Losing weight is not only about physical changes, but also emotional revisions. When one-half of a couple loses a significant amount of weight, it can affect the dynamics of a relationship.
There could be positive change. Confidence is boosted, intimacy may be improved or the individual may have more energy to do activities as a couple.
But sometimes, there are negative changes, say researchers at the North Carolina State University and The University of Texas at Austin.
In a small study published in the journal Health Communication last year, they found that in some cases, the weight loss of one partner resulted in negative communication, including criticism and sabotage.
About one year ago, Whitehouse resident Sondra Gutierrez, lost 55 pounds. It was the weight she’d put on after the birth of the first of her five children. The full-time nurse is now licensed to instruct Zumba and Piloxing classes.
Mrs. Gutierrez, 33, suspected her husband, Pablo, was dealing with insecurities as a result of her weight loss. She said he liked her better heavier and encouraged her to eat unhealthy food and not work out as much.
Janice Terry, a licensed clinical social worker at East Texas Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Center, said this is a common occurrence when a loved one makes a lifestyle change.
“A lot of times our family and friends may think we don’t need them anymore or that we won’t love them the same now that that person is smaller, or becomes more attractive,” she said.
Fortunately for the couple, Mrs. Gutierrez stuck to her goals while also ensuring her husband their 14-year bond would not be broken.
“He’s supportive,” Mrs. Gutierrez said. “He knows it’s not going to change.”
She added, “If it’s something I want and it’s something I know is good for me, I’m going to do it.”
FRIENDSHIPS AFFECTED, TOO
When Lauren LaFleur, of Jacksonville, started a rigorous campaign to shed 300 pounds about one year ago, she had plenty of support. Today, the 42-year-old has lost 127 pounds but the support among some friends has morphed into something else.
She asserts that while one friend boasted about her efforts to others, months later, there was a noticeable difference that she describes as, first, criticism and then sabotage, as she’d been encouraged to eat unhealthy foods.
“Just the last few months or so, it’s a different dynamic between us,” Ms. LaFleur said.
She’s had a hard time dealing with the change.
“It makes me feel angry and sad, especially being extremely obese like I am and having been obese all of my life,” she said. “There’s a lot of psychology and emotion behind it that people don’t realize unless they’ve been there. The least little bit of criticism about what you’re doing can really hurt and in some cases can put you in a backspin.”
Meanwhile, Ms. LaFleur said emotional issues associated with being obese have hindered her dating status.
“Even now that I’ve lost as much as I have, I’m still, in my head, that really big person who could not step up on a curb unassisted — that sort of thing,” she said.
However, she’s gained confidence, which has strengthened other relationships.
“I held myself captive, really, in my own house, in my own life,” she said. “I wouldn’t join in with people and do things. I never accepted invitations to go places. I just kept everyone at arm’s length. Now that I feel more comfortable with me and I love myself more, I’m letting people in. That just automatically makes relationships stronger.”
Ms. Terry said she sees numerous clients who have experiences similar to Mrs. Gutierrez and Ms. LaFleur. She said they are often looking for support to help them maintain a weight loss or looking for ways alleviate the depression and anxiety associated with their journey.
For people on the receiving end of criticism and subconscious sabotage, they may give in.
Ms. Terry has encountered clients who gained weight back to keep attention off them because they’re uncomfortable in their new body or to keep the peace at home.
She said problems in a relationship also may stem from the effects of rapid weight loss, which causes hormonal balances and may lead to mood swings, difficulty concentrating, stress and anxiety.
KEEPING THE PEACE
To avoid negative experiences with a loved one, prepare for the weight-loss journey and communicate to them what you are going to do, Ms. Terry said.
She said it’s important to set boundaries to curtail criticism and find different ways to cultivate relationships. For example, if criticism only comes during meals, then find other ways to spend time with that person.
If there were unresolved issues before weight loss, they will not go away on its own, she said.
“If you had a rocky marriage or a rocky relationship before, it’s still going to be just as rocky after you lose weight,” Ms. Terry said.
To have a successful lifestyle change, Ms. Terry recommends individuals find people who have similar goals and interests.
“It starts with making new friends that can be supportive,” she said. “I have this statement, ‘Find people going where you want to go and join them.’”
Nonetheless, there is only one person responsible for one person’s weight loss.
“Families can be supportive, but ultimately, the responsibility is on the person to maintain their goal,” she said.