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.
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.
"If this does happen it usually means there were serious problems all along, and the weight loss just forced the issues to come out," says Huberman.
At the same time, don't be too surprised if weight loss also triggers the idea in you that certain relationships are no longer satisfying or healthy.
"Many times a person will remain in an ungratifying relationship because of their weight, because they have feelings of diminished self-esteem," says Huberman. Sometimes, he says, overeating may have even been triggered by problems in the relationship.
And once the weight is lost and you begin to feel better about yourself, it's not uncommon for you to want more from all your relationships, experts say. If that's not happening, it may be time to consider moving on.
"It can be a hard decision to leave friends and lovers behind, but sometimes it's just necessary to get on with your life in a positive and more healthy way," says Holle.
Dropping the Pounds, Keeping the Friends
The good news is that, most of the time, the really important relationships in your life will remain.
The first step in making sure that happens is to acknowledge that your weight loss has changed certain relationships. Be the first one to bring it up with those who are involved.
"You don't want to be accusatory because that only puts people on the defensive and drives a bigger wedge between you," Holle tells WebMD.
His suggestion: Open the conversation with your friends or family members by acknowledging that there seems to be something on their minds, and ask if they'd like to talk about it.
"Bring it up, bring up the changes in your appearance, and ask gently if there is something about the way you look now that is upsetting them," says Holle. "Don't accuse, ask."
The goal of the talk, he says, is to open the lines of communication in a very empathetic manner.
Huberman agrees: "It's perfectly fine to tell your friend that you notice a change in attitude towards you and ask if you can talk about it."
When you do, he says, tell them gently that you've noticed they don't include you as often, or don't seem as open to you as they did in the past -- and ask why.
Often, he says, you may discover your friends have been feeling they aren't "good enough" for the new you.
"When this is the case, some reassurance of your commitment to the friendship may be all that's necessary to put things back on track," says Huberman.
It's also important, the experts say, is to do some soul-searching about whether you may be putting a bit of distance between your new self and your old friends or spouse.
"You deserve to celebrate your achievements," Huberman says, "but it may also be worth asking yourself if your newfound joy might be perceived as a tiny bit arrogant."
If you think this might be true, don't downplay your accomplishments. Instead, share your joy about your new body, while explaining how, in the past, your weight may have kept you from being the assertive, active person you are now.
"In most instances, those who love you will not only get used to the new you, they will celebrate your newfound good health, good looks, and new attitude," says Holle.
If even after you try to include them in your joy, a partner or pal still resists supporting your achievements, it may be time to discuss the problem with a counselor. A professional can help you sort things out and determine whether the relationship is worth saving.
Published Mar. 10, 2006
SOURCES: John McGrail, clinical hynpotherapist and behavior exper Christian Holle, PhD, assistant professor of psychology, William Patterson University, Wayne, N.J. Warren Huberman, PhD, psychologist, New York.
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