Support or Sabotage? How Your Significant Other Can Impact Your Weight Loss Efforts

Does your spouse help or hinder your weight loss efforts? What should you do about it?

We spoke to Kim Knipe, coordinator of Community Nutrition and Outreach with Chester County Hospital, who provided us with insightful and clever methods for sticking to your weight loss goals while juggling mixed levels of support from your partner and family.

Setting Up Supportive Partnerships

Food is often an integral part of a couple’s relationship, from going out for fine dining on dates to everyday family meals. People bond over the food they share. A new fitness routine or diet can throw these bonding rituals into a tailspin.

If you’re embarking on a mission to lose weight, Knipe suggests talking it out with your partner and family before anything else. “The first thing you can do if you want to have a healthier lifestyle is to have a conversation with your loved ones. Make it clear that your intended changes are to improve your health, confidence and energy.” She suggests leaving the door open for anyone else to join you in this mission.

Knipe advises being clear and specific as the conversation continues, taking inventory together of your eating habits and patterns at home and considering how they might be revised to assist your weight loss efforts.

“For instance, make a rule that food can only be eaten in the kitchen. Talk about how you can limit trigger foods at home—maybe you can stock up on foods that your family enjoys but that don’t tempt you.”

Being the Supportive Partner

If you’re on the opposite end, with a partner pursuing weight loss goals, there are some positive ways to take on the supportive role in the relationship, and also some behaviors to avoid.

In helping your spouse lose weight, do some brainstorming together. Address how trigger foods will be handled so he or she isn’t tempted to overindulge. Knipe says, “If you really love those [trigger] foods, agree to have them at work, in a different room or when they are not home. Store them in a different place—like the basement or garage. Your partner will appreciate the less tempting environment.”

Another way to show support is by mixing up routines, supplanting newer, healthier activities into the mix. Knipe suggests initiating more physical activities together, such as after-dinner walks. Pizza night can become movie night, with a healthy dinner followed by light popcorn.

Knipe suggests avoiding critique or bossy behavior. “You should not make yourself the food police! Instead, let your partner talk out their frustrations and give suggestions only if requested. Be a cheerleader, not a coach.”

Finally, take simple measures to help your spouse exercise and eat right. Watch the kids so your partner can go for a jog, or try out some new low calorie recipes when it’s your turn to cook.

Why Partners Sabotage Weight Loss

Not everyone is lucky enough to have their partner’s unwavering support of their weight loss goals. Many times, intentionally or not, a spouse can sabotage your efforts.

As Knipe explains, “Your partner might feel that if you make changes, he or she will feel bad about his or her own weight or health. Or if you start to lose weight, they might be afraid that you will no longer desire them. Or they might be upset that they can’t enjoy their own favorite foods any more.”

So if your favorite cupcakes and ice cream suddenly show up to tempt you in the kitchen or you receive a guilt trip for heading to the gym instead of happy hour, be patient. Understand that your partner’s behavior is normal and that his or her approval is not needed for you to improve your own health. Knipe explains that, while the support of loved ones is helpful and important, the choice is ultimately yours.

She says, “You might need to make it clear that this is very important to you, and while you would appreciate your partner’s support, you are going to make this happen with or without it.”

Going Rogue

If you’re the only one in the household pursuing weight loss goals, don’t despair.

Secretly lose weight in plain sight by cooking the usual meals, but adjusting your own portions. “Rather than preparing two different meals, add vegetables to everyone’s meal, but increase the veggies on your plate while decreasing the meat and pasta,” Knipe suggests.

Also, seek out the support you need from sources outside of the home. As Knipe explains, “Perhaps you will find like-minded people in your exercise class or a weight loss support group. Maybe you can rally your co-workers into a little healthy weight loss competition.”

Forge new motivating bonds and friendships with those doing the same thing as you. This eases pressure from your family and provides you with the support you deserve.

Spillover Health

Whether your family is full of supporters or saboteurs, they’re bound to inadvertently benefit from your weight loss efforts themselves, so feel proud.

Says Knipe, “Your healthier habits might have a positive effect on the rest of the family even if they don’t realize it. Switch to healthier recipes that everyone will enjoy (it’s not always necessary to tell the family it’s healthier—just that it tastes good!) Start using smaller plates. Serve water instead of sweet drinks. Keep a basket of fresh fruit on the counter instead of something from the snack food aisle.”

A home full of healthier, yet just as tasty, alternatives is great for everyone.

Finally, reel in your spouse’s participation by heaping on the praise. “Emphasize the ways your partner is helping rather than focusing on the sabotage behaviors. Thank your partner for washing the dishes so you can walk after dinner. Tell him or her how much you appreciate it when they try your new recipes or are supportive of the new pantry configuration,” Knipe says. You might just find yourself with a weight loss partner before you know it!

Weight Matters

Speaking of weight loss partnerships, Chester County Hospital is set to offer Weight Matters, an 8-week program focusing on real-life strategies for weight loss and weight loss maintenance. A free information session is planned for Monday, January 30, with the course itself beginning Monday, February 6.

Knipe thinks the program is a terrific venue for couples to mutually support each other’s weight loss journeys, saying, “It’s really wonderful when couples participate together because they learn together how to make positive changes. They realize that a healthier lifestyle is a long-term, lifelong journey and they take that journey together. They support each other, celebrate successes and work through challenges together. In Weight Matters, we stress positive achievements and realistic goals. We discourage negativity and criticizing. This helps a couple learn to give each other support in constructive, nonjudgmental ways.”

And if your significant other isn’t up for it? There’s plenty of support to go around in this fun, interactive program. Knipe explains, “We discuss ideas to help each other and talk through our weekly goals. Participants often make lasting friendships with others in the group—sometimes working out together, swapping recipes or emailing messages of encouragement. We learn important lessons, but there is a lot of laughing along the way.”

Whether you try Weight Matters with your partner or by yourself, you’re sure to benefit from the engaging, informative content and motivating interaction.

And as you embark on a journey to lose weight, remember that the only support you truly need is your own. Whether those around you rally or resist, remain resolute on your own path to a happier, healthier you.

This post was brought to you by Chester County Hospital, which is part of Penn Medicine. Celebrating 125 years of service this year, Chester County’s oldest hospital has a long history of being dedicated to the health and well-being of our community.

  • Top two photos: BigStock
  • Bottom two photos: Alexandra Whitney