Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Loved one on a diet? What their shakes and weight loss mean for you.

Your spouse or partner (or best friend) goes to the doctor and is told to lose weight. And they do. You're pleased for them—on some small level that is—believing perhaps that weight loss is in their best interest. Maybe you’re concerned about how sedentary they've become or about their risk with climbing blood sugars or cholesterol levels. You know how sluggish they’ve been and surely you’d care to see them feel better both physically and mentally. But mostly you're not so pleased. Sound familiar?

Whether you're recovering from an eating disorder or trying to break from the diet mentality and release yourself from diet rules it has "triggering" written all over. To quote my dear friend in recovery from an eating disorder "why is that he's allowed to diet and I can't?" "Why must I be the one in the family who models appropriate eating behaviors, while he restricts his grains and sucks down liquid supplements?"

It's simply not fair. They can do crash diets but you can't. Or shouldn't. Right?

I mean, how well are they really doing?
Not quite. If your loved one is following a fad diet, resulting in rapid (albeit short term) weight loss, be careful what you're longing for. The result is subsequent weight gain that exceeds the loss in most cases. And in the meanwhile, they’ll be dealing with increased irritability, fatigue, and preoccupation with food, eating and weight. Is this really what you want? You've been there before I'm sure. The fantasy of slimming down (through unhealthy measures) and morphing into a new and improved happier being is simply fantasy. You know better. I know you do.

But what about those loved ones that are changing their habits for better, resulting in their losing weight? They’re moving from TV watching while eating and starting to taste their food. They’ve started to portion their food, better reflecting their need for fuel. And their knee-jerk reaction to stress and perceived failure and depressed mood is no longer to reach for food. These changes I certainly support.

Consider that you too can focus on your behaviors. Are you eating mindfully? Respecting your hunger and your fullness? Including physical activity that's enjoyable and not compulsive, that supports your mood and well-being?  Yes, those are actions you too can take, providing you nourish your body adequately (and are medically stable and cleared by your health care provider.) Shopping and preplanning meals and snacks might help, too.

What would you tell a child who says that it isn’t fair that their friend gets to eat a different amount than they do? No doubt you’d acknowledge that we each need to meet our individual needs—based on height, weight, muscle mass, physical activity and genetics, for instance.

For some that might mean eating less, while for others eating more. For some that means figuring out how to move more, while for others it demands respect for your need for fueling your body to enable the privilege of movement. Some of us are more vulnerable to restrictive eating, triggering more eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. While others can exercise modest restraint—delaying seconds and shifting the balance of foods on their plate, for instance.

Perhaps it's time to communicate to help support each other.
But would I endorse a fad diet that appears to promise great outcomes—even based on the short-term results you might find alluring—for anyone? No! I would have a heart-to-heart with your loved one to explain why that approach is not constructive. Not because you feel threatened by their weight loss, but because you sincerely care about their well-being and you know where restrictive diets lead. (And for the record, the macronutrient content—whether high protein or low fat or low are high carb—has no bearing on weight loss. Really. So do set the record straight!)

Their weight loss may not seem fair. But neither is the price of restrictive eating, of feeling like you're on a diet. You've been there. You know better. It's a short term high, and a terrible drop after that.

Remember how you enjoy your freedom, your right to eat the foods you love and give you pleasure. Remember that trusting your body to eat enough enables you to think clearly and decrease preoccupation with food. Remember how bad it feels when the rebound weight gain follows the severe food restriction, the dieting that’s looking so appealing.

You're an adult and you can do what you'd like. But do you really think another diet is going to make things better? Now please go talk with your loved one.


  1. Thanks, Lori. This is exactly what I needed to hear, not in connection with a loved one, but for myself. After over four years of non-dieting and implementing the Intuitive Eating approach, I've found myself "dabbling" in calorie counting again. For sure, it's much looser, and I'm telling myself that it is just a check on my portions, but I can see subtle ways that it is affecting me, bringing up old issues and messages. At the gentle urging of my RD, I've agreed to at least cut back but I find myself gravitating toward counting on "fat days." I never had a full blown, clinical eating disorder. I'm one of the millions, probably, who have suffered from disordered eating and body image. My issues are immeasurably better, thanks to Intuitive Eating and some enlightened therapists and RDs that I've consulted. But I struggle with how to address it when my weight creeps up, as it does for just about everyone, even "civilians," without heading back to hard core dieting, restriction, over exercising. There has to be a sane way to do that, and you've touched on a few techniques to bring balance back but it's hard to figure out what works for those of us in this vulnerable state. Your blog is one of my support tools, though, and thanks for that. Laura

  2. Thankyou so much for this post! It is such a difficult thing to recover around chronic dieters and I really appreciate this encouragement!