learning to advocate for myself. It’s more than just learning how to put yourself at the top of your own to-do list. It’s tuning in to what you really need to be happy and satisfied, and then going after it with everything you’ve got. I’m so fortunate that my family is totally on the same page with that. If they weren’t, I’d have to bash ’em over the head or something, but if your family isn’t, try a gentler approach than that. It’s possible that their own fears and anxieties get in the way of their wholehearted sup- port of your goals. Be sensitive to those insecurities by reassuring them that you’re eating healthy, exercising, and losing weight so that you’ll feel better, and that doing so means you’ll be around for many more years. Those years will be happier too, and isn’t that ultimately what they want for you?
If you’re able to negotiate a new normal with your family members on your own, then great! If you feel a lot of push and pull from them as you all stumble along this new path, consider enlisting the support of a professional therapist who can help you find ways to balance everyone’s needs and concerns. Experiencing resistance from your spouse or kids (or both!) is perfectly normal. I’m betting that they’ll be on your A-team eventually, but if they aren’t right away, you may need some counseling to understand and address the pushback so you can become more aligned.
Back at my house, we’re still negotiating the details of Mom’s new life. We’re far from perfect, but our family unit is strong, and we have each other’s backs. My husband and kids are my biggest cheerleaders and my soft place to land. They know all my baggage, and for some reason they love me anyway. When I assembled my team, they were my first-round draft pick…
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