Part 2: Partners in Crime
In part 1 of this 3 part series, I mentioned that at the beginning, only my wife knew that I was starting this journey. Without her support, and help, I don’t know how I could have gotten started as quickly as I did. While smaller changes at one time are generally are easier to make into long-term habits when embarking on a lifestyle change, I was facing a ticking clock like I was Jack Bauer in 24, counting down to the birth of my daughter.
So we went at this with all guns blazing and started making big changes, at all once. I don’t really recommend that you do it this way for a few reasons. First, it can be overwhelming. Trying to change your built in habits all at once means that you are going to have to temporarily allow your diet and exercise changes to taking over your life. That means really focusing on it, putting energy toward it, and prioritizing it. And that may mean some short term suffering, and de-prioritizing other things such as a social life, free time generally spent on relaxing, etc.
Without a strict, unchanging deadline, an epiphany, and a renewable source of motivation, doing everything all at once is usually a recipe for disaster. The second reason is that when you are changing so many things at once, this puts lots of pressure on you, and when combined when the already crushing stresses of everyday life, that’s when the cracks start to show.
Regardless of how you approach your lifestyle change, be it “all guns blazing” or one change at a time, it’s going to be a process of trial and error. Please learn from our mistakes. Please learn from YOUR mistakes. What did you do right? What did you do wrong? What could you do to improve? Then keep doing what you did right, and improve on what you can. Repeat, forever.
Trying to juggle multiple new things, all of which are new skills and habits to be learned, all of which requiring failing, and learning from these failures, put lots of stress on you as an individual, and lots of stress on your relationships. And that’s the theme for this article, dealing with weight loss in the context of a relationship.
Because this is a lifestyle change (emphasis on “life,” as in FOR LIFE), if you are in a relationship where you live with someone, how they react to these changes is going to have a drastic impact on your success.
Your environment is a *huge* part of how well you are able to adapt to any changes, and that means both work and home environments. The difference between your success and you giving up could be the support of your partner or lack thereof. If you aren’t currently in a relationship, no worries, you still may find this advice useful because much of it will apply in part to other relationships in your life.
For the meat and potatoes of this article, we’ll cover 4 separate aspects of weight loss while in a relationship: Partner isn’t ready to do it with you, or doesn’t need to, partner is ready to do it with you and how to fit it into your life, the pitfalls of couples weight loss even if partner isn’t participating, and the positive aspects of working together toward a weight loss goal.
Partner Is NOT Ready For a Lifestyle Change
When you are trying to make changes to your lifestyle with the goal being healthier and to lose weight, having a partner that isn’t ready to do it with you, or simply isn’t in a position to make those changes, their support or lack thereof can make or break your efforts. As I mentioned, your environment is key.
When I initially got started, I jumped right in with both feet and made huge changes to my food choices while controlling calories strictly. On the other hand, my wife for various reasons such as the pregnancy and some other mental hurdles wasn’t able to commit to the same level that I was.
I’m not going to lie, it was tough. She would have cravings for odd things, and at odd times, much of which I wasn’t really able to (as of yet) figure out how to include them in my dietary changes. Remember, I was still well over 350 lbs at this point, and at that time, I found that going “cold turkey” was one of the primary ways that I was able to keep my cravings and hunger under wraps. So that means that there were plenty of times where she was eating things that I used to love, like pasta, bread, etc…but at that time, were binge triggers for me due how out of control my blood sugar and insulin levels were as a result of my morbid obesity.
So yeah, it sucks, but there were times where my resolve was fully challenged, and I wasn’t always strong enough to resist..and that’s OK. The lesson here is that you have to meet in the middle and that you can’t force things on your partner. Even if you would like them to make lifestyle changes WITH you, forcing it upon them can backfire and have them resent you for it and have the opposite effect.
The biggest thing that helped me through this time was essentially putting myself in her shoes. Sure, as a man that was incredibly difficult to do as I had no idea what she was going through, but I tried to empathize as much as I could.
Be an example, and lead by example, but also try to show empathy. There were many times when I could tell and many other times that we actually discussed that my wife wanted to be where I was in my weight loss journey, but she had to work through her own mental hurdles before she was able to commit to her own journey. As best as I could, I would be an empathetic, active listener. By listening to her, and shifting my reply from being “this is what I think you should do” into the question “what do YOU think you should be doing to feel better” my wife was able to identify what were her roadblocks to living a fit lifestyle. You can’t force anyone to make the journey. It has to be their choice.
Partner IS Ready For a Lifestyle Change & Organizing Schedules
When you and your partner are both ready to make lifestyle changes, this is where things get easier. Easier yes, but not without its own challenges that you will need to work on together.
During the first 9 months of my journey, while my wife was pregnant, we both had a gym membership and we’d go together after work. We’d both go swimming, and then after awhile, I started to go to the weight room with my brother while my wife would walk around the indoor track or stay in the pool. So while she wasn’t in a position to fully embrace any dietary changes during pregnancy beyond what her doctor was recommending, she was still able to participate some in being more active. This worked for us, and I assumed things would continue after our daughter was born.
Well, I was wrong. Our lives and schedules would be upturned, and it would require some organization of schedules. We were lucky that prior to this, our schedules were in sync. Even if you don’t have kids, if you both want to change your lifestyle toward fitness, and your schedules are different, then it will take some effort to organize them so that each of the adjustments you make to your schedule also allows your partner to make adjustments to theirs.
Obviously, a partnership is founded on being able to meet in the middle, but trying to make these changes around food and activity levels can cause a strain.
So after our daughter was born, I kept going to the gym, but my wife felt that she wasn’t able to do so. We talked and realized that I was spending too much time away from home that could be better spent spending time with my daughter and giving my wife a much-needed break. So by moving to a home gym, this cut out all of the extra travel time, waiting for equipment, etc. I mistakenly assumed that it would then allow my wife to easily work out at home too! Well, I was wrong. A mom is always a mom, and trying to tune out a crying baby/child just wasn’t an option. This was a difference that I hadn’t anticipated.
The lesson here would be to talk to one another, see what differences you have in expectations of what will work when it will work, and if the compromises that you are making to accommodate each other are fair to both of you. It’s important to take note of WHY things will work, and WHY things won’t work for your partner.
That brings us to organizing schedules. Many people find complacency in having a rigid structure to their scheduled exercise (workouts are Monday, Wednesday, Friday, no matter what). This can even carry over to things like meal planning: meal planning day is Sunday!! This works if you are single I guess, but having some flexibility is going to be key in working with your partner on these changes.
My wife started taking Kung Fu lessons, and in order to make this work, it required that all of our schedules become even more flexible. We sat down and planned out our week around all of the things that absolutely have to be done, and set a minimum number of workouts, with also allowing for the ability to increase them depending on the random chaos that life throws at us. By taking time to commit our schedule to the whiteboard, we are making sure that each others’ fitness goals and our family goals aren’t lost in the shuffle of the week.
We haven’t had a Bruce Lee quote in a while, and it fits with both the schedule flexibility and Kung Fu talk:
“You must be shapeless, formless, like water. When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup. When you pour water in a bottle, it becomes the bottle. When you pour water in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Water can drip and it can crash. Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee
Pitfalls of Couples’ Weight Loss
Much like most other things in relationships, there are going to be some points of friction, where things may not be equal, or both partners are having difficulty meeting in the middle.
While relationships and marriages come in all variations, this becomes incredibly painful in the case of a biological male and biological female relationship, where men generally will lose weight MUCH faster than women. In my own marriage, this has been a source of jealousy, and conflict, and can be incredibly demotivating for your partner if you are the man in this situation. You may also have to deal with the guilt of progressing at a faster rate while your partner deals with that demotivation. Not a fun situation to deal with.
As to the reasons why, the answer really does come down to the biological differences between men and women. Different things are different. Men are generally bigger to begin with, and also carry much more muscle mass. By having more muscle mass, and being larger in general, this means that men need more calories to function, therefore making it easier to cut calories out of their diet. There are also hormonal differences as well, as men have high testosterone and low estrogen, compared to women’s higher estrogen and lower testosterone. This results in more muscle mass for men, again meaning higher calories needed to maintain one’s weight.
This certainly isn’t fair at all, but the primary way that women can up the odds to ensure that they are building more muscle through weight lifting. If you are actively focusing on strength and muscle building as your primary exercise, you’ll increase your muscle mass, and decrease your fat stores, and thus require more calories. Which in turn means you get to eat MORE and lose weight FASTER, and you are more likely going to keep it off.
I know that there is a concern that women will get bulky, but that can’t happen overnight, and it can’t happen in a calorie deficit, and it generally won’t happen for women unless they dedicate their life to doing it, and/or are taking steroids. There is also a genetic component to being bulky, and also keep in mind that if you accidentally DO get too bulky, it’s easier to lose it than gain it.
With all of that said, all of the long-term studies we have about weight loss in men and women show that on a long enough timeline, the differences even out.
With that said, there is STILL the possibility for there to be a big difference in the rate of weight loss between two people of the same biological gender. Why would that be? Personal variability matters, such as differences in genetics, height, starting point, hormones, environment, stress, physical activity, food choices, and sleep quality and quantity. All of these things can cause a dramatic difference in the rate of weight loss.
“Comparison is the thief of joy.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Comparison being the thief of joy is CERTAINLY the case here. It’s super difficult to not compare yourself to your partner if/when they are losing weight faster than you are. My wife and I can entirely sympathize, as while I lost 200lbs in a 2 year period, she lost 60 lbs. This vast difference between us continues to this day, and I’d be lying if I said that my wife wasn’t still jealous. But I can empathize with my wife in this case and can’t blame her for being jealous. If you are the partner that’s losing faster, it’s important that you work with your partner to cultivate a love of the process/lifestyle change itself, rather than worrying about a single metric (the scale). The scale is a cruel master, and unfortunately not a great metric for weight loss in the short term for numerous reasons.
I think it’s critically important that as a couple, you look for other markers of success that are FAR more important than just the scale. Things such as improvements in how you feel, how you are doing BETTER than you were before, how your clothes fit, changes in pictures…and tell each other the differences that you notice!
We see ourselves in the mirror so often that it’s so easy for us to miss differences that others see!
Positive Aspects of Partner Work
“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Finally, there are many positives to working together that those doing things alone don’t have. Your partner can be a powerful ally on your journey and you can’t downplay those benefits!
As you may know, willpower may be both a finite resource and muscle that can be strengthened (I will be talking about this soon). Many of us will be bombarded with temptations at the office all day like free donuts, and cake, invitations to go to lunch, etc. By the time you arrive at home, you won’t have much willpower left, and if your significant other is asking to order fast food or pizza, you’ll be nearly powerless to say no. However, if your significant is your accountability partner, you can borrow from each other’s strength. Let them be weak when you are strong, and you be strong when you are weak. Yes, you may encounter times when you both feel like breaking your new habits, but as you work together, and learn from your missteps, you will both become stronger together.
When you work together, lifestyle changes seem easier. At a family gathering, it’s much easier if both of you are trying to fill your plate with grilled veggies instead of the cheesy potato casserole. There is something indescribable about looking over at your partner, see that they are doing the same thing as you, giving them a nod and a smile. It’s a wordless, hands-free high five, that feels amazing. I don’t think you can find that type of reassurance anywhere else, and I find that it is a great renewer of motivation.
My wife and I just recently had a conversation about this while out on a date night. We both ended up saying how it was a relief that both of us ordered a single scoop of hard ice cream in a waffle cone rather than getting two scoops or a sundae. Had my wife went for the sundae, I realized that I would have felt jealous and wanted more because “it isn’t fair” that she had more than me. Even as a fitness coach, I still struggle with those types of feelings, and I am far from perfect. But I don’t expect perfection from myself, nor from my wife. It really is just about doing better.
One additional benefit is meal sharing, and this is a huge boon when eating out at restaurants. When eating out at a restaurant, we can both make it easier to hit our calorie goals by sharing meals, and ordering an extra salad or side. This also makes it easier to track, as one of us just tracks it, and the other copies. There is no penalty for copying each other’s homework when you are in a relationship. This also makes it easier to fit foods in that might be more calorie dense. For example, this sandwich from one of our favorite restaurants (Fathead’s in Pittsburgh) is called a headwich as it’s as big as a human head. Since the restaurant is one that we frequent (due to how good the food is, and their beer selection is top notch), we can split it and still be satisfied rather than considering the meal a rare treat.
And lastly, the best part of my wife and I working together on our fitness journey is how much better communicators we have become through the process. Weight loss is a highly emotional journey. We want to lose weight (and maintain that) to be healthier, to look better, to feel better, and on days where we feel like we can’t muster the ability to avoid the lure of our comfort foods, we have each other to talk to. It is easier to figure out why you are drawn to a comfort food with your best friend there to discuss it with you. It isn’t just you with your thoughts; you have someone to work through the important questions with: What did you do right? What did you do wrong? What could you do to improve? Being true accountability partners is the best part of having your partner working on healthy habits with you.
When your partner isn’t ready to make lifestyle changes with you; be an example, and lead by example, but also try to show empathy. Put yourself in their shoes. Forcing the journey on someone means that they will reject it. It must be their choice.
Talk to one another. See what differences you have in expectations of what will work when it will work, and if the compromises that you are making to accommodate each other are fair to both of you. It’s important to take note of WHY things will work, and WHY things won’t work for your partner.
Having some flexibility is going to be key in working with your partner on these changes. As you have to reconcile two people’s schedules, desires, and wants. “Become like water my friend.” – Bruce Lee
Remember that comparison is the thief of joy. Show empathy, work with your partner to cultivate a love of the process/lifestyle change itself, rather than worrying about a single metric (the scale).
Use improvements in how you feel, how you are doing BETTER than you were before, how your clothes fit, changes in pictures…and tell each other the differences that you notice!
If your significant other is your accountability partner, you can borrow from each other’s strength. There is something indescribable about looking over at your partner, see that they are doing the same thing as you, giving them a nod and a smile.
When eating out at a restaurant, sharing meals, and order an extra salad or side. This also makes it easier to track, as one person can just copy the others.
Being true accountability partners is the best part of having your partner working on healthy habits with you. It isn’t just you with your thoughts; you have someone to work through the important questions with: What did WE do right? What did WE do wrong? What could WE do to improve?
If you don’t have a significant other in your life, it’s OF UTMOST IMPORTANCE that you find additional support through a community of others going through the same struggles as you!