According to the National Institute of Health, more than two out of three U.S. adults (68.8 percent) are considered overweight or obese.* And for many of these adults, weight loss is a serious goal with both physical and psychological implications.
Balancing Weight Loss and Relationships
“You’d think the results would all be good,” said Alissa Hanes-Stewart, 32, a recently married social worker. Nearly 40 pounds overweight, Stewart was finding it harder and harder to do her fieldwork which involved time in and out of the car, visiting people’s homes. “Even walking up a small hill or outside steps would wind me so much I’d have to stop and collect myself,” she said.
Following a healthy eating and exercise regimen recommended by her doctor, and with the help of a personal trainer at her neighborhood gym, Hanes-Stewart embraced her new lifestyle wholeheartedly and was halfway to her goal when her husband’s, Robert’s, attitude toward her began to change. Instead of reveling in his wife’s achievements and newly-emerging physique, he became distant—their relationship strained, as he was unable to communicate what was bothering him.
“We’d been together five years before we got married,” Hanes-Stewart said, acknowledging she’d been at her pre-weight loss weight throughout their courtship.
“As much as we want the ones we love to be healthy and feel good about themselves, sometimes change is scary for them,” said Julie Reardon, Ph.D. Specializing in family dynamics, the Minnesota-based psychologist often counsels couples where a significant weight loss has impacted the relationship in unexpected ways.
“I thought he’d be pleased, supportive and proud of me,” Hanes-Stewart recalled saying at their first session of couples therapy, adding he seemed almost apathetic, even suggesting they stop at fast-food restaurants and encouraging her to eat the kinds of foods he knew are not in her healthy eating plan. In fact though he’d never really paid attention to a healthy lifestyle, he seemed to be eating more than usual himself.”
Hanes-Stewart soon learned that though her husband appreciated all she was doing for herself, his insecurities about what would be the final result—a trim, beautiful wife who may turn heads—stemmed from a serious relationship he’d had in college where his “almost fiancée,” who was working her way through school as a local model, abruptly left him. Because he’d always been a few pounds overweight and never particularly interested in playing sports, he attributed it to his own physique instead of looking for other, more substantive reasons for the split.
Weight Loss & Weight Gain
For Hanes-Stewart’s role in things, Reardon asked her to contemplate anything she may have said or done to encourage her husband’s negative reaction to her weight loss. As it turned out, she did recall making a few remarks about his getting in shape—maybe joining her in the pursuit. When he didn’t take her up on it, she admits she was disappointed, ramping up the time she spent at the gym instead of in front of the TV with him and his usual plate of nachos.
To resolve the situation, Reardon had the couple reflect on what in their separate lives had brought them together in the first place, more than five years ago. As it turned out, while they had a couple of shared interests among them, the diversity of most of their other interests was more compelling and what ultimately drew them to one another.
“I liked the fact that she wanted to get out there and change the world by being in the trenches—in social work,” Stewart said. “When we met, she was always out there campaigning—going door-to-door for the environment, on domestic abuse ballot issues—really making a difference.”
“And I loved the fact that he could focus so entirely on things like streptococcus, he was bowled over spending every hour of the day looking under a microscope in the name of infectious diseases,” Hanes-Stewart said. “In his own way, he was out to change the world as well—but from the vantage point of a laboratory stool.”
In time the couple learned to return their focus to what had first attracted them to one another, keeping anything new introduced into the relationship—like weight loss—in perspective.
“I had to let him have his and he needed to let me have mine,” Hanes-Stewart—now a svelte 35 pounds lighter and still at it—said of their marriage. “Shadowing one another all the time can get quite dull.”
9 to 5 and 5 to 9
Kansas City newly-licensed financial planner Christopher Annandale, 26, decided to shed a few pounds before fulfilling a lifelong dream of a European vacation next summer. The 5’8” 195-pound former college softball player had immersed himself in two and three jobs at a time following graduation, studying for his financial licenses late into the night, leaving little time to take care of himself through healthy diet and exercise.
“I’m not sure what happened after college,” he admitted, noting his weight had ballooned by 30 pounds. “I guess I had tunnel vision about my career, though the extra weight really affected my self-confidence,” he said. “It’s time for a U-turn back through that tunnel to take off that extra weight.”
Corraling a former college roommate-turned-personal-trainer, Annandale embarked on a three-night-a-week-plus-weekends workout regimen that included circuit training at the gym, and running and cycling on the miles of bike paths that surround his city. He eliminated red meat, cut the two or three weekend beers he enjoyed with friends down to one, increased his fiber with lots of whole grains, fruit and vegetables, skipped desserts and upped his protein intake, including substituting some post-workout meals with high fiber (kale, banana and apple) shakes with protein powder. In a few weeks, more than one-third of the weight had come off.
“I was delirious,” Annandale said. “And so were my buddies—except for a couple of people at work. I used to kind of be the guy in the corner—not much of a threat, I guess. Now I was looking and feeling a lot better about myself. It was full steam ahead.”
Working in the highly competitive financial services industry, image— or how one looks and presents themselves—is half the battle. Though Annandale was ambitious enough to get where he was, in some ways he’d held himself back, not feeling as though he could put his best face forward. No longer content to do that, coworkers took note of his new attitude and didn’t appreciate it.
Though he knew he didn’t have to apologize to anyone for the new Christopher, he took the high road and reached out to his coworkers, organizing a few happy hours and weekend get-togethers where they could get to know each other better.
“I couldn’t be overly invested in the results though,” he said. “If what I did failed, I’d have to be content with the fact that I’d done everything I could and would have to let it go.” In the end, Annandale’s coworkers began to accept and even applaud his efforts, though inter-office competition still reigned.
According to Reardon, who’d counseled Robert Stewart and Alissa Hanes-Stewart, time and patience are the keys to accepting change. For some people, change is almost impossible to embrace for many reasons—including that it may be perceived as challenging the status quo with which they are most comfortable, and feel the most certain and secure. For others, change may point up aspects of themselves with which they are unhappy and/or over which they feel powerless (though that’s usually not the case: they just haven’t figured out how to take control).
But in all cases, the individual affecting the change shouldn’t feel intimidated or disempowered enough to change anything about the way they’re doing things! Success is often personal and usually hard-won. While it may be more validating and far nicer to be able to share it, at the end of the day, it’s always going to belong to you.