You're determined and steadfast in your decision to finally diet off those extra pounds. But it's not two days into your new weight loss plan and your kids can't seem to stop munching mounds of potato chips in front of you, your spouse is leaving boxes of cookies open everywhere, and their dinnertime demands for gravy and mashed potatoes make it seem like a conspiracy is underfoot!
"It can be very difficult, in fact, when only one member of the family is trying to change their eating habits and the rest of the family either doesn't have to, or really doesn't want to," says Linda Spangle, RN, author of 100 Days of Weight Loss, and a weight loss and nutrition counselor in Denver.
Hard, she says, but not impossible. Many experts agree that with a bit of forethought and some clever conversation, we can not only get our loved ones to support our diet efforts, but also help change everyone's eating habits for the better. Where do you begin? Experts say it starts with knowing what you want.
Your Perfect World
While you may know exactly what kind of family behavior causes your diet to derail, Spangle says most of us are far less clear on what we really need in terms of support. "Dieters will say to their family 'I want you to support me on my diet,' and the family member says 'OK, I will,'" says Spangle. "And then they are left on their own to guess how, and most of the time what they guess is wrong." The end result: The dieter gets frustrated, even furious, and so does the other family member.
The solution, she says, is to stop and think about what you really want in terms of support, then take pen to paper and write your "Perfect World" list. This should consist of the optimum ways your family could lend you a hand, be as specific as possible". Instead of just saying 'Be nicer to me,' or 'Help me,'' give specific ideas about what you would like them to do or not do," says Spangle.
So if you want them to eat dessert in another room, write that down; if you want them to make food a non-issue so your diet is never discussed, write that down, too. Then, share the list with your family. Actually read it out loud in front of the family, it makes it easier to remember everything that was on your mind. Do come prepared for a little negotiation.
"Compromise has to be built into your diet mentality from the start, and that's the only way to get your whole family on board," says Joy Bauer, MS, RD, director of Joy Bauer Nutrition in New York. If you come armed with some negotiating points -- things you can offer up in return for their cooperation -- it may be easier to get it, says Bauer.
Getting Your Family Involved
While convincing your kids to eat ice cream only when you're not around is one thing, getting that same level of cooperation when foods on the dinner table begin to change is quite another. If you're the only one trying to lose weight, others may see your attempts to change the family eating habits as unfair.
One way of dealing with this, of course, is to cook separate meals for yourself. Another is to make mealtime changes less about your weight loss goals, and more about upgrading the family to a healthier way of eating. "Don't just say Mom or Dad is on a diet instead, tell them you are all going to work together, as a family, to improve everyone's health through healthier eating."
To get your children on board, talk about the advantages of sports nutrition, brainpower, and muscles and energy to work and play, says Bauer. When talking to your spouse, mention things like aging gracefully, better sex, more stamina. "Get them to see an advantage for them if they adopt some of your healthy eating plans," says Bauer. Coming up with healthful activities you and your spouse can do together can also help, like doubles tennis or a walking program. Getting the whole family involved in at least one group activity every week can also help.
Spangle says we should also use this time to teach our children about things like healthy portions and mindful eating; reminding them that it's not a good idea to eat until they're stuffed, but only until they're full. "This is a great time to teach others good, basic principles of healthy eating -- things that will make a difference in their life down the road.”
It may help if you mention that the suggestions for change came from your doctor. "You don't want to scare the children or even your spouse, but if you mention your doctor has suggested some dietary changes for the whole family, it does elicit a level of respect that encourages people to cooperate more," says Spangle.
You've got to Have Friends!
Recognize that you really don't need anyone but yourself to succeed. "The control is really in your hands," says psychologist Abby Aronowitz, PhD, author of Your Final Diet. "And while it may be nice to have everyone in your life on board with what you are doing, it's essential to recognize that it's not necessary, it's not intrinsic to your success. You have the power to do it on your own." In fact, relying on others to get you through each dieting day is setting yourself up for disaster, she says.
"You have to want to do it for you and you have to take control. That's a big part of dieting success," Aronowitz tells WebMD. At the same time, losing weight isn't easy, and having some encouragement somewhere in your life is important. So if you can't get that team spirit inside the home, look for it outside.
"Try to recruit a weight loss buddy -- on the web, or at your gym -- or find a co-worker or neighbor that is either in the same place that you are, or has already been there and can help to coach you. Also the Internet can provide you with a whole world of virtual support -- and you'd be surprised at how much less your family's lack of support means when you belong to a community that understands and shares your goals," says Bauer.
A Week's Worth of Strategies
Still wish your family would get on board with your weight loss plan, or convinced they won't, no matter what? Here are seven tips from our experts -- one for each day of the week. Try them out and see if they make a difference!
1. To avoid temptation in the supermarket, put only the healthiest foods on your shopping list. Then ask your spouse and kids to have a "goodie run," where they go to the market once a week and buy their favorite treats. Have them keep their treats in a place you don't go every day -- maybe the garage or basement.
2. Ask each member of the family to make a list of their favorite treat foods. Then pick those that you like least to keep in the house. They'll be satisfied, and you won't be nearly as tempted.
3. If you all love the same treats, ask family members to eat the high-calorie ones outside the home. As a compromise, offer to pick up the tab.
4. Control the portions. You can make your family high-calorie dinners or desserts, but make only enough for one meal. No leftovers means less temptation!
5. Try the 5-2 Plan: Five days a week, you plan the meals; two days a week, others in the family get to chose where and what to eat. You compensate by eating smaller portions.
6. Don't overlook the power of bribery. If your kids are dying to get to Disneyland or your hubby wants that new putter, give them the green light only if they help overhaul family meal times.
7. Cheat! Start pouring skim milk into a whole milk container, add water to the orange juice, cut some sugar and fat out of each recipe. Go for gradual changes -- and mum's the word! Chances are your family won't even notice.