Convincing a stubborn partner to shed a few pounds can seem like an impossible task.
But now, there is new evidence that your own weight-loss efforts might “trickle down” to loved ones, according to researchers at the University of Connecticut.
In the study, researchers found that one-third of the partners of people engaged in formal weight-loss programs lost 3 percent or more of their body weight after six months.
This was true even though these partners were not actively trying to lose weight themselves. The study found that couples often begin to engage in shared behaviors – such as counting calories, tracking their weight or eating low-fat foods – that have positive impacts.
The study results do not surprise Erin Palinski-Wade, a registered dietitian and author of “Belly Fat Diet For Dummies.”
“When those around us start to change their lifestyle habits, we often adapt to these new habits as well,” she says.
The right ways to encourage a partner to lose weight
Although the study found that weight-loss regimens can be shared and contagious, dropping pounds remains a very personal, individualized journey, Palinski-Wade says.
So, if you are trying to encourage a partner to lose weight, use methods that are especially likely to appeal to your loved one.
For example, some people require constant encouragement, feedback and praise to stay on track when trying to slim down. But others might react negatively to a steady stream of talk about weight, diet or exercise.
"Your best-intended comment could come across as insulting or nagging," Palinski-Wade says.
If your partner is among those likely to resist such well-intended encouragement, Palinski-Wade suggests you simply model behaviors you would like your partner to display.
"Don’t nag your partner to eat more vegetables," she says. "Instead, just make sure there are plenty of vegetables in the house and lead by example by filling your dish with them at each meal."
Another way to subtly motivate your partner is to encourage exercise by making it fun.
"Maybe take a hike on the weekend together as you catch up on conversation," Palinksi-Wade says. "Or, go out dancing versus going out to dinner."
Taking a slow-and-steady approach
It’s important to make these changes gradually. In fact, the single biggest stumbling block to weight-loss success – for you or a partner – is switching up things too rapidly, Palinski-Wade says.
"Weight loss is not a quick fix," she says. "You need to make changes you can stick with for life if you want to lose weight and keep it off for life."
Even modest lifestyle changes create habits that gradually lead to success. "Eating at the table versus eating in front of the TV can be a very small lifestyle change, but it promotes more mindful eating, which often improves portion control." Palinski-Wade says.
As these modest changes snowball over time, lasting weight loss becomes more likely and sustainable.
"The smaller the change, the more likely you are to stick with it," Palinski-Wade says. "Make changes that seem so easy they don’t feel like much effort at all. Then, add on to them from there."
Finally, don’t be too hard on yourself – or a partner – if either of you stumble and regain some weight.
“Most of us are not successful at our first attempts at anything,” Palinski-Wade says. “We all make mistakes -- that’s how we learn.”
Past failures at weight loss are simply opportunities to learn what doesn’t work for you and your partner, Palinski-Wade says. “Look at why the failure happened and what you can change,” she says. “From there, you can learn to be more successful.”