Are They Jealous of Your New Body?

Why friends and family may not be thrilled with your weight loss -- and what to do about it

By Colette Bouchez
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed by Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD

You've given up most of those high-calorie foods you used to love. Exercised every day, even when you didn't feel like it. And finally, it's all paying off: You're edging toward your weight loss goal -- and looking pretty terrific!

At the same time, you've encountered what seems like a surprising lack of enthusiasm from some of your family and friends -- maybe even your partner -- about your new look.

As unusual as this may seem, experts say it's actually quite common to receive some unexpected reactions when you dramatically change your appearance.

"Human beings are hard-wired to resist change, so it's not uncommon to encounter some resistance whenever change occurs," says John McGrail, a Los Angeles clinical hypnotherapist and behavior expert.

Complicating matters further: When we accomplish a goal -- particularly something as difficult as losing weight -- it may serve to remind friends and family of their own failed attempts. That, too, can spark a negative reaction.

"In some ways, your weight loss becomes a symbol of their inability to accomplish their goals, so they may begin to act resentful -- or even mean -- oftentimes without even realizing they are doing so," says Christian Holle, PhD, an assistant professor of psychology at William Patterson University in Wayne, N.J.

If their goals happened to also involve weight loss, the resentment (especially from friends) can be doubly strong.

"You may find that they are suddenly excluding you from activities, saying mean things, taunting you about your new body or even your new clothes -- all born of resentment about not being able to achieve their own weight loss goals," says Warren Huberman, PhD, a psychologist who often counsels patients in conjunction with the New York University Program for Surgical Weight Loss.

What's more, Huberman says, when you experience that resentment, it's not uncommon to have a "knee-jerk reaction" yourself and to pull away in anger and hurt. But this is the last thing you want to do.

"You have to think about how you would feel in a similar situation, or maybe how you felt when others lost weight and you couldn't," Huberman says. "Try to put yourself in the place of the person who didn't win the lottery, so to speak, and you'll see that the resentment is all about them and not about you."

Love, Sex, and Weight Loss

For many folks, the decision to lose weight is met with an enthusiastic response -- particularly from intimate partners. Most relish the idea of having a healthier, happier (not to mention hotter-looking) significant other.

But sometimes, even the most encouraging partner can turn into a less-than-stellar supporter once the weight loss actually begins to show.

The reason: Your newfound good looks might be encouraging some formerly well-hidden insecurities in your partner.

"If a spouse becomes slimmer, feels better, and gets more attention from friends and strangers alike, their partner can suddenly feel threatened by the change in the status quo," McGrail tells WebMD.

Some may go so far as to accuse their newly slimmed-down partner of seeking out attention from the opposite sex, or of having an affair -- even when there is no real basis to believe that, Huberman says.

The answer, Holle says, is don't get mad, and don't feel bad. Instead, recognize that it's your partner's insecurities talking. And try a little gentle persuasion, aimed at soothing what is likely just a temporary slump in their own self-confidence.

"Remind them of how much their support has meant to you, and how happy you are to be healthy enough to do more things together," says Holle.

Often, he says, all that's needed to put the relationship back on track is letting your partner know he or she is wanted and needed -- along with a little reassurance that your feelings have not changed.

Huberman agrees: "The key is not to recoil and let walls build. Recognize what is going on, address it gently, and keep the lines of communication open."

Most of the time, experts say, a moderate jealous reaction from a friend or lover is normal and not indicative of any serious problems.

"Weight issues are sometimes used as weapons of control in a relationship."

At the same time, McGrail reminds us that weight issues are sometimes used as weapons of control in a relationship. When this is the case, a partner or friend may have used your weight as a kind of "emotional hammer" to keep you down and keep themselves the center of attention.

When this is no longer possible, experts say the whole dynamic of the relationship can change. And sometimes, it may crumble.