By Shira Burstein

“What? You won’t try the home-made chocolate pie I made?  Oh, have some!  Have some ice-cream on top.  It’s not the same without the ice cream!  Come on…”

It’s at that moment when suddenly all of your plans to eat healthy stop, right there at the end of your spoon.  I once read a quote by Sonya Friedman which stated, “The way you treat yourself sets the standards for others.”  What do you do when you feel that others infringe, make difficult, or possibly unknowingly sabotage these standards?

When applying a framework to life-style choices, there are many parameters that can make true change a challenge.  It is particularly challenging to make sustainable changes occur, when the criterion you are setting for yourself is healthy eating and regular exercise.

The road-blocks are lurking in every corner. The coworker who always leaves a box of donuts in the staff lounge; the spouse who isn’t on board with revamping your mealtimes; your kids who will only eat mac and cheese; your friend who called you ‘boring’ for not wanting to order dessert the last time you went out to dinner; all difficult scenarios and social dynamics that don’t seem to quit.
Psychologically there could be many reasons why our loved ones inadvertently undermine, or ‘go against’ the change we are making for ourselves.
For some, there may be discomfort in what feels like a shift in control, power, or simply comradeship.  Losing weight, getting healthy, or sticking to goals can be perceived as intimidating and threatening to the established roles and homeostasis of partnerships and friendships.
In intimate relationships the decision for one partner to make weight loss changes can also bring up sexual anxiety: will my partner leave me for someone better? Will I become unattractive to my partner if he/she begins to improve her or his health?  In work environments, colleagues may translate health and fitness into underlying narratives of competition related to success in their field.
So how do we go about addressing this?  In taking a cognitive behavioral approach, it is first important to determine our own readiness to change.  This includes identifying what it will take to identify goals and achieve them.  If we ourselves are not truly committed then we will not be able to expect others to support us in the ways we need.
Secondly, figure out triggers that threaten these goals, and lastly, break maladaptive associations, which is the most difficult part.  This is the part that speaks to the spouses, friends, and co-workers that need to be on board. This includes replacing negative patterns with positive ones, challenging self-disparaging thoughts, rehearsing problem-solving techniques and lastly and most importantly, establishing social support in your efforts.
Part of this process, is ascertaining
  • who you need the support from
  • who you can be honest with
  • & who you will need to implement your own internal boundaries and rules with.
Try first to be honest with spouses, partners, and friends.  Communicate your needs.  Do not embrace the narrative that says, “If they loved me, they would anticipate my needs.”  Not so.  Honor yourself by being transparent and knowing that asking for help does not make you weak.  By doing this, you create a space where open communication can become a two-way street and authenticity, accountability, and respect inside the relationship can flourish.
No junk food
If need be, remind friends and family why you have made this decision to change your life and reiterate how important it is to you.  Verbalize that this change is for you, and that you aren’t asking those around you to change too.  Explain clearly why you are making this decision to transform your diet, commit to exercise and health and lead by example. The need for others to ‘sabotage’ your goals will extinguish when friends and family are able to see that you are not buying into the ‘traps.’ Some other methods include having physical anchors: wearing a bracelet around your wrist that symbolizes your commitment to your health that will remind you when you find yourself in a pressure situation or a dynamic that requires internal assertiveness.
Story Boarding:  explore with your spouse anticipated outcomes of family gatherings, parties, social settings where food/exercise will be challenged. Create a plan and agree on ways you can help support one another in achieving a desirable outcome, and remember that paying attention to your needs is priceless. Another tactic to remind the people your love of your goals is by posting a ‘no junk’ sign in the kitchen. It will reiterate for both you and them that you have a new respect for your body and that you plan to achieve this by being firm and committed both in your actions and your communications to yourself and them.
Contributed by Shira Burstein, LCSW