Stop me if you’ve heard or experienced anything like this: Overweight person resolves to lose weight and takes steps to do so. Success is slow, and pounds are coming off with effort and will power, but the people around the person who is putting in the work begin to sound off on that weight loss and discourage them from continuing. Heard anything like this before? It seems like it’s almost impossible to lose weight these days without hearing criticism or outright dismissal of your efforts as too little or too hard.
We’ve all had that friend or co-worker who can’t seem to gain weight but still eats cake right in front of us, which makes it nearly impossible to swallow your plain yogurt, but a new reason has been discovered as to why you can’t seem to reach or keep your goal weight, and you’re not going to like it. According to recent research published by North Carolina State University, one of the biggest reasons you’re not losing weight and keeping it off is directly related to the people you care about most and how they treat you on your fitness journey.
The study looked at 40 previously overweight or obese people. “All 40 of the study participants reported having people in their lives try to belittle or undermine their weight loss efforts,” said Lynsey Romo, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of a paper describing the recent study.
“Many times, when someone loses weight, that person’s efforts are undermined by friends, family, or co-workers,” said Romo. “This study found that people experience a ‘lean stigma’ after losing weight, such as receiving snide remarks about healthy eating habits or having people tell them that they’re going to gain all of the weight back.”
How did the newly fit people in the study beat the negative voices that were ripping away at their progress? Communication was key. Some of those in the study found it helpful to tell everyone in their circle about their rationale and desire to lose weight so everyone was aware of the reasons for the changes. This ensured that nobody around them felt left out or like they were losing the person they cared about.
Another method was to not bring attention to the lengths of their efforts to get fit. At family functions, participants would eat smaller portions with healthier fare and even go so far as to take a plate of cake when offered, but quietly not eat it without anyone noticing. Some would say they were saving it for later in the day or for their cheat day to avoid any conflict.
“Study participants would go out of their way to make clear that they were not judging other people’s choices,” Romo said. “For example, participants would stress that they had changed their eating habits for health reasons or in order to have more energy.”
“Overall, the study highlights how important relationships are to making sustainable lifestyle changes and the importance of communication in how we navigate those relationships,” Romo concluded. The takeaway from the study leans toward being inclusive in your weight loss journey and communicating why you want to lose weight, but not letting it become something that those around you view as punishment or undue effort.