Coping With People at Home

by Marsha Hudnall MS, RDN, CD

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Building family support for weight loss  | Coping with people at homeWe’ve all been there before. We’re going strong in our resolve to take care of ourselves, including eating what we want to prevent overeating out of feelings of deprivation.

But then some ‘well-meaning’ friend or family member comments, “Are you sure you should eat that?”

Immediately, all our feelings of self-doubt come rushing back to make us question whether we really can trust our bodies to guide us in what we need.

When we’re at a supportive healthy weight program retreat like Green Mountain at Fox Run, feeling confident is much easier because everyone around us faces similar issues and understands the need to help each other believe in ourselves. But at home, such self confidence can be a foreign idea.

In a society that’s almost governed by diet books and the like, it seems easier to follow what someone else recommends as information on how to take care of ourselves rather than take the time to turn inwards and explore what we need to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Now is the time, however, to start educating those around us about a more effective type of weight loss information: personal support in reaching our health and healthy weight goals.

Get support by asking family and friends to:

  • acknowledge our progress, instead of focusing on whether we’ve achieved, or when we’ll achieve, our goals
  • allow us to make our own choices, even if they go against what they think is best for us
  • avoid discussion of our weight or health with others, especially at social gatherings; and
  • help us be patient and realistic in making changes.

Respond Rather than React

But what about those who refuse to do any or all of the above? Because it’s often fruitless to try to change someone who doesn’t want to see another side of things, it can be helpful to consider how we can change our choices and reactions to make things work better for us. Following are ideas and suggestions about who we choose to spend time with, and how we choose to interact with them.

Ideas for Changing the Way We Think

  • Gather around our families of choice. “We can’t choose our families of birth, but we can choose to spend times that matter with people who matter,” says Mimi Francis, MSN, behavioral health therapist at Green Mountain at Fox Run.
    • Change traditions if need be. Rather than the usual holiday dinner with the extended family, take the kids on a long weekend to a dude ranch, or somewhere else we can have lots of fun without revisiting old hurts. Changing a tradition is hard the first time, but thereafter we’ve set the precedent, and we won’t be expected to show up in the future.
  • Prepare to have a good time. Before social gatherings such as family holiday parties, we often revert to all-or-nothing thinking. We reason “It’s either go and put up with the usual nonsense, or don’t go at all.” But what else could we do? How about setting ourselves up for better coping by spending valuable time nurturing ourselves — a relaxing afternoon being pampered at a day spa before the big holiday bash, visualizing a successful event from our perspective?
    • Can we choose a state of mind to help prevent us from being triggered by what someone says or does? For example, we might decide to truly believe “this is their stuff” and resolve not take their behaviors personally. We might also have a number of prepared responses for unsupportive comments we can almost predict we’ll hear.
  • Put limits and boundaries around interactions with those we know are incapable of support. Many of us have family members who fit this description, but on special occasions like holidays, birthdays, etc., we can’t not be there. So how can we manage what we know is a potential landmine for our self-esteem? “We could choose to visit but leave before mealtimes, thereby avoiding problematic attitudes about our eating,” says Francis. “Or we might be even more effective in defusing the situation by refusing to respond to those attitudes if they do surface.
    • Remember, fires go out when you don’t feed them. There’s a saying in Tai Chi that if you step out of the way of aggression, it goes past you and even throws the aggressor off balance.”
  • Be mindful that substances we use to cope can backfire. In families with alcoholic tendencies, alcoholic beverages, often used to add ‘life’ to a party, can lead to incoherent conversations that can get ugly. Food works to calm us down, but then the angst about eating can begin, complicating things with feelings of doubt and worry.
    • Put together a self-help toolbox of ways to cope without using such substances; try breathing, going outside for a break, picking your battles, even laughing!

Remember, attitude is everything. And who knows – you may become a role model for a new type of weight loss information – how to ensure special occasions don’t set us up for emotional eating but stay happy like they’re supposed to be!