You’d think dieting with your partner would offer both support and motivation, making it easier to reach your weight-loss goals. Well, you’d be wrong—at least according to a study published in Eating Behaviors.
Jennifer Harman, PhD, an associate professor at Colorado State University, and her colleagues looked at 50 overweight couples who pledged to lose weight in the New Year. They discovered that the more successful one partner was at eating healthier, the less successful the other partner was at controlling his or her own food portions.
What gives? Watching someone achieve a goal that’s important to you may threaten your self-esteem, Harman explains. You do one of two things to cope: distance yourself from the person achieving your goal or distance yourself from the goal itself. “The people we studied were married, so distancing themselves from their partners wasn’t easy (or desirable),” says Harman. “So the other option was to lose confidence in their ability to control portion sizes and lose weight.”
This came as a shock to Harman, who assumed that a support system of any kind would be more beneficial than not. But studies show that self-esteem drops when someone performs better than you when you’re working just as hard toward a common goal. Case in point: When the husbands in the Colorado State study (who were successful in the weight-loss realm) monitored their weight by stepping on a scale or checking themselves out in the mirror, their wives became more negative about dieting and monitored their own weight less.
Whether you’re dieting alone or with a partner or friend, gaining confidence in regulating portion sizes is critical, says Harman, who found that women are less confident than men in their ability to control portions. “Only put the right portion size on your plate, as getting up to get more food takes effort,” Harman says. “If it seems like the portion size was too small, and you still don’t feel full after eating it, wait a few minutes so that your stomach has enough time to tell the brain whether you’ve eaten enough to feel full.”
And remember: Everyone loses weight at different rates. “Your confidence will build over time as weight-loss goals are reached,” Harman says. “It just takes a lot of careful monitoring—and patience!”