6 Ways Your Friends and Family Might Be Ruining Your Weight Loss Effort

Annie is a 45 year old mom of 3. She wakes up one day fed up with being 50 pounds overweight and decides to make some big changes.  She goes shopping for healthier foods, searches for healthy recipes, and dusts off the treadmill in the basement.  At dinner her husband and son complain about eating the veggie stir fry she made and so fire up the grill for cheeseburgers. She asks her husband to bring the treadmill up from the cold damp basement so she can use it in front of the TV, but he argues that it will be an eyesore.  When Annie is frustrated by having to write down everything she eats, she vents to her husband.  He says, “Honey, why bother with all this stress?  You look great, you don’t want to get too skinny anyway!”  Annie and her family have a weekly pizza night on Fridays with the neighbors.  She suggests that they switch things up once in a while and get rotisserie chickens instead of pizza and the neighbors say,  “Gosh, I don’t know,  the kids really won’t eat that kind of chicken.  Pizza is nice because everyone loves it and it’s so cheap!”  She decides to bring herself a healthier meal and the neighbor comments, “Got your bird food with you again, eh?!” which Annie finds embarrassing. For the holidays, Annie is proud of her decision to bake only 2 batches of low-cal cookies instead of her usual 10 batches of peanut butter cookies.  Her mother, looking disappointed says, “Everybody loves your peanut butter cookies. You have brought them every year for 20 years! Not everyone wants to eat those cardboard cookies!” 

How would you guess Annie feels right now?  Very frustrated!  Annie’s new habits are encountering resistance from so many people in her life.  Of course Annie cannot expect that everyone is going to change their lives just because she wants to lose weight, but that is precisely the point. She’s surrounded by people who live a different lifestyle, not one that is conducive to her making healthy decisions.

Annie’s story demonstrates 6 ways that people in your life can put a damper on your weight loss motivation:

1. Refusal to assist – People may obstruct your weight loss effort by not providing assistance when you ask for it. Annie asked her husband if he could move the treadmill, but he refused to do it because he didn’t like the idea of a treadmill in his bedroom.  This forces Annie to have to go back to the drawing board in thinking about how to get in more exercise, and makes the option of the treadmill one that involves doing it in a cold, damp basement with no TV. Her neighbors also refused to assist when she suggested an alternative to pizza. Both of these actions force her to come up with alternative solutions.

2. Refusal to join – Everything is more fun with a friend, so when friends and family refuse to join you it forces you to have to go it alone.  Annie’s husband didn’t want to walk with her which likely made the walks less fun for her.  Something about braving the cold evening with a buddy makes it so much more desirable than doing it alone. Because the latter is less fun, it will be harder to get motivated to do it and Annie will probably end up skipping the walk more often than if she had a buddy.

3. Sabotage – Sabotage is when someone does something that makes your plan more difficult to implement. It can be intentional or nonintentional. Annie’s husband and son sabotaged her dinner plans by making cheeseburgers when she planned the stir fry.  Her husband also sabotaged her efforts by bringing her the chocolates. Her husband may or may not have had good intentions but either way, it presents a barrier to her progress.

4. Criticize/Ridicule – Family and friends can be a huge source of criticism and ridicule for many people.  Annie was ridiculed by her neighbor who teased that she eats “bird food” and by her mother that her cookies are “cardboard.”  It goes without saying that nobody likes to be criticized!

5. Kindly urge to quit – When taking on a difficult challenge in life the last thing we want to hear from people we love is advice to quit.  Annie’s husband was urging her to quit by telling her she looked great and should not bother with the stress of dieting.  This comes as a motivational buzz kill at a time when she really could have used a pep talk.

6. Unkindly urge to quit – Advice to quit can come in very unkind ways too.  Annie’s mom in no uncertain terms told her not to bring the low fat cookies again. This puts Annie in a bind when it comes to the holiday because her choice now is to 1) make low fat cookies and upset her mother or 2) make the high fat cookies and then risk overeating them.  Neither option is good for her motivation.

When you try to lose weight, do you ever feel like Annie?  Do you ever feel like an island that is surrounded by a sea of giant waves that seem to want to pull you under?  It is astounding how much other people affect our motivation!  Sometimes it’s blatant, sometimes quite subtle, but often it is very insidious.  Here’s how to find out if you are an island.  Think of the 5 people with whom you spend the most time.  Assign 1 point for each person who lives a lifestyle that is as healthy or healthier than the lifestyle you want, meaning they exercise as much or more than you and have as healthy or healthier diet.  Add up your total points out of 5.  If your score is 0-2, you might be an island. If you are an island, you are at high risk of sinking.

If you are sinking, it’s time to find a weight loss buddy.  If you need buddies, join my FUdiet Facebook Group!  It’s private, supportive, FREE, goals are easy and fun, and all advice and goals are evidence-based.  To join, send me an email at sherry.pagoto@umassmed.edu.


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  1. Scott says:

    This is where it’s a benefit that I’m such a stubborn a-hole. I have no problem being the bad guy and if you get in the way of my weight loss I’ll be damn sure to tell you about it. If you don’t like it then you can go “pound sand”

    Hmm, I wonder if this is why I have so few friends.

  2. these are great! yes, it can be tough to try to be healthy (even if you aren’t trying to lose weight) around people who just haven’t seen the light yet. I try to leave a little of that light behind with me when i leave the room….
    and, btw, that picture next to #4 is hysterical…..i love drawings in that style!!
    Be Well,

  3. Angie says:

    I’ve had to endure some of the ridicule from family/friends. I simply try to smile and change the subject. I’ve noticed the people who are the least supportive tend to be the ones who really wish they had the willpower to get healthy and lose weight, but since they haven’t made up their minds to do it, they feel threatened by anyone who is doing it. Kinda like crabs in a bucket, they pull down anyone trying to get out. Thankfully, my husband is ok to be along for the ride on my weight loss journey because he wants to lose a few pounds himself and is happy with the results he has had. However, I do lack good motivators among my friends and family. I am the cheerleader for those I know trying to live healthy, but I don’t have those same resources in my corner, other than my “e-friends”. If my motivation is low, I have to get it from my Twitter family or resources online like this blog. So thanks for helping me stay on track!

    • Sherry says:

      Thanks for your comment Angie! I’m constantly amazed at the power of the Twitter healthy family! It motivates me daily too!

  4. I think I must be pretty lucky, my friends and family are all super supportive. When I have a bad weigh-in they give me words of encouragement and tell me not to give up over a bad weigh-in cause I’ve been doing so well. And they cheer with me when I have good weigh-ins. Not to mention when I come over for dinner, they do their best to serve someting healthy for me!

    The hardest part for me is my office, thankfully I’m celiac so I can avoid the baked goods that get brought in, but the mountains of chocolate and candy left on the counter for us….woo, that’s a hard one. But even my coworkers keep encouraging me on my weight loss journey.

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