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Are you a weight loss saboteur?

Louise Halder, Senior Specialist Dietician, Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (WISDEM)

Published January 2014

When someone decides to take steps to lose weight, support from family, friends and even work colleagues can make a big difference. But are you doing or saying things that could be making it harder for the person in your life to lose weight? Louise Halder, Senior Specialist Dietician from WISDEM (a collaboration with Warwick Medical School, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust) sheds light on the weight loss saboteurs, what to do if you are a saboteur, as well as steps you can take if you’re trying to lose weight and need support from those around you.

MacaronsThis is the term given to people who, whether consciously or otherwise, derail a person’s attempts to lose weight. They might make negative comments or put pressure on a person to eat food they are trying to cut down on. What is a weight loss saboteur?

Take a look at the questions below to find out if you’re a weight loss saboteur.

  • Do you feel guilty when your friend is losing weight but you’re not and say things to try and make them stop?
  • Do you encourage people to just eat what they want because you’ve never struggled with your weight?
  • Do you miss your eating/drinking buddy and try and tempt them back?
  • Do you get jealous of your friends success and make comments like “you look too thin” or “your face is gaunt”?
  • Do you act insulted and make a person feel guilty because they refused the food you cooked?
  • Do you buy cakes for the office, on birthdays or just because it’s Friday?
  • Do you leave friends out because “they are on a diet”
  • Do you say “let’s get a takeaway” when you know your partner is trying to lose weight?
  • Do you insist and wont take no for an answer saying things like “go on, one wont hurt”
  • Do you offer food or snacks between meals?
  • Do you buy chocolates or wine for gifts when you know a person struggles with weight?
  • Do you comment on the size of a person’s meal?

If you answered yes to any of the above then like it or not, you are a weight loss saboteur.

How to be a weight loss supporter instead of a saboteur

So you’re a weight loss saboteur? There are plenty of things you can do and say to turn things around, including:

  • Offering to make a meal, if the person trying to lose weight says they are too tired to cook and suggests a takeaway. Even a simple meal like egg on toast or soup will help reduce the temptation.
  • Try eating the same healthy foods and avoid eating or putting tempting foods on display in front of the other person.
  • People often snack when they’re bored or watching TV so suggest some other activities that you can both enjoy. Going bowling, playing pool, or even going for a walk – they all help. Or suggest joining a night class, where you can do something together, it could be salsa dancing or an art class.
  • Be positive and encourage every achievement, no matter how big or small. If the person losing weight gives up because of a minor slip up, remind them of all their achievements to date. Dwelling on the negative stuff can reinforce ideas the person may have that they are a failure.
  • Rather than focusing on diet, show you care by ensuring the person knows you are thinking of them. It could be an email, text message or a quick phone call to ask how their day is going.

Teaching unconscious saboteurs to support you

If you’re trying to lose weight there are also things you can do to get support from those around you. Especially those well meaning people who do not realise they are saboteurs.

Let people know how important your lifestyle change is to you. It’s ok to say that you want to succeed and that you will need support to achieve this.

People aren’t mind readers, it is sensible to give examples of how they can help. Teaching the right things to do and say will prevent your supporter from nagging:

  • Do not offer me seconds
  • Please put less food on my plate
  • Just give me a cup of tea, I don’t need biscuits
  • Offer to walk with me to remind and encourage me to go out
  • Please hide office snack foods
  • Please do not keep asking how much weight have I lost?

Learn to be firm with saboteurs

Even if you say something to your friends, family and colleagues, you might find that some people are still saboteurs. Try to limit time with these people and remember that they may well have their own problems and agendas. True friends will support and encourage you no matter what, so focus on spending time with people who are happy to have food-free activities such as meeting up for coffee or going to see a film.

It can be hard to say no to a saboteur, you may not want to appear rude or hurt their feelings. Many of us feel uncomfortable saying no to things, and often that’s because we’re taught that being polite and good means saying yes to things as well as avoiding conflict. If you don’t want a biscuit or a slice of cake, you are not being rude when you say “no thank you”. Remember that the person who is insisting is being rude for not respecting what you want.

Some useful approaches to take when saying no include:

  • Practice in front of a mirror if you find it difficult to say no, then try it out with a supportive friend who will not challenge youIf you are going out, eat or drink before you go – it’s much easier to say no when you’re not hungry.
  • Take your own food, people do it all the time it is fine!If you are conditioned from childhood to eat all on your plate because it is a waste not to. Recognise that you do this. Don’t be afraid to ask for smaller servings and tell yourself it is better to leave food than to eat it.

Losing weight requires you to decide to permanently change your learned eating and activity habits. Unhelpful barriers need to be removed, so getting the right support from family, friends and colleagues because they can help you. Supporters need encouragement too; a little thank you and a reminder of your goals from time to time will ensure they don’t revert back to their saboteur ways.

Find out more about Warwick’s Medical Research and how you can support this work.



Louise HalderLouise Halder
is a Specialist Weight Management and Research Dietitian at the Warwickshire Institute for the Study of Diabetes, Endocrinology and Metabolism (WISDEM). The Institute is a flagship partnership tackling diabetes and related metabolic conditions. It aims to help improve the care of individuals with diabetes and other hormonal illnesses through excellence in clinical care, education and research.

The centre opened in January 2007 and is in the East Wing of University Hospital Coventry. In addition to providing over 20 specialist clinical services, research and teaching activities also take place.

WISDEM is also a unique collaboration between Warwick Medical School, University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire NHS Trust (UHCW) and plays a critical part in UHCW’s strategy to Care, Achieve and Innovate for its patients and staff.