Proceed With Caution…
As a fitness trainer, I’ve been associated with roughly 40 people who have lost 50 lbs. or more, and kept it off. On one level, I feel pride in being part of those experiences. To have aided in such life changes, is near justification for choosing a career path which has been too often maligned.
However, there’s a darker side to the weight loss experience, and one I struggle with, even now. Going back 17 years, and with the exception of just one man I worked with in 2005, each person I have worked with who lost 50 lbs. or more, and kept it off, has ended up out of their relationship. Marriage, engagement, boyfriend, girlfriend, or domestic partner, all but one I have helped, would go on to become single.
The reasons for this phenomenon are many, and not just limited to the reckless abandon that one assumes might come with a new waistline.
Before I take this any further, I’ll state that this a singular set of experiences, that are exclusive to one fitness trainer, from a sample of roughly 40 people, and within a unique Southern California demographic. I don’t mean to suggest that losing a lot of weight will doom a relationship. However, the experiences I’ve seen unfold, might be a cautionary tale for some.
One: I’m Leaving…
“I’m planning to leave my husband/wife, and I want to be in the best possible shape when I start my new life…”
No sentence you ever hear, will sound as unsavory…
I have been approached with those words, or some similar, at least a half-dozen times since 2000. My place is not to be judgmental, or even inquisitive, for they might be planning an escape from hell. My place is only to determine whether I can help the individual with their weight loss objectives, or not. If they are a viable candidate, I will accept them as a client.
Not too much to read between those lines though. People who have approached me from this angle, are decisive, motivated, and usually successful in weight loss. I do my job, wish them luck, and try hard not to get involved.
Two: Left Behind…
With most people though, the motivation isn’t abandonment. The common motivations are usually wanting more energy, better health, increased longevity, more confidence, keeping up with the kids, etc. If I’ve learned one thing about the psychology of approaching weight loss though, it’s that people can be dishonest when stating their motivations, and often aren’t aware of how dishonest they are being – even with themselves.
Give a middle-aged man or woman a new body, some opportunity (very often in the workplace), and it could be goodbye – if only for a while. But it can be more complicated than that. A person can lose a great deal of weight, change their life for the better, be the pillar of fidelity, and it can still go horribly wrong.
Often the other partner, if they are also overweight, but not motivated to lose weight, will feel left behind when their partner succeeds. A division can form, and feelings of jealousy might manifest. There can then be a withdrawal from, or even aggression toward the successful one.
The newly fit person might have a new life – the gym life, which will include gym behaviors, and may include gym functions and gym friends. The couple now has less in common, and live more separated lives which, may go on to be separated lives. I saw one woman eventually leave her husband, and partially blame me for her departure…
“I can’t stand who he has become…”
I don’t blame her. I can’t stand who he became either, but my job was to help him lose weight, not carve out the new lifestyle he chose.
I have seen the left behind partner sabotage the successful one. Repeated attempts are made to bate them into gaining the weight back, or derail the from their success – to keep that common ground. This is also complex.
If going out for Italian, followed by ice cream, a couple nights per week is a standard practice and a time of enjoyment for a couple, then taking it away can be a legitimate loss for both parties. For one party though, there is a good tradeoff for that loss – a new body is the reward. For the other, the evening they looked forward to all week is suddenly gone. That might be one evolutionary step toward separation of values, which might lead to a separation of other things, each other included.
I had one client tell me, as she was in the process of losing 80 lbs., that each time her husband came home from work, he would drop a King Size Snickers in her lap. Why would a spouse do this…?
One possible reason is that his wife had begun turning heads wherever they went. She was a grounded and devout wife – the embodiment of fidelity. However, his insecurity had convinced him that her new abs were going to lead her astray. This snowballed to the point of serious friction. Never once did she stray, but he became jealous and even accusatory. If nothing else, he no longer believed he was good enough to keep her – despite her assurances. They are no longer married.
Four: Separate Lives…
A scene I have been guilty of myself: A dinner table is set. The family sits down. Dad is eating broccoli, brown rice, and skinless chicken breast. Mom and the kids are eating lasagna with breadsticks. After a while, the smell of the lasagna gets the better of dad. He breaks down and finishes what his family leaves behind. A few hours later, he’s mad at himself for cheating on his diet. Out of frustration he becomes grumpy with his family. They spend the evening separately.
Eventually, and solely to avoid the temptation of lasagna, dad begins eating at a separate time of the evening than his family, and/or in a separate room. This probably isn’t going to work out too well for family unity. Either dad caves and forsakes the diet for the sake of peace in the family, or it becomes a bigger priority to him to avoid his family at dinner time. That might be one more evolutionary step toward separate lives altogether.
Those are just some of the scenarios and complications which might result from a successful weight loss. I have seen all of those, and many more play out before me. There are many more angles and possibilities when it comes to the effect of weight loss on relationships. The point of this isn’t to disclose them all, as much as it is to illuminate to any reader that there can be more than weight lost in the course of weight loss. There is a darker side, and few people care to talk about it.
Back To Honesty…
Ten years ago, I participated in online conversation, hosted by one of the premier weight loss bloggers in the country at that time. There were roughly 30 participants. As I described some of the scenarios above to this group, many participants, all of whom were successful at losing weight, were quick to tell me that they did not have those experiences, or any similar. Rainbows rained. Unicorns grazed. And happy hubby loved the new bod! Amen. The problem is, it wasn’t true.
After the chat was over, I was met with a half-dozen emails, confessing that their relationships were in jeopardy, coming apart, or already ended – all due to their weight loss, but they didn’t wish to make that public. That was the first time I had ever considered that my profession, along with my good intentions, had played a role in couples coming apart. Though I don’t hold myself accountable for the separation or divorce of any client as a result of helping them lose weight, I now approach weight loss candidates with great apprehension.
Yesterday I interviewed a potential weight loss candidate – she wants to lose 75 lbs. When we spoke on the phone three nights ago, I didn’t ask if she was in a relationship. I was concerned only with her objective, and with whether I might help her fulfill it. She will begin working out with me next week. I hope to have the good sense not to warn her if looks like she’s going to succeed. I’ll just stand by quietly, and watch as she navigates the minefield of that comes with profound change, and I’ll hope she’s the exception to this pattern… Jhciacb
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