Are Your Relationships Making You Fat?

5 strategies for dealing with non-dieting loved ones

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

Learning to eat less of the high-calorie foods you love isn't always easy. What can make it even harder: having to stare down those fattening foods at your very own dinner table.

From the spouse who brings you a huge box of chocolates on Valentine's Day to the mother-in-law who plies you with home-baked goodies to the skinny friend who invites you to uber-fattening lunch dates, the result is much the same. While their intentions may be all good, experts say the results can be all bad for the dieter trying to stick to a healthy eating plan.

"In most cases, tempting a dieter with food or treats they know are forbidden is really an unconscious act on the part of the non-dieter, says Charles Goodstein, MD, clinical professor of psychiatry at NYU Medical Center. "Still, when it happens, it can make sticking to your resolve a lot more difficult."

If this sounds familiar, take heart! Three experts interviewed by WebMD offer five simple strategies to help keep you from falling off the weight loss wagon, even when you're surrounded by non-dieting friends and loved ones.

1. Make a Statement

While it may seem that your partner or other loved one is deliberately tempting you by bringing home that quart of premium ice cream, experts say their intentions are probably not what they seem.

According to Nancy Restuccia, MS, RD, folks who don't have issues with food frequently don't realize the level of temptation experienced by people who do. So it's up to the dieter to make his or her feelings known.

"You have to let your partner know that having all this food in plain view breaks down your willpower, making it harder for you to stick to your meal plan," says Restuccia, a dietitian at the Center for Obesity Surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

Also important, she says, is to let them know this has nothing to do with being weak-willed.

"They need to understand that no one has an unending supply of willpower -- and no matter how strong you are, you just can't stare fattening foods in the face every day without your willpower breaking down," Restuccia tells WebMD.

The best approach, she says, is to directly ask your loved ones not to give you food as gifts -- and, more important, to eat any calorie-laden food they enjoy themselves when you aren't around to see, hear, and smell it.

1. Keep Temptation Out of Sight

Even if your loved ones agree to eat their fattening goodies when you're not around, sometimes just knowing the forbidden foods are within arm's reach is enough to derail your diet. When this is the case, Lynda Mezansky, MS, RD, tells WebMD that playing a little game of hide-and-seek might be just what the diet doctor ordered.

"I'm not saying hide the food from your family members, just get it out of your sight -- ask them to keep it in a cabinet where you don't normally go for your diet foods, for example, or if you have a refrigerator in the basement or family room, keep the tempting foods there," says Mezansky, a clinical nutritionist at the Health and Fitness Center of Stamford Hospital in Connecticut.

If it's harder for you to get to the forbidden food, she says, you'll be less tempted to eat it.

3. Learn the Art of Substitution

While getting through the main course of dinner is usually not all that difficult -- even if you're rubbing elbows with a band of diet saboteurs -- that can change when dessert time rolls around. When family members trot out the apple pie a la mode, cheesecake samplers, or fudgey chocolate brownies, it can leave you feeling depressed and deprived -- not to mention tempted.

"It can be even worse if you are the one who has to prepare these desserts," says Restuccia. "You can certainly feel a little down when you spend the time making the foods that you can't eat."

The solution here: Give yourself a taste treat of your own by preparing a less-caloric dessert that captures some of the essence of what your family members are wolfing down.

For example, if the clan loves cheesecake, Restuccia says, "doctor up" some low-fat ricotta cheese with low-calorie sweetener and strawberries or blueberries to capture the taste without the calories. If it's apple pie you've got to look at, mix applesauce with cinnamon and some low-calorie whipped topping to help nip temptation in the bud.

"Be creative in finding foods that capture the smell and the taste of the tempting treats without the calories, and you'll often find that watching others eat the goodies won't be so hard," says Restuccia.

4. Share the Health