“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)