Linking Weight With Relationships

The winter holidays are slowly dwindling. Besides being left with too many presents and a lot of food, you might also be left with some unwanted weight. Now’s the traditional time for people to be thinking about New Year’s resolutions and shedding some pounds for the incoming new year.


If you’re trying to lose weight or eat better/exercise more for your diabetes, how does that impact your relationships? For example, if you’re making an effort to eat less or up your physical activity, do you find that your spouse or significant other is supportive? Or are they knowingly or unknowingly sabotaging you?

Weight loss and love: not always a happy mix
We all want to believe that our spouses or significant others would be supportive of us in anything we do, whether it’s going back to school to earn a degree, taking a new job to earn more money, or changing habits to look and feel better. But the reality is that the other half of a couple — and even friends — doesn’t always view change as a good thing. When it comes to weight, family and friends can actually feel threatened. Being hit with a diagnosis of diabetes can also bring a host of issues, including resentment, fear, and nagging (remember the diabetes police who are waiting to pounce on you for eating those Christmas cookies?).

Weight loss, however, is a tricky thing when one half of a couple is losing weight and the other isn’t (but perhaps should be) or is feeling threatened.

Interesting research came out of North Carolina State University and the University of Texas at Austin, revealing the “dark side” to weight loss. Published online in the journal Health Communication, researchers looked at 21 adult couples across the US. In each couple, one partner had lost 30 or more pounds in less than two years, with an average weight loss of about 60 pounds. Weight loss reasons varied, ranging from changing diet and exercise to medical issues. Each couple was given a questionnaire to complete.

First, the good news. In general, communication changed for the better after one partner lost weight. The partner who lost the weight often helped to inspire the other partner to implement or maintain a healthy lifestyle. When this happened, the couple experienced more positive interactions and increased physical and emotional intimacy.

But…weight loss wasn’t always such a good thing for the couple. For example, the person who lost the weight might have nagged his partner to do the same (and this didn’t always go over too well). Or, the partner who hadn’t lost weight might have reported feeling threatened and insecure. He would be critical, try to sabotage his weight-losing partner with food, or make efforts to thwart his partner’s efforts. Obviously, these couples’ relationships didn’t fare so well in the face of weight loss. The authors’ take on this was that people in a relationship shouldn’t NOT try to lose weight, but that talking about it and being aware of some of the potential pitfalls is recommended.

Body image and relationships
Results from a survey presented at the British Psychological Society recently gave another glimpse at weight and relationships. Two hundred and fifty women between the ages of 20 and 45 who were in a relationship were polled. The researchers found that women who were in a satisfying relationship (married or not) were more likely to be satisfied with their weight and body image. Women who were on a diet or who had dieted in the past tended to be less happy with their weight and more negative about their body image.

The findings seem to make sense. If you’re comfortable with your weight and who you are, you’re likely to have higher self-esteem and confidence, and therefore, more likely to have a satisfying relationship.

What you can do
Whether you’re trying to change lifestyle behaviors for your diabetes, your weight, or your overall health, be prepared that your spouse, family, and even friends may be less than supportive. Here are a few suggestions to work around this:

• Let them know how they can help and support you. Talk to them about your needs and give specifics on what they can do to be helpful, like keeping unhealthful foods out of sight or not being critical of you if you decide to have some dessert once in a while.

• Encourage them to join you. Ask if they’ll help you prepare healthy meals or suggest that the whole family go for a walk or go ice skating.

• Address issues head-on. Realize that it may take time for a spouse or a friend to adjust to your new, healthier habits. Also, realize that if someone is sabotaging you, there’s a reason for that — talking with them may help you uncover what their fears or concerns are. Remind yourself what your goal is, and let them know that your feelings for them haven’t changed.

• Talking things out can go a long way to easing tensions and reassuring loved ones that your feelings towards them haven’t changed.

• Seek support elsewhere. If you find that your family or friends aren’t supporting you, look into joining a support group (either live or online) or talking with a behavioral health professional. Outside support can provide you with suggestions and tips that may help your relationships, and it can also bolster your confidence.

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  • Patricia Conner

    Please tell me what kind of exercise I can do to help me loose weight when I use a cane all the time and soon be on a wheel walker if I cannot get my legs doing better. I have neuropathy in legs as well as arithritis. I am 76 ys. old and watch my carb intake etc. but hardly any weight comes off.

  • Mr. Gregg

    I have found that Diabetes is a disease and most people, including loved ones, are often not empathetic with your plight UNTIL you get sick. They just do not understand what you are going throught to prevent serious illness primarily because they are uniformed. Unfortunately,any serious illness to your eyes, kidneys, limbs will arouse everyone to attention.

    Knowing this fact, the diabetic stricken person must strive every day to ward off illness by eating right, exercising daily for at least thirty minutes and self-education about diabetes. I have found that by eliminating wheat from my food at all meals, I have successfully lost 20 pounds. I never said to anyone that I was going on a wheat free diet because I did not want to be automatically be setup for failure. I hate the word diet because it implyies that I am helpless and the family has to suffer with me because I am overweight.

    Diabetes cannot be conquered or reversed. If you think so, you are only fooling yourself. You have the disease-own it! However, you can function extremely well in society if you realize that you have to modify your behavior patterns with food and exercise. If you think you can skate around the malady, you are dead wrong. If you don’t control it, it will control and ultimately consume you.

  • Ferne

    I’m one of the lucky ones. My husband has made it possible to exercise in the living room since I’m handicapped and can’t go up and down stairs. He is very encouraging. He does buy food I can’t eat but he can and it’s up to me to be my own food police. There is no reason he should be denied something he likes just because I can’t eat it. He asked me when I was first diagnosed if I minded him eating what I can’t and it doesn’t. That would be selfish of me and he already has to do so much for me. I really feel bad for those who do try to sabotage others. If they would only realize it’s for them also but guess if they are the kind that do that it wouldn’t matter.

  • Joe

    Food and relationships are complexly and dramatically intertwined and have been since the beginnings of time. Reject your Mom’s cooking? You might as well slap her face and tell her she’s a horrible mother. Ask any man what his responsibilities to his family are, “Putting food on the table” will usually be his first response. Food and romance are hopelessly entangled as well. First date? Dinner. Go for a walk? Ice Cream. Take your sweetie to the Fair? Well, everyone knows the main attraction at the Fair, and it’s not the Ferris Wheel… it usually comes deep-fried on a stick. For many, many people food is ritual, and one they barely relate to a person’s weight or health. It goes way beyond “I’m upset with you because you want me to lose weight.” There are deep, deep cultural and psychological issues in play.

  • acampbell

    Hi Patricia,

    Have you met with a physical therapist? If not, ask your doctor for a referral. A physical therapist can show you exercises that are appropriate for your condition and that can strengthen and tone your muscles at the same time. You might also look into a water exercise program, say, at a local YMCA. Another option is to try armchair exercises. These exercises mostly work your upper body, and you do them seated in a chair. Joslin has an exercise DVD that includes armchair exercises. You can purchase it on their Web site.