Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How weight loss affects your relationships

How weight loss affects your relationships
By Jessica Yadegaran

Weight loss doesn't just change your body. It can change your relationships, too.
Five years ago, Pam Thompson was 20 pounds into a weight loss journey that would eventually result in a total loss of 65 pounds. Thompson, then 60, would go on to become a key leader on the local Weight Watchers scene, motivating hundreds of people seeking support in her upbeat meetings.
But, for the moment, she had to deal with her granddaughter, Stephanie Ayers, who was angry with her. In order to prioritize her gym workouts and continue losing weight, Thompson was no longer able to drive from her home in Martinez to Clayton every morning to give Stephanie, then 14, a ride to school.
As Thompson tells it, she finally got up the courage to tell her granddaughter, "I'm putting myself first. And you're going to have to walk the two and a half miles to school."
"She was pretty angry that I wouldn't drive her to school, and it affected our relationship for three months," Thompson recalls.
You certainly don't expect it to happen, but it can. Meeting a weight loss or fitness goal, especially a significant one, often shifts the dynamics of your interpersonal relationships. Friends say you're different, and that they have to get used to the "new" you. Your wife is suddenly more affectionate, and you wonder why you waited a decade to drop that beer belly.
Whether the changes are positive or negative and because food and body image are so ingrained in our social lives, experts say it's important to recognize any shifting dynamics and be prepared to discuss them with your loved ones, openly and honestly.
Relationships change
Karen Premo of Concord remembers feeling "lost" when her long time friend and mentor, Mary Lynne, went on a diet five years ago and lost 65 pounds. Mary Lynne had suffered a minor stroke and as a result had to change her eating habits.
"We were real foodies together," Premo says. "We loved to cook. We loved to eat. We just loved to talk about food."
Her friend's lifestyle change left a void in the friendship, but it didn't last long.
"Pretty soon, she found ways to adapt recipes to make them healthier, and that's what we talked about," says Premo, now 55. She recently lost 8 pounds herself.
Sometimes the relationship changes are less direct.
Janae Roberts of Oakland says she recalls co-workers talking behind her back after she lost 35 pounds on the South Beach Diet three years ago.
"I worked in an office where most people were overweight and didn't eat healthy," says Roberts, 29. "Every time I brought up something exercise or food related, it felt really awkward. I think they were disappointed that I wasn't part of their cupcake recipe circle anymore."
Roberts remains friends with a few individuals in the group but they spend most of their time outside of the office.
It can be challenging to maintain relationships where there's been a weight or fitness change that might be perceived as threatening to others, says Christy Greenleaf, a faculty member at the University of North Texas' Center for Sport Psychology and Performance Excellence. Greenleaf, who is an expert in body image and the psychological aspects of obesity, says this is particularly true if food is a focal point of your group dynamic.
"There's also the potential of people being jealous," she says. "Losing a lot of weight and keeping it off is really challenging. Especially if the person is getting a lot of attention for it, that might be hard to watch."
Addressing jealousy
Addressing jealousy is tricky. Unless the friend is up front about their feelings, all you can do is initiate a dialogue based on your own needs and feelings, Greenleaf says.
Also, you can try to shift the mentality of the group by offering alternatives that fit your new lifestyle, whether it's a salad potluck instead of your weekly cheesecake outings or finding a 5K with a cause you all believe in.
Finally, if you feel that you're being treated differently in any way as a result of your weight loss, you need to speak up.
"Tell your friends or family how it makes you feel, and that what you need is social support," Greenleaf says.
When you do have that social support, everyone can benefit from your weight loss.
Kara and Jeff Kreer, of Scotts Valley in Santa Cruz County, lost a combined 180 pounds beginning in mid 2009.
But it didn't start out as a team effort. Jeff began attending Weight Watchers meetings that May. Kara supported her husband and knew she needed to lose weight too, but it would have to begin when she was ready.
Getting on board
Once Kara saw that Jeff shed 8 pounds in the first week, she was on board. She went to her first meeting two months after he did.
"Without her support it would've been so much more difficult for me to stick with it even though I was being successful," says Jeff, 42.
His wife feels the same way.
"I wouldn't have been able to do it if he was eating a huge bowl of ice cream in front of me every night," says Kara, 37.
The Kreers say their weight loss has had only positive effects on their relationship. They often joke that they are "180 pounds closer to each other's heart" when they hug, and believe developing a healthier lifestyle has enriched their marriage and their relationships with others.
Thompson, of Martinez, had a similar effect on her granddaughter, Stephanie. Stephanie eventually got over her anger and started walking to school. She lost 30 pounds and is now challenging grandma to run and train for a triathlon.
"Our change may scare them (loved ones) at first," Thompson says, "but in the end, it's better for everyone."

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