It's Not Just Baby Fat!

Straight talk on emotional eating and weight control in kids and adults

Who Cares About Your Weight?

What do other people say when you're trying to lose weight?

The question, "Who cares about your weight?" is a little misleading. I'm not suggesting that your weight is unimportant. Obviously you care about your weight or you wouldn't be reading this, but other than yourself, who expresses concern about your weight? Is your spouse nagging you to lose weight? Does your doctor tell you that your weight is unhealthy? Do you have conversations with friends or co-workers about diets, exercise attempts or extra desserts? Who do you talk to about your weight and your efforts to reduce?

If you read almost any diet book it tells you what to eat and what not to eat. We tend to think about our weight as an individual matter and forget that other people may be involved. Unfortunately, the other people may not be helpful when you're trying to lose weight.

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When I was directing the Weight Control Program at Chico Community Hospital several participants told me about their spouses' unhelpful behaviors. For example, Sarah commented that, although her husband had encouraged her to join the program, after several weeks he started to complain when she attended the meetings every Wednesday night.

Marilyn, another participant in the program, had been in the habit of talking about weight, eating, and diets with her sister.  Marilyn was enthusiastic about the aerobics component of the program but her sister didn't want to hear about it and started to make disparaging comments every time Marilyn mentioned aerobics.

When I probed, both Sarah and Marilyn described how their weight loss had upset the usual patterns of their relationships. Sarah's husband was accustomed to having her make dinner and to be available in the evening. When she was attending the meetings he had to fend for himself and felt left out and lonely. Marilyn's sister was also overweight. Before she felt validated by Marilyn since they both were struggling with trying to lose. When Marilyn started to have success, her sister felt threatened. Marilyn's success made her sister confront her reluctance to become more physically active.

If you've been struggling with your weight, stop and think about the reactions of others. Do you discuss diets, talk about weight or swap recipes with a family member, co-worker, or friend? What type of response do you get when you've started to lose? When you try to change routines to help with your weight loss does anyone object, make jokes or other unhelpful comments?

Remember, losing weight and maintaining the loss requires effort. Social support helps to keep you motivated to follow through on the changes necessary to lose. Indifference, disparagement or complaining can make it difficult to stay motivated. Instead of giving up and abandoning your efforts try to have an honest discussion with the person who is being unhelpful. You can try to reassure him or her that your new behaviors and any resulting weight loss will not alter your relationship. If that fails, resolve to minimize discussion of your weight, eating, and exercise with that person or, if necessary, learn to ignore any negative comments. Don't let any negativity rob you of your motivation.

Edward Abramson, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist, the author of It's NOT Just Baby Fat! and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at California State University.

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