At what point do I step back from being the supportive friend?
July 16, 2013 10:43 AM   Subscribe

I need help deciding how to set boundaries with a friend - if I should even BE setting these sorts of boundaries. More within.

I have a good friend who has been struggling to lose weight for the entire time that I have known her – at least a decade. She and I started out as compatriots in this struggle, and about 5 years ago something finally clicked for me and I stuck with the plan and lost the weight. She’s yo-yoed up and down, up and down over the years.

I have been her biggest cheerleader through all of this. She will make a declaration – “This is it! I’m going to do it!” and enlist my support. I’ve joined exercise groups with her, I’ve done research on different diets with her, I even joined Weight Watchers with her at one point. It always, always, always ends the same way.

She loses interest and I find myself being not only the cheerleader, but the coach. And then I become the Mom. I go from being her compatriot to her supporter to being a nag. I think that, in the end, she sees the work as something to fight against (“Rules suck! This sucks! Neither you nor any stupid diet can tell me what to do!”). She is the queen of self-sabotage and I try to help, I try to be supportive, but she fights against it. And then, once her diet and exercise plan has collapsed into a little pile of cinders, she feels bad about herself. Until the next time she throws down the gauntlet and decides “This is it! I’m going to do it!” and enlists my support.

So, here we go again. This time it’s running and the Atkins diet. She’s asked me to join her in training for a 5k at the end of the summer. She is sending me information about Atkins and claiming that it’d be good for me to try as well.

Not only do I not want to do it (run or Atkins), I’m getting so tired of this cycle and just want to not be involved anymore. And then I feel like crap because I KNOW it’s hard for her, I know that she struggles, and that I am her friend (her diet and exercise friend, even). But it’s a time-suck, an energy-suck, an emotion-suck, and in some cases a money-suck (signing up for races that she is 99% not going to even show up for).

Mefites, help. Am I being selfish? Should I continue to support her efforts, even though I know that odds are we’ll be heading down the same path? Should I tell her that I can’t do it anymore? How can I let her down after setting up this long pattern of being the person she can count on for help with this?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
"I'm really busy [at work / with my family / with my hobby], so I don't think I'll be able to fit [training for a 5K / going Atkins / signing up for some other damn thing] into my schedule right now. But I'd love to hear about how it's going for you."

On second request, "I'm sorry. That won't be possible."
posted by Etrigan at 10:47 AM on July 16, 2013 [9 favorites]

You can support her from the sidelines without being her training partner, coach, or mother.

I'd go with, "Hey, that sounds like a great program! I'm a little burned out on all the training and dieting, though, but I hope you have a lot of fun with it! I'd love to hear about how it goes."

Then don't, don't, don't get into a cycle where you're in charge of policing her behavior. If she says things are great, you can say, "That's so awesome!" If she says things are hard, you can say, "That sounds really difficult" (don't follow up by problem-solving for her, or even cheerleading for her; you know that just backfires, so stop it). If she doesn't mention it, you can (thank GOD) talk about something other than exercise and dieting.
posted by jaguar at 10:48 AM on July 16, 2013 [21 favorites]

I was going to post something similar to what Etrigan wrote. That's good stuff. It allows you to be supportive yet distance yourself from it.
posted by zzazazz at 10:48 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

You're not being selfish, you don't HAVE to do anything you don't want to do.

You can send her a note, "I know Atkins works for a lot of folks, but it's not for me. Also, I'm not interested in training for a 5k. But I'm sure you'll meet lots of folks doing the same thing. Hang in there! I know you can do it."

And leave it at that.

I too fight my weight, I'm 50, post menopausal and I take a bunch of drugs, all of which seem to have the side-effect of weight gain. Yay! I still try occasionally, I try to be healthy and that's what I'm willing to do.

Don't judge, offer supportive words, but don't become wrapped up in your friend's struggle. If she calls to discuss her diet, give her a few minutes, then change the subject. If she's losing, encourage her, if she's not, don't say anything.

Congratulations! You've worked really hard to get where you are.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:49 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

When you reflect upon this friendship, do you have anything in common with her other than weight loss? If you do, focus on those things and don't engage her about her latest weight loss scheme. "Yeah, that sounds cool but I'll take a pass. Hey, about those Dodgers..." "Wow, 15# is awesome! Hey, want to go apple picking with the fam next month?"
posted by jamaro at 10:50 AM on July 16, 2013

This time it’s running and the Atkins diet. She’s asked me to join her in training for a 5k at the end of the summer. She is sending me information about Atkins and claiming that it’d be good for me to try as well.

"I'm doing what's working for me now so I don't want to take up running or change my diet, but you know I'll be there on race day!"

Supporting someone else's efforts doesn't mean taking them on. I don't think "I'm too busy" is honest.

Be fair to her though & try not to be frustrated that she's reaching out. She's trying to enlist you fully because you've been a full enlister before. Just stop fully enlisting!
posted by headnsouth at 10:51 AM on July 16, 2013 [6 favorites]

This sounds like a cycle that's not working for her. She might do better on her own, or even hiring a personal coach (not even an athletic coach, just a counselor who will urge her on to greatness).

You could do her a favor by encouraging her to hire a professional, so that she has more control, can get someone who will be able to fine-tune the approach to these activities, and she has money invested in the experience -- she might be much more likely to follow through.
posted by amtho at 10:52 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Well look, you don't want to run and you don't want to do Atkins. So, you can say to her "I've found a method that works for me and I don't want to change to a different diet, I want to stick to this known-good-for-me one.

"And TBH I really hate running, and for the moment, especially in this heat, I just can't bear to think about joining you in actually training for your 5k. Happy to be your accountability partner though." You're not happy to do so, but this is part of a slow fade, see.

Next time she tries to sign you up for a race, you could say "eh, but the thing is, you didn't go through with the last 6 races we signed up for, and I don't really want to spend the money."

My guess is that she'll attach herself to someone else, possibly another unsuccessful dieter, but if she doesn't, you will have reduced your involvement dramatically.

I get that you are frustrated with her, but you also kept failing until you "saw the light" and I don't think it's necessary to let her know that you have 0 faith in her and she's going to be a fatty for the rest of her days.

You don't have to be self-sacrificial and you don't have to rub her face in it either, know what I mean?
posted by tel3path at 10:52 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would definitely take some steps back. It's possible to be very supportive without dieting with her or running with her. I would say something like, "You know, I've really struggled with my weight too, and what I'm doing right now seems to be working. I don't want to jeopardize it by trying a different eating or exercise plan. But, I know you're still looking for the right path and I support you 100%!"

If you meet for lunch, offer to go somewhere there is diet friendly food for her. If she chooses to break the diet, don't comment. If she tries to draw you in to a conversation about it (and tries to put you in the coach/mom role), I'd say something like, "You know, I support you 100% in your efforts, but I'm not your mom - it's your body and your decisions. If you want to do Atkins, I support that, if you want to eat cake for lunch, I support that too."

For the race, tell her that you will be there at the finish line cheering for her. If she decides not to do the race later and comes to you (expecting you to take the coach/mom line of "You can do it!!"), instead, I'd say something like, "It's up to you - it's your body, it's your choice to spend your time how you want to. I will be there to cheer for you if you do the race, if you'd rather go for a walk that morning or go out to brunch, we could do that instead."
posted by insectosaurus at 11:04 AM on July 16, 2013 [8 favorites]

You can't control your friend's habit of bailing out. You can only control your participation. Friend, Atkins doesn't interest me, but I hope you have success with it. blah blah, you should try it, pressure. As I said, I hope it works for you. I feel pressured to do it with you, which isn't enjoyable. blah blah, you should try it *Ignore all comments, email, etc., about you doing it, and only encourage her in her efforts.* Every time she pressures you successfully, it has reinforced the behavior pattern, because it's successful, so she does it the next time she wants you to do something. If her pressure is mean or she's guilting you, nip it in the bud. Yes, I do have weight I want to lose, and it feels bad when you point it out.
posted by theora55 at 11:10 AM on July 16, 2013

This dynamic doesn't sound like it's beneficial for either of you.

You can be supportive without being her entire support system, coach, or mother.

When she asks, you can say something along the lines of "I've found a plan that works for me, so I'm not interested in trying a new diet/exercise program." When she sends you information on Atkins and tells you that you should try it, tell her you and your doctor have already discussed what is the best eating plan for you.

Don't nag her, don't be the person she is accountable to for her diet, don't give her advice or tell her what worked for your own weight loss, don't judge her when her next diet fails or she doesn't run that 5K.
posted by inertia at 11:22 AM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

See if you can interest her in hiring a trainer for the exercise part of her program. It helped me to stick with it to have to be accountable to someone not a friend or family member, and to have a set schedule of appointments I feel obligated to show up for. I am not self-motivated so this has been a great help to me in losing weight and getting fit.
posted by mermayd at 11:35 AM on July 16, 2013

I agree, don't sign on or engage in this. I think telling her you're opting out, it just isn't your thing, that you already have a system that works for you and your schedule, and you aren't going to take part in this one is totally fair. You can say how you know that she likes to have a "team mate" during these things and you usually are that person. You aren't able to this time, but that doesn't mean she has to do this alone. You can tell you fully support her, but you bet she could find people in your area that are on the same program/have the same goals that could relate to her and work with her on a lot better than you can. Maybe even research some for her.

FWIW I live in the middle of no where in rural atlantic canada and there are running clubs galore, as well as Atkin's groups too. If there are here, I'm sure they are where you are.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:36 AM on July 16, 2013

One other thing, I am like your friend in a lot of ways. I like to have team mates on my weight loss efforts, but no one in my life really fits the bill. I have found my support and team mates online (there are SO MANY options online for this) and it works for me. My primary source of support is the Weight Watchers message boards, one in particular where everyone has more or less the same weight loss goals. It doesn't have to be a public forum type thing though. It can be personal. There are lots of people out there looking for "weight loss buddies" where you message/email back and forth regularly to check in on each other, keep each other accountable and motivated, etc. People don't need to be literally sitting in front of you to be able to support and help you.

If I were you I would seriously push her in that direction. Since you can't be the help she feels she needs, you can show her support by encouraging find that help elsewhere.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:45 AM on July 16, 2013

A) Ten years of this is called a pattern. You are totally justified in saying "BTDT, got a closet full of t-shirts. No thank you."

B) I would be inclined to suggest there is Something More going on and a new diet or exercise plan won't fix the Something More. It is the Something More she needs to ID and fix. No point in wasting more time and effort on a diet, etc. They won't likely work.

For me, finally getting my genetic disorder ID'd eventually led to substantial weight loss. Encourage her to get a physical and see if there is some issue that hasn't bern caught before. If that makes no difference, encourage her to get therapy. There are lots of psychological issues that can contribute to problems like this (depression, being raped, etc).
posted by Michele in California at 11:48 AM on July 16, 2013

Something to think about - is her exercise and health routines the primary way you two socialize together? Do you do much together when you aren't doing something like this? I've known people in the past who had friendships almost entirely rooted in their mutual health goals. When they no longer had the same goals the friendship basically died out.

She may use the whole "LETS START RUNNING AND ATKINS!" plans to ensure you two maintain a friendship and connection.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:52 AM on July 16, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have a family member like that, and I've tried to help her when she requests, but I realize it's just been a waste of my time. For me, it was different since I actually lived with the person, and it involved making meals, shopping, etc., and when she would just throw all my effort away by over eating and giving up temporarily, I realized I couldn't put effort into it anymore until she really committed to it herself.

Just don't do it. You know what will happen. Eventually she will either do it herself or she won't, but since you already tried so many times, you don't have to feel bad about giving up on her or whatever. Support her and continue to be an inspiration, but don't get too involved.
posted by wholecornandsalt at 12:23 PM on July 16, 2013

I was going to post something similar to PuppetMcSockerson regarding whether this is the primary mode of your friendship, focusing on weight loss.

At any rate, you need to reframe your friendship. As others have pointed out, you can be supportive of someone without cheerleading, coaching, nagging, or even joining in. This dynamic isn't working -- she's not losing weight, but you are losing your patience. I think you need to decide what level of involvement (if any) you're comfortable with AND get her to seek outside help.
posted by sm1tten at 12:55 PM on July 16, 2013

Most of the ideas above seem reasonable. You may refuse on the grounds that your weight loss program works for you, and you aren't interested in running. Honesty ought to be in play. Also, I would avoid making any suggestions about hiring a trainer, or anything similar, because you will have stepped back on board as the advice-giver.

RedBud and I have consulted a nutritionist, and we each have successfully lost about 40 pounds over a four-month period. We changed our eating habits, and are comfortable with the new foods and eating customs that we've developed. This was a big difference from our previous efforts (going on a diet), which failed after we got tired of the constraints.

I mention this because we have friends and relatives who've asked us about this. We've provided them with the details and menus, and so far they've performed predictably: either they sample the system without actually reading the theory behind it, or they try it for a few days, then rationalize their way back to their more comfortable eating habits. It's sad to watch, and sort of frustrating, but neither of us wish to become their trainers. Even if I actually had the power or authority to make them use the system, I wouldn't want the job. I experienced a similar situation with smoker friends, when I quit smoking. In both these cases I do what I do, and let them do what they do. Well, the smokers don't get to smoke in my car or house, and that has pissed some of them off. A couple of them have been rude enough to make snarky comments on this, and I have invited them to not ride in my car or come over to my house any more. You may experience a similar chill from your friend, if she won't accept your friendship under any other conditions.

I guess my point is that you don't have to be rude or even callus, but you aren't required to participate in someone else's folly. We all shall go to hell in our own handbaskets, so we aren't required to climb aboard anyone else's. This doesn't mean we ought not to wave courteously to one another in passing.
posted by mule98J at 1:00 PM on July 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

This cycle isn't helping her meet her goals, if you refuse to participate she will be forced to change her approach. Maybe she'll find a new approach that works for her.

It would be selfish of you to continue to be the coach she rebels against. Quit.
posted by yohko at 7:30 AM on July 17, 2013

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