When it comes to losing weight, how much your partner supports you can make or break your success. “Not many couples are having in-depth conversations before tackling a weight-loss goal,” says René Dailey, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Communication Studies at The University of Texas at Austin, who has researched the impact relationship dynamics have on weight loss. Be prepared that it may take several conversations to get them to fully realize their role in your success.
Here, eight ways to prep them for your weight-loss journey:
SHARE YOUR ‘WHY’
As obvious as your goal may be to you, your partner may not understand why you’re embarking on a new health journey. Tell them. “Explain why it’s important to you and all the good things it can mean for your life together,” says Chris Gagliardi, ACE certified health coach and weight-management specialist.
KEEP YOUR GOALS IN SIGHT
Place hand-written motivational quotes on your fridge, by your mirror and in other highly visible spots to help you and your partner keep goals top of mind. You can also keep a weight loss and food journal, to help track your progress. Seeing how committed you are is a great way to model behavior that your partner can recognize and support.
GET ON THE SAME PAGE
It’s great if your partner wants to lose weight, too, because you two can tackle this together. But you need to get on the same page with how you’re going to accomplish it — or at least understand the others’ point of view. “In my research with people trying to lose weight, some partners had the same goal but still had a difficult time coordinating their efforts,” notes Dailey. For instance, she says, some were all about moderation (let’s have a smaller scoop of ice cream on occasion), while others took a more rigid approach (no ice cream allowed in the house).
It’s not fair for one person to make the rules or expect the other to change — you’ll likely butt heads. You’ll need to compromise. “Find where your goals overlap and where they do not,” she adds. Maybe that’s taking daily walks together but cooking separate meals. Or if one person doesn’t want to have ice cream in the house, maybe the compromise is buying a different flavor your partner likes (but you do not), suggests Gagliardi.
PLAN A NEW DATE NIGHT
Another common barrier, Dailey has found, is the struggle to incorporate weight-loss goals into the existing relationship. “It’s the question of do I go out with my partner on Friday night or do I prioritize my weight-loss goals and skip going out,” she says. Decide where you land but remember it’s possible to prioritize both the relationship and weight loss. For instance, rather than a date night out to a restaurant followed by a movie (with popcorn and candy), you might build a fire and have a couple’s game night at home or watch a movie with a healthy snack.
INCORPORATE THE WHOLE FAMILY
If you and your partner have kids, it can be hard to carve out time for yourself to go to the gym. “ID opportunities for the family to be active together,” suggests Gagliardi. That may be a weekend hike, visit to the ice skating rink or trip to a nearby beach for kayaking in the summer.
BE OPEN ABOUT YOUR NEEDS
If you want to lose weight, that may mean rethinking some of your habits like eating more vegetables and less processed foods. But say one day you’re stressed and mindlessly eating an entire bag of chips. Do you want your partner to tell you to stop? “Many people say they want to be called out on their unhealthy behaviors, but then get angry when they are. That’s confusing to the other person,” says Dailey.
Think about how you feel most supported and what approach you value most. For example, Gagliardi recommends asking yourself these questions: Do you need your partner to listen to you complain? Do you need them to build you up and cheer you on? Be very clear and specific to your partner about what would work best for you.
SPEAK UP AGAINST BEING UNDERMINED
You’ve been clear that you want to cook more at home and avoid grabbing takeout every night. Your partner comes home with … dun, dun, dun … Chinese takeout. This is called an undermining behavior. “Generally, if partners are undermining, it’s because they liked things the way they were,” says Dailey. Usually, this is discomfort that your lifestyle together (going out to restaurants, chowing down on candy at the movies) is now changing.
Rather than getting upset with your partner, use this time to voice how you’re feeling, reassess things and talk about what is and isn’t working. If takeout night is really important to your partner, maybe you can find a way to compromise by finding the healthy options on the menu that you can enjoy together.
FIND FUN WAYS TO MEASURE PROGRESS
A number on the scale doesn’t always tell the full picture about health, and it can be frustrating to your partner if that’s all you’re fixated on, says Dailey. Instead, find fun to measure progress beyond the scale and include your partner. For example, see how many steps you can take in a day and challenge your partner to do the same. Or use your extra energy to suggest a new active date night (see number 4).
TALK ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP
Another reason a partner may not be on board and may subtly sabotage your efforts is fear that if you lose weight, you won’t be attracted to them or you’ll have more potential partners available to you, says Dailey. Even though that may annoy you, validate your partner’s feelings anyway. “This is a good time to address these worries and reassure your commitment to the relationship,” she says.
One more tactic, offers Gagliardi: Talk about how you’re making these behavior changes (going for a run, cooking more, discovering a love for zoodles) for the health benefits, like bettering your cholesterol profile or lowering blood pressure. “Talk about how becoming more fit will allow you to do new activities like harder hikes together or play more with your kids. That viewpoint might lower their wall,” he says.
SEEK OUTSIDE HELP
It’s not your partner’s job alone to support you and give you everything you need. Finding support through a health coach, personal trainer or weight-loss community like MyFitnessPal can help bridge the gap so you’re not relying on him or her alone.