Dieting as a Team Sport: Reduce the Fat, Increase the Love

In an era of growing obesity around the world, weight loss is a matter of health and it can be a matter of life and death, especially for a relationship! While the genders may vary, it is quite common for one spouse to lose interest in the other due to increased weight gain.

One classic illustration played out on the Oprah Winfrey show, where a (quite pudgy!) cruelly judgmental husband proceeded to say the most insulting and debilitating things to his wife who happened to be heavier than him. He claimed to be trying to help her. He said he wanted her to improve, but this pattern of criticism and insult had gone on for years and it was clearly not helping the dieting goals of either person! And it was about to destroy the marriage it was supposed to improve.

When one partner in a relationship begins to demand change from another, it creates an opposition that may be more damaging to the relationship than the behavior it attempts to correct. First, correct the relationship alliances, then approach the behaviors in question. In most cases, it would do far more good to join the heavy person in a mutual eating revolution than to stand apart and criticize them.

Many people eat or drink or smoke excessively as a means to reduce anxiety and while changing behavior might benefit them any approach that increases anxiety risks making both the problem and the relationship worse.

One psychological secret of relationship is that partners almost invariably mirror each other's psyche at many levels. One may eat too much while their thin partner smokes too much or has bouts of anger that are out of control. Given this mirroring, a wise approach to change is "If you see something in your partner that you don't like-- change it in yourself.

This reduces the mirrored effect with no criticism or focus on the partner. It models self-control which is the best form of behavior change. Throughout history, the greatest teachers are not those who want to be the master over someone else but those who can master themselves!

Whenever we try to change another person, we create an opposition that invites competition and resentment. When we try to control another's behavior we activate a basic resistance to being told what to do. Being told what to do puts the teller in a position of power and dominance over the recipient, and invites rebellious behavior. When told to lose weight, many spouses immediately gain weight in order to prove their independence and save self respect.

If we join our partners in self improvement, we can create a team approach in which no one need to feel inferior, or be controlled by another person. Each person can contribute to the team effort and mutual encouragement and mutual success can strengthen the bonds. How we define the boundaries of the group make all the difference. It strengthens my resolve to have an ally in change, while it distracts my focus to resist both my own habits and someone who is trying to control me.

If both partners need to lose weight, why not mutually study the issues and create a shared approach to shopping, cooking and dieting that brings both together rather than antagonizing both. Criticism is a negative force in any relationship and it generates negative reactions that do not further the positive goals of weight loss.

If one party needs to lose more weight than the other, they can simply adapt portion sizes to suit each individual, rather than isolate and stigmatize the heavier person as the only one needing to change. Avoid the sort of forces which have often contributed to overeating in the first place. Creating a loving, supportive, team effort is much more likely to engage loyalty and activate a desire to please the other, which can help in losing weight.

And if only one person has the weight problem, there is likely to be a mirror of excess somewhere else in the picture. While one person cuts back on the calories, the other could count and reduce the number of cigarettes, or the frequency of anger outbursts or maybe just the frequency of criticisms that can poison the relationship. Don't let "self improvement" goals become an excuse for abuse that can divide and conquer both parties. Form a team with both parties on the same side!

See Dr Masa and Debbie Hart's ebook, "How We Lost Our First 100 Pounds Together: Romantic Weight Loss for Couples."

Consider some great options for online help from Weight Watchers.

Article Source:,_Ph.D.

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