Losing weight can seem like an insurmountable task, but new research shows that our loved ones can make it even harder for us.
Friends and family can conspire to “sabotage” our efforts to lose weight, either intentionally or “unknowingly,” according to British psychologists.
They may do this by discouraging us from attending weight loss support groups or eating healthy, perhaps tempting us with sugary treats.
Others may “conspire” with us to stay in after work and watch a movie on the couch, instead of going for a walk or hitting the gym.
The new study follows a worrying report that predicts that more than half of the world’s 8 billion people will be overweight by 2035.
Friends and family can conspire to “sabotage” our weight loss efforts, though sometimes it’s not intentional (file photo)
It was carried out by experts from the University of Surrey who claim that ‘not all social support is beneficial’ and can be negative rather than positive.
The experts reviewed existing studies and new primary data from 30 interviews to determine the negative social support a person may face when trying to lose weight.
From this, they were able to identify three primary ways a friend, partner, or family member can interfere with our weight loss journey: “sabotage,” “collusion,” and “feeding.”
Sabotage is the “active and deliberate undermining of another’s weight goals” and can For example, by discouraging us from switching to a healthier eating pattern, for example by pointing out the extra costs or by saying that the food is not that tasty.
So-called “saboteurs” may also undermine our efforts to get more exercise, for example by refusing to join us for a walk or pointing out the cost of a gym membership.
Meanwhile, “collusion” is what study author Professor Jane Ogden describes as something “we do all the time in our lives” in the presence of loved ones.
“For example, a person doesn’t really want to eat well or exercise or wants to go to their weight loss support group and say, ‘Oh, I don’t think I can be bothered to go tonight,'” Professor Ogden told me. Mail Online.
“A good friend or partner would say, ‘No, come on, let’s go for a walk,’ while someone who is conspiring would say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea, let’s stay in and watch a movie.’
“The partner agrees, so it’s a kind of conflict avoidance.
“It’s what we do all the time in our lives — it’s definitely basic friendship and how we make friends, but it’s not always the best thing for someone else.”
Our partners may “conspire” with us not to get enough exercise – perhaps by not providing enough motivation to get off the couch and get some exercise (stock image)
Finally, feeding behavior is explicitly overfeeding us even when we are not hungry, or when we are making an effort to eat less.
While the term is commonly associated with the sexual fetish, it can also be used in a non-sexual context.
Non-sexual motivations for eating can be to avoid throwing food away or even as a loving gesture “as a sign of family love” – such as buying a sweet treat to show us they care.
Often the three types of “negative social support” are unintentional and people don’t realize the damage they are doing to their loved one’s weight loss efforts.
However, Professor Ogden said some also perform the behavior consciously and deliberately, perhaps because they don’t like the changes brought about by our weight loss goals, or because they have insecurities of their own.
“Losing weight often results in change, from making someone more confident to a change in the social dynamics in their relationships,” she said.
“Many do not welcome such changes and, knowingly or unknowingly, try to derail someone’s weight loss efforts in order to keep things as they are.
“If your partner starts losing weight, it can make you feel insecure because they might be looking elsewhere, they might be getting attention from someone else, they might be getting more confident.
“And all of that can create tremendous tension for someone, so you might think, ‘If I can stop them from doing this, then we’d be happy.'”
Lovers can be “a feeder” – a form of “fat fetishism” where someone takes pleasure in feeding their partner (file photo)
Professor Ogden stressed that we should all be careful to offer positive support rather than negative support to loved ones as they try to lose weight.
“If your partner is going through a weight-loss journey and you find it undermining or challenging or stressful, then you need to look out, look at yourself and see if what you’re doing supports them,” she told MailOnline.
“In terms of collusion, I think you have to be braver to be willing to accept that there will be short-term conflict for the greater good in the longer term.
“It’s not about just going with someone else—sometimes you have to say, ‘Wait a minute, do you really have to eat that’ or ‘Should you sit on the couch?’
“If you’re more of a saboteur because you’re trying to undermine them, then I think you need to think, ‘What’s in this for me and why am I doing this? If I love my partner the way I say and think I do, then I should try harder to do what’s right for them.’
The new study is published in the journal Current Obesity Reports.