Changes In OTHER People

Another exchange I had a long time ago on a lowcarb forum. A poster wrote:  I realized something really important this weekend. Not only am I changing but the people around me are changing as well. In small ways. They are insecure about my new body…more than I am.

Yes, this is another one of the psychological challenges that can come as quite a surprise as we begin losing weight–it will upset some people around us, especially our spouses and other family members.  I think there can be lots of reasons for this, and one is that when we change, it can change some of the “roles” we have been playing in other people’s minds and lives.

Oftentimes these roles are unspoken, never outwardly acknowledged.  Spouses and immediate family members can become annoyed about this because it can limit what (or where) they eat at times.  You might hear, “Mom, why don’t you make us your spaghetti any more?”  (Because it’s too much trouble to make a separate meal for me…so I just add bread, rice and potatoes to your meals.)  Or maybe you’re not nearly as enthusiastic about ordering home delivery pizza as you used to be!

And then there are friends.  Perhaps you’ve fulfilled the role of a “sweet but inferior looking” friend to a girlfriend or relative?  As long as you’re heavier, she’s clearly superior to you in her own mind.  Maybe you’ve been the “smart but fat” one?  Or perhaps your obvious success with sticking to your new way of eating is making a heavy friend feel like a failure compared to you, causing her to feel increasingly guilty or uncomfortable about not addressing her own weight problems.  Spouses can become edgy and withdrawn–worried you won’t need them anymore and/or be tempted to wander.  These people in your life will often react in some surprising ways, including flaunting foods in front of you, getting angry, telling you that you’re losing too much weight, or making light or fun of the food choices you make; sometimes they can be downright humiliating.  These comments are coming from their uneasiness with the changes in you, but that doesn’t make them less hurtful or easier to deal with.  (For seriously difficult people and situations, see my essay, Handling Truly Toxic People).

To expect that everybody will always be nothing but happy for you (as they usually are when you first experience some success) as you settle in and live your lowcarb life is to be naïve.  This will rattle some cages.  And one of the things we have to learn how to deal with is occasionally seeing our success have this “upsetting” effect on someone else without letting it give us a quiet little excuse to return to our old eating/pleasing behaviors, to go back to fulfilling those old roles to make others happy or comfortable–something we might not even be aware that we sometimes used to do.

If you are to have long-term success with this, adjustments in some other people’s thinking and actions will have to take place.  After more than 20 years at this, I have found that in most instances you mostly have to just sort of ride those out until those changes happen.  You cannot change (and you don’t need to “educate”) other people.

I’ve experienced this on numerous occasions over the years.  You will find you drive a few people crazy with your unwillingness to eat things, especially in social situations.  They either feel hurt or even angry if you don’t eat something they brought to a gathering or they notice you’re skipping potatoes or pie, and they proceed to scold you for not “living a little”–because everybody is supposed to on special occasions, right?  The important thing to remember is that you’re in charge and instead of caving to their opinions (which can sound like demands!) enjoy yourself even more by NOT defending, arguing or answering in any way except NOT changing your actions.  If you feel you must say something, you might try:  “It sure is odd that you seem so concerned about what I’m not eating.”

I have only one sibling, a sister who also happens to be a Registered Dietician. Well for years I was the fat sister with health and eating problems and she was the family repository of all the food knowledge and facts.  But when I got thin and stayed that way this time, the tables turned a little, especially because I did it “against the rules” with lowcarb.  My relationship with her took the longest to adjust, but we are fairly close again now, mostly accepting of each other’s bodies and eating.  We came out of the same childhood circumstances, and the truth is we both developed eating issues (we just went in opposite directions with them) that we’ve had to reckon with as adults.  It was oh-so-well worth the wait to develop this mostly peaceful, respectful relationship with her!

Until his death at age 92 in 2009, I had an elderly father who had an elderly girlfriend who brought her special cake to his birthday celebration a when he turned 85.  She got noticeably upset when I declined a piece of it.  Of course she tried the “just a bite?” approach, and of course I still declined.  This wasn’t about me, it was about how SHE had always pleased people, and it surprised and upset her when I would not be please her in this way.  She (as well as my father) never did quite understand how or why I ate the way I do (they really didn’t need to), but they did go on to accept that this was the way I was and stopped taking it personally.  They did laugh and joke about it at times, and I got quizzed a few times: “can you eat this–or that?” I had to decide to not get offended by this, but just tried to patiently explain it over and over again, and to even sort of laugh at myself in their presence about how I’m just “funny” about food.  At their ages, they weren’t ever going (or need) to “get it”.  I was happy they were both alive and together and happy–each of them had lost two spouses already.

If it’s any consolation, everyone in my social circle has adjusted to this–it’s no longer any deal at all that I don’t eat a lot of things that most other people eat. But that took several years of me holding this line through every single event and meeting.

I think an important part of the life-adjustment of this is learning to live with other people close to you not being entirely happy or comfortable with, or even needing to understand everything you choose to do.  It’s learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable–and comfortable with being a certain kind of selfish and “upsetting” to some people some time.  When I eat this way 24-7-365, I am taking care of ME first and you just might be surprised to find how that will occasionally irritate people who claim to want what is best for you.

This is the heavy-duty abiding I’m always ranting about folks.  Decide, provide, abide!