When Others Sabotage Your Weight Loss and Exercise Plans

Notice I didn’t say IF they do.  It’s WHEN.  Expecting everyone around you to be super excited and supportive about your intentions to change some vital elements going on in your life is like expecting the sun to come up in the west.  It just isn’t going to happen.  Making several strategies to work around potential negativity could be a huge key to your eventual success. 

Suppose you have taken some things to heart and decided that you want to start eating more whole foods, watch your portions, and exercise more.  You have your reasons, which you may or may not want to share with others.  To put it succinctly, these are called “lifestyle changes.” 

The Minefield

Let’s take a look at this.  First of all, not everyone in your world will even know that you are trying to change some of your eating and exercise habits.  You may show up to a get-together, and be confronted with the usual suspects: coleslaw, potato salad, potato chips, dip, pizza slices, brownies, cookies, and cheesecake.  Darn!  What’s a person to do?  The gang’s all here, watching some sporting event together.  Interestingly, some of the ads also feature people having a great time, often drinking beer, and consuming the same stuff! 

The point, in this case, is that we are constantly surrounded by items designed to get us heading down the wrong path.  I am sure you are aware of this.  And, you are probably really fond of some of those items.  Nonetheless, you are determined to shun most of those things, and find a way to exercise more.  Tall order! 

Looking for Support 

Now let’s take a look at family, friends, and acquaintances.  The ones who know what you are up to, and you feel comfortable telling them what you are doing.  In fact, you are hoping for some back-up, some support.  Because, you know that you can’t do this alone.  (Research shows this all the time, by the way.)  Maybe they do, but guess what?  When it comes time to gather, are they going to change their whole MO to suit you?  You know the answer already.  No! 

It turns out that people have studied this kind of thing, from the perspective of people who have successfully navigated the minefields.  In one amazing study, the researchers found a bunch of people who had lost, on the average, 76.9 pounds!  This group of heroes obviously conquered their environments, in all its glory. How did they do it? 

Basically, there were two strategies.  The first one was to help people “save face,” as they called it.  They pretty much told people of their intentions, and then explained that they did not expect others to do the same.  As such, when it came time to socialize, that person would be making some choices that were different from the usual, possibly involving bringing their own food to some events. 

The other strategy was more covert.  No explanation required.  In social situations, these people did things like take the “junk” food, but eat small bits of it, or take other items like cake, and then throw them out when no one was looking.  Another tactic:  When going out with friends, they called it their “cheat day” so they could go along with the crowd. 

Even though both of these strategies were probably used frequently, I would put it to you that the second one was more difficult to pull off.  In my experience, many people cannot stop once they start eating “junk” food.  Those “foods” are designed that way.  Better to just stay away. 

Sabotage can be Personal

Here’s something else.  Not everyone who knows what you are doing is on board with it.  That is where the sabotage comes in.  There is research on this also (go figure).  A recent article nailed down three ways that people surrounding us can get us off track. 

To put it briefly, researchers put such behaviors into three categories:

  1. Being a feeder.  Encouraging people to fill their plates, not waste food, or eat a special item because it was always a favorite.  This could be accompanied by various comments.  “Are you sure that’s all you want?” “Go ahead…this is a special occasion.”  Etc.
  2. Making sabotaging (unsupportive) comments.  “Why are you doing this?  It’s no fun at all!”  “It’s such a rip-off to join a gym.”  “I hope you don’t expect ME to eat like that!”
  3. Last but not least is collusion.  This is where someone around you may witness you doing something not in line with your stated plan.  In this case, there is silence.  Rather than calling the person out and risk seeming like a nag, they let it fly. 

What’s Good for Them is Good for You

With all this going on, is the answer to move way to a desert island, abandon your friends and family, and turn off the TV?  Of course not. 

There is another way.  It is related to the first strategy mentioned above.  The one where you declare your new choices, and possibly even why you are making them.  I am suggesting taking it a bit further. 

It is this.  Make a statement (this might have to happen more than once) that this is your “new normal.”  You do not expect others to go along with it, but it is now how you roll.  This serves two purposes.

  1. It lets people know your intentions, so that they can set their expectations.  No surprises here.  They come to expect your new lifestyle from you. 
  2. The other thing is just as important.  It’s just for you.  Words matter.  When you say to yourself and others that this is your “new normal,” that gives it a lot of heft, a description of your new reality.  Something that you can hang on to going forward. 

This is in contrast with a temporary fix that you may be tempted to try.  There is research on this too!  Temporary plans (aka diets; someone’s exercise plan) don’t work!  Set your sights on a “new normal” and do your best to navigate the swirling negativity around you. 

P.S. Don’t be a saboteur! If you recognize yourself doing some of these unsupportive things, catch yourself and regroup.

All the best,

© 2023 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: mohd izzuan | iStock

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