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Losing weight can feel like an insurmountable task, but new research shows our loved ones could be making it even harder for us.
According to British psychologists, friends and family may be conspiring to ‘sabotage’ our efforts to lose weight, either deliberately or ‘unconsciously’.
They may be doing this by discouraging us from attending weight loss support groups or from eating healthily, perhaps by tempting us with sugary treats.
Others may be ‘colluding’ with us to stay in and watch a film on the sofa after work, rather than going out for a walk or going to the gym.
The new study follows a worrying report that predicts more than half of the world’s 8 billion people will be overweight by 2035.
Friends and family may be conspiring to ‘sabotage’ our efforts to lose weight, although sometimes it’s not deliberate (file photo)
It was conducted by University of Surrey experts who claim that ‘not all social support is beneficial’ and can be negative rather than positive.
The experts reviewed existing studies and new primary data from 30 interviews to determine negative social support that someone might face when they’re trying to lose weight.
From this they were able to identify three primary ways that a friend, partner or family member can disrupt our weight loss journey – ‘sabotage’, ‘collusion’ and ‘feeding’.
Sabotage is the ‘active and intentional undermining of another person’s weight goals’ and can include discouraging us from switching to a healthier diet, perhaps by pointing out the extra costs or saying the food isn’t as tasty.
So-called ‘saboteurs’ can also undermine our efforts to increase physical activity, perhaps by refusing to go for walks with us or highlighting the cost of a gym membership.
Meanwhile, ‘collusion’ is what study author Professor Jane Ogden describes as something ‘we do all the time in all of our lives’ in the presence of loved ones.
‘For example a person doesn’t really want to eat well or do any exercise or want to go to their weight loss support group and says ‘Oh I don’t think I can be bothered to go this evening’,’ Professor Ogden told MailOnline.
‘A good friend or partner would say, ‘No, come on, let’s go for that walk’, whereas somebody who is colluding would say ‘Yes that’s a good idea, let’s stay in and watch a film’.
‘The partner goes along with it – so it’s a kind of conflict avoidance thing.
‘It’s what we do all the time in all of our lives – it’s absolutely basic friendship and how we build friends, but it’s not always the best thing for someone else.’
Our partners may be ‘colluding’ with us to not get enough exercise – perhaps by not offering enough motivation to get off the sofa and get some exercise (stock image)
Lastly, feeding behaviour is the explicit over-feeding of us even when we’re not hungry, or when we’re making an effort to eat less.
Although the term is widely associated with the sexual fetish, it can also be done in a non-sexual context too.
Non-sexual motivations for feeding can be wanting to prevent food from going to waste or even just as a affectionate gesture ‘as a sign of family love’ – such as buying a sweet treat to show us they care.
Often, the three types of ‘negative social support’ are unintentional and people don’t know the damage they’re having on their loved-one’s weight loss efforts.
However, Professor Ogden said some consciously and deliberately perform the behaviours too, perhaps because they don’t like the changes brought on by our weight loss goals, or because they have their own insecurities.
‘Weight loss often results in change, from giving a person more confidence to a change in social dynamics in their relationships,’ she said.
‘Many do not welcome such changes and may, consciously or subconsciously, try to derail a person’s attempts to lose weight in order to keep things the way they are.
‘If you’re partner is starting to lose weight, it might make you feel insecure, as they might be looking elsewhere, they might be getting attention from someone else, they might be getting more confident.
‘And all of that can create a huge tension for somebody so you might well think, ‘if I can stop them from doing this, then we would be happy’.’
Loved ones may be ‘a feeder’ – a form of ‘fat fetishism’ where someone gets pleasure from feeding their partner (file photo)
Professor Ogden stressed that we should all be careful to offer positive support rather than negative support to loved ones if they’re trying to lose weight.
‘If your partner is going through a weight loss journey and you’re finding it undermining or a challenge or stressful, you need to look out, watch yourself and see whether what you’re doing is supporting them,’ she told MailOnline.
‘In terms of collusion, I think you have to be braver in terms of being prepared to accept there will be conflict in the short-term in order for the greater good in the longer term.
‘That isn’t about just going along with somebody else – you have to sometimes say, ‘Hold on a minute, should you really be eating that’ or ‘Should you be sitting on the sofa?’
‘If you’re being more of a saboteur because you’re trying to undermine them, then I think you do have to think, ‘What is in this for me and why am I doing this? If I love my partner like I say and think I do then I should be trying better to do what’s right for them’.’
The new study was published in the journal Current Obesity Reports.