The Impact of Family on Weight Loss
The following is a guest post from a friend of mine who is a family therapist. I believe that effective weight loss stands on three pillars, diet, exercise, and psychology. I focus mostly on the diet and exercise part in the blog but I wanted to expand to address the psychological impact of weight. Hopefully more posts along these lines will be coming. Enjoy…
If you are a reader of this blog, I am guessing that you are interested in losing weight. I’d like to offer a new angle to this problem, as seen from my perspective as a marriage and family therapist. Family therapy as a formal approach involves addressing problems people face in the context of their family as a system, not just as the problem of a single person who happens to be in a family. Weight management too can be seen and addressed through this lens.
If you struggle with your weight, consider what effect your family system is having on your efforts. If the rest of your family is obese, do you feel hopeless about the possibility of success, wondering if you are fighting a battle whose outcome has already been genetically predetermined? Even if your family is not congenitally overweight, are the people living in your home trying to be weight-conscious as well? Or are they apathetic about their own weight, making it harder for you to keep up your enthusiasm? Do they support your efforts, or do they make sarcastic comments when you add up your calories in an effort to belittle the value of what you are doing so as not to have to face it themselves?
Clearly, there are many ways in which your family can help or hinder your efforts to lose weight, both explicitly and tacitly. In order to buttress your attempts at weight loss, it can therefore be advantageous to look at the system of your family – i.e., the way the actions of one member directly affect all the other members – and find ways to alter that system. Issues that might be impacting on your efforts can sometimes be obvious, such as a family member’s eating disorder. If you have a parent with a food addiction, naturally that’s likely to affect your own views towards food, perhaps leading you to follow in the same path, or to reject it and go to the other extreme. But systemic effects can be far less evident too – is a child with a school performance problem causing you stress? Does your spouse’s lack of attraction to you alter your own body image?
A family system can also provide a lot of positive input for the individual. For example, a marriage is a great place to seek support for your weight loss campaign. If you haven’t already talked about this with your spouse, I highly recommend it. Does s/he cook? Perhaps s/he can undertake to prepare you healthful, low-fat, tasty meals. You may have trouble getting the initiative to do so for yourself, but your spouse can fill that role, especially if s/he is not focusing all his/her energy on losing weight him/herself. If they do not cook? How about being on top of keeping the house stocked with nutritious snacks instead of junk food? This of course points to the reality that a spouse who is committed to you and your values ought to be more than happy to provide moral support by accepting upon him/herself to give up junk food too (at least temporarily), rather than objecting to the impact your needs are having on him/her.
In short, weight management is a monumental effort, as you know all too well. As you dig in your heels to make it work, consider reaching out to those closest to you to create a family system that supports your efforts instead of hampering them. Certainly seeking out professional help from a family therapist or other mental health specialist can make this process easier and more effective, but, as in the examples above, there are many small adjustments that can be made on your own at home that have much promise for improved results.
Raffi Bilek, LCSW-C is a licensed therapist in Baltimore, MD and the director of the Baltimore Therapy Center. He loves working with couples and other family relationships. You can check him out at baltimoretherapycenter.com.