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A few months ago I got a call from a long-time patient who hadn’t been in for a while. The last time I had seen her, she was doing so well with her diet and exercise program (she lost about 25 pounds with another 20 to go) that we agreed to loosen the reins between us a bit. When she called, I expected her to give me the good news that she’d reached her goal. Instead, she asked if she could come back in to see me—and if she could bring her husband.
“You need to talk to him,” she said, “because lately, I feel like he’s sabotaging me. Every time I turn around, he’s bringing goodies into the house. Then last night he told me that he liked me better when I had more meat on my bones!”
No matter what dietary changes you’re trying to make—whether you’re looking to lose weight, lower your cholesterol or keep your blood sugar in check—you’re likely to run into diet sabotage sometimes. Maybe your spouse cooks a high-calorie meal (“You’ve got to eat this, I made it just for you!”), or your co-workers entice you (“You’re doing so well, you can come have greasy fast food with us just this once.”) Then there are the ones who hint that they liked the “old you” better, often because you are becoming less like them—and more like someone they could only hope to be.
There are all sorts of reasons why people interfere with our efforts at self-improvement. Sometimes the intentions are well-meaning. After all, what better way to show someone you care than to offer up their favorite food? But sometimes there’s a twinge of jealousy, too. While you’re getting fit and healthy, there are those around you who aren’t. And your success is making them look and feel more like failures. A man who sees his partner getting slimmer and stronger may worry that he’ll lose her. So, like my patient’s husband, he might do some subtle diet sabotage. He’ll tell her he misses eating ice cream together in front of the TV, or that he misses her curves.
I knew from my patient that her husband was carrying a little extra weight himself, so I had them come in for a visit—sort of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” approach. Sometimes this works and sometimes it doesn’t. Bring two people into the same room to discuss a potential hot topic, and you’re never quite sure where it’s going to go. But when it goes well, which it does more often than not, both parties end up with a better understanding of what they should do and why. It also gives them a chance to talk about the adjustments they each might need to make, and to commit to offering support, not sabotage. And usually everybody wins. My patient and her husband started cooking together, and he started walking with her every night after dinner. Now she’s almost reached her goal, and he’s feeling great, too.
But it does take a lot of toughening up to deflect some of the sabotage. You can try the subtle approach—“Yes, those pork rinds look delicious—maybe later.” When that doesn’t work, you just have to be more direct—“Mom, I love your fried chicken and I love you, but I’m trying to keep my cholesterol down.” Let your co-workers know that you’re the same person you always were, that you’d love to join them for happy hour. And that it would be really, really helpful if they could respect your efforts by not trying to tempt you with hot wings.