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How Your Family Keeps You Heavy

SeptLL2_zYou’re at a family gathering, hoping to have a good time… when the questions begin.

“Is that all you’re eating?”

“Have you put on weight?”

“Are you sure you don’t want more cake?”

Sound familiar? These kinds of comments may seem innocent or even well intentioned, but you know how hurtful and unsupportive they can feel. And they run the gamut from inappropriate ways to express concern to mean-spirited attempts to sabotage your health and weight loss plans.

Here’s the thing: If you react angrily or try to defend yourself, you give up your power and make matters worse. When you rise above the drama and don’t let it affect you, you stop dancing the same old dysfunctional dance.

Let’s start with a crash course in family dynamics…

Is Your Family Rigid or Flexible?

A healthy family system is flexible and open, and evolves in support of each person reaching their greatest potential. Your connection with your parents and siblings most likely feels warm and supportive. They probably encourage the positive lifestyle changes you’re making to release weight.

A rigid and closed family system, however, discourages its members from making changes—even positive ones—if those changes threaten the status quo. The healthy steps you’re taking may be met with sarcasm, skepticism or even insults.

For example, if your parents are inactive and routinely eat processed foods, they may criticize your decision to buy organic or get up from the couch to take an after-dinner walk. In such families, loyalty to custom is more important than individual growth, and your movement away from that can feel threatening.

When Loyalty Hurts You

As we develop, we make loyalty agreements with our families. These agreements become the roles we play and beliefs we hold and have a powerful influence on us long after we leave home.

Some of these agreements enrich your life, as in honoring special holiday rituals or feeling inspired to follow in the footsteps of your parent’s career.

Other loyalty agreements—often less obvious and made unconsciously—can thwart your emotional growth and make it hard for you to release weight. For example, when you feel overly responsible and drop everything when your sister calls with a non-urgent request… and end up overeating because you’re so stressed.

How to Shift Your Steps in the Family Dance

Below are four common loyalty agreements people tend make in closed, rigid families. As you read them, notice what resonates for you. If you relate to any, reflect on the question prompt and begin to imagine how breaking that agreement can free you to take better care of yourself, eliminate emotional eating triggers and ultimately help you release weight.

These questions are also handy mantras to repeat to yourself at your next family gathering.

1. I agree to not outshine you.

Perhaps you have an overweight parent or sibling who struggles in life, or who feels jealous when you feel happy. As you begin to lose weight, you may feel guilty for looking better and feeling good. You begin to sabotage yourself and don’t know why.

“What if I believed I’m only responsible for my own happiness?”

2. I agree to be the scapegoat.

Perhaps your role in the family is to be the one always blamed for problems. Their view of you is still based on the role you played years ago and they haven’t changed their reaction to you. And if you haven’t changed yours, you get pulled into the drama each time… and end up overeating afterwards.

“What if I take the higher road, and don’t argue back or try to defend myself?”

3. I agree to honor your needs before my own.

Perhaps your role is to be the family caretaker and put everyone else’s needs above your own. Maybe you feel responsible for everyone and think you’re being “selfish” if you don’t do what’s asked of you. The more burdened you feel, the more you overeat.

“What if I believed it really is okay to say “No?”

4. I agree to stay heavy.

Perhaps your grandparents, parents and siblings also struggle with weight issues. Maybe there’s a history of weight-related illness in your family. As you make healthy lifestyle changes and begin to release weight, your family may unwittingly undermine you. Or perhaps you feel sad and separate from your family as you become thinner. You begin to fall back into old habits and don’t understand why.

“What if I believed that becoming the best version of myself actually helps end ancestral patterns of unhealthy behaviors?”

Don’t allow the family dance to unravel all the good work you’ve done for your health and weight. Keep your focus where it needs to be–on your goal and on how far you’ve come. You may find it helpful to write the question prompts on a card to take with you at family events.

As your habits becomes healthier and your body fitter, remember that there may be resistance. Your family may get upset with you. You may hear comments like these. It’s not easy, I know. But the more you keep your focus on YOU and don’t engage with the dance, the more peaceful your weight-release journey (and your family gatherings) will be.

What loyalty agreements do you need to break?

(Photo Credit: Grandma’s Birthday Dinner)

6 Responses

  1. barb

    Reading your comments makes me wonder about my current comments lightly,family, consisting of my husband of 21 years and myself. My family of origin was alcoholic dad and depressed mom, lots of anger and resentment and competition. As the youngest, I was a lost leftover and have been defensive and undisciplined. Gaining weight post menopause, I used to be the thin, pretty one.
    My hub is an only, his dad was warm, but mom very rigid and judgemental.
    So here we are, I don’t take direction, or comments or even questions lightly and rebel at the perceived or real critsicm. He’d like to help, but my own avoidance has made him suspicious and snarky.
    Yikes, what to do.

    1. Thank you for posting, Barb.

      When your own avoidance is getting in the way, do the opposite and encourage yourself to open up with your husband and allow him to support you. Start with an apology: “I’m sorry I’ve been difficult and rebel against what you say. Thank you for wanting to support me. I appreciate that.” Then take it from there…

      Warmly, Diane

      1. barb

        It would be good for me to apologize instead of picking a fight, seems like lately I’ve been making him apologize an awful lot. I *have* been difficult.
        Such a short fuse and sensitive.

  2. Maria

    Wow I am having the same problem with my mother. Her negativity is always being embedded in me. Everytime I start a weight loss plan or goal she ends up wanting to come along but I already know. I see her talk to other friends about how she can never lose weight and how even if she cuts back she still gains. From gym memberships, walking, zumba I always have to hear something about how WE never lose weight and why do WE bother even doing exercise. I feel like just yelling at her that her negativity affects me and its been affecting me since my childhood. She always puts herself down and drags me and my sister along with her. The few times Ive tried standing my ground she ends up going into depression.. I just don’t know what to do. I feel I would accomplish much more if she did her own thing and worked on her own self image issues.

    1. Hi Maria,

      Seems you need to establish better boundaries with your mother. Maybe it’s best not to share so much with her about the lifestyle changes you’re making so you can begin to create some separation. Support her in helpful ways when she’s depressed, but remember that you are not the cause of her depression. When she puts herself down, you could simply say, “That sounds hard. I’m sorry you feel that way.” And do the best you can to not let her negativity become “embedded” in you, as you say. Shifting our boundaries with family members is a process and takes time, so be patient with yourself as you make these changes. Thanks for posting and I wish you well.


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