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“Help! My family’s trying to sabotage my success!”

valentines candy heart box of chocolates with a tape measure
A while ago I was on a panel of “patient success stories” 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 that my family was incredibly supportive, even though sometimes it’s difficult for them because mom’s busy working out or is 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 sabotage their loved one’s weight loss efforts.

Despite the harshness of her comment, there’s 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 be entirely conscious that they’re doing it, but the facilitator pointed out that you – as the person who wants to change their habits and lose weight – must be aware of it so that you won’t fall into the trap and abandon your goals just to keep the peace.

She’s absolutely right about that.

I hear from people all the time who’s husbands cook unhealthy meals, even though they know their wife is trying to lose weight. Or a friend offers to treat for brunch at a favorite guilty pleasure cafe, tempting with mile-high pancakes and mimosas.

Ugh, this stuff is so hard to resist, isn’t it?

But the more important question is, why would someone who loves you 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 may be conflicted about your success. 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 get all 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, even in the face of pushback or other people’s opinions. It’s more than just learning how to put yourself at the top of your “to do” list. It’s tuning in to what you really need and want in order 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 yours aren’t try a gentler approach than that. It’s possible that their own fears and anxieties get in the way of their whole-hearted support 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?

Valentine’s Day is coming up; if a box of chocolates is going to send you reeling into an eating frenzy, tell your sweetie in advance that you’d like to celebrate in a non food-oriented way. Go bowling, or to a movie. Have a coffee date, or make a healthy meal together. Your family is your emotional anchor. Having their support will mean everything as you move toward your goal. Maybe you’ll even find some rainbows and unicorns when you get there.

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