Change Ain’t Easy

I’m in the business of helping people change. This can be a tough business to be in, because people don’t like change. They want to lose weight, but when they start to learn of the dedication and requirements to do so, some of them balk. Or they try to bargain with me, telling me they’re willing to do some things, but not others.

I don’t take offense. I get it. I was there once myself. I didn’t want to have to face that pizza and KFC every night wouldn’t work for my waistline. I didn’t want to go to the gym. I didn’t want to have to make the sacrifices necessary to get healthy, and that held me back from reaching my goals for years.

The day came when I grew sick and tired of being sick and tired. That’s when I decided it was time to change.

My weight loss coach was good. He told me what to expect. He said that family might not understand what I was doing, and might even deliberately try to sabotage the process. He said that people would start to look at me differently, especially in the workplace. They would compliment me, treat me better. He suggested that, if I had self-esteem issues, this might be uncomfortable for me. He was right.

As I work with clients who want to change how they look and feel, there are 2 things that are often the hardest for them to accept. The first is that they need to change what they eat, they need to start exercising, and they may need to change people they hang out with, places they go and things they do as well. That’s hard. That’s why I teach people a grief process for letting go of an old way of life.

Secondly, they need to accept that their family, friends and significant other might just try and sabotage their efforts, out of fear. The family might be overweight, and doesn’t want to be confronted by that fact. Your changing your eating and exercising habits & losing weight can be perceived by them as a challenge to their decisions and way of life. Your friends might be in the same boat.

And your significant other? He/she might just feel threatened that you want to leave them for someone else, and that’s why you’re doing this. Or they may just worry that, as you become thinner and more attractive, others will be more drawn to you and might steal you away from them.

In the mid-2000s, I ran a project for a company where I was responsible for migrating one computer system over to another one. I made many mistakes during the early stages of that project, and most of them had to do with not managing expectations well enough. There were times that I didn’t communicate my intentions, what I needed, and what the end result would look like either well enough, often enough, or sometimes both.

This resulted in frustrated end-users who felt they were being kept out of the loop; that they were having a system foisted on them with no say of their own in how it should work. I learned quickly to start involving more people in the process, and in the end it was a success, but it wasn’t without its struggles, and most of them had to do with insufficient communication.

If you’re planning to embark on a weight loss project – or if you’re currently on one – and you find that you’re getting resistance, take a look at your communication patterns. This especially applies with people you love or care about. Have you explained clearly why you’re doing it? Have you been clear that this is not about you wanting to replace, or to leave, them? Have you asked them for your support, while telling them simultaneously that you’re not asking them to change how they eat or exercise?

These – and other reassurances – may well go a long way to helping them understand what you’re doing. They might just become your biggest fans and champions, if you can assure them that your project isn’t a threat to them. I see it happen all the time: when a person is clear with everyone around them that they’re committed to the project, and that it’s not a threat to anyone else, family and friends often become the person’s biggest defenders.

“Oh he doesn’t eat that,” they’ll tell the waiter who brings a loaf of bread out to you. Or they’ll let their friends know how you eat so, when you both attend the friend’s barbecue, there’s food there for you. Managed right, it can bring you closer to your loved ones, rather than be seen as divisive.

My old weight loss coach, Harvey Brooker, told a story once of a man who had started on his weight loss program. The wife called Harvey after day one, furious with him, accusing him of “Ruining the family’s fun together.” I don’t know for sure, but I’m wondering if perhaps the husband could have helped avoid this situation through more transparent communication? Who knows, but you get my point.

Change is hard. Hard on you, but hard on those around you as well who are watching you as you try to lose weight. Make it as easy as possible on them – and hence on yourself – through clear communication and managing their expectations.