The wish for a bikini body motivates many a springtime diet. But if your beach body dream came true, how would your mate feel? The answer to that question may well affect your progress—whether you’re aware or not.
For now, let’s set aside the issue of whether or not it makes sense to diet for a short-term goal, like a “bikini body”. It often doesn’t. However, our mate’s responses to our efforts to change--how we care for ourselves, how we look—weave in and out of the change process itself, no matter how or when it occurs. So, it helps to pay those responses some attention.
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When I first asked Ellen, for example, if her husband was supportive of her doctor-recommended weight loss efforts, she said, without hesitation, “Oh yes, he’s very supportive.” As we talked more, though, it emerged that he pushed for restaurant meals at least four times a week. This made eating healthfully very challenging for Ellen. While she, and their children too, argued for more meals at home, her mate insisted that this helped him relax. Exploring how this was not supportive, she found herself extremely uncomfortable with the idea of “making a bigger deal out of this.”
Rhonda’s fiancé, on the other hand, was fine eating at home. But he continued to bring home Hershey Kisses, M&M’s, and peppermint patties by the bagful, “Because he knows I love them.” Did he realize how important changing her diet was for her? “Yes,” Rhonda was sure…..”it’s just that he knows I love that stuff. He likes to make me happy.” While some dieters are angered by these kinds of gifts, Rhonda had trouble seeing it as sabotage and didn’t want to hurt her mate’s feelings.
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What’s going here? For starters, some partners need to be told specifically how they can be supportive. Trying to make a change for the better often requires us to be assertive about our needs, and about how we want others to help. If you have trouble asserting yourself, that, in itself, can make change efforts, especially tough ones like diet overhauls, hard indeed.
Just as likely, though, these partners may have been acting on—possibly unacknowledged—feelings about their loved ones changing. She may think, “I’ll be thinner….better-looking….in control…..I’ll feel great!” He may think, “What if she does become thinner….better-looking….more in control….?” He may find himself feeling a little anxious about those possibilities. Will she still need him? Want him? Will she be a pain to be around? These are not thoughts and feelings that one feels proud of. And yet, if ignored, they can motivate those urges to make a dieter “happy” by bringing home chocolate or cheesecake. In other words, a partner’s anxiety can blur his or her ability to get solidly on board with efforts to change.