How to support a spouse through weight-watchers?
November 8, 2013 7:48 AM   Subscribe

My spouse has made a conscious decision to try weight watchers. She is terrified of failure. How can I help? What are some goals that I can set?

My spouse has, after many months of toying with the idea, finally decided to take the plunge and join weight watchers. Exercise is difficult for her, but she has been doing some yoga recently. She has tried a couple diets in the past, but is by no means a yo-yoer. This is going to be a serious attempt to making a positive change in how she sees her body and her health. We're both in our mid-thirties and working professional careers.

I want to help her through it, and make sure that she succeeds. I'm not sure the best way. What sort of goals should I set? What kind of frusterations can I anticipate? How can I make it easier? I'm thinking of doing it along with her, but am curious to know if anyone else has any suggestions?

Things I can think of are: helping with the points counting, doing the program myself, helping with the planning, making easy snacks available.
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
The absolute first thing you should do is talk to her and ask her all these questions. Make your desire to help clear, but understand that maybe the best thing you can do is step back and let her do her thing, and just help pick up the pieces if need be.

This will probably need to be an ongoing conversation as she works through this, i.e. "Hey you seem to be struggling today/this week, anything I can do to help? No? Cool, I love you and know that I'm here if you need or want anything, whatever it is."
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:53 AM on November 8, 2013 [8 favorites]

Good for you for being supportive of your wife! Some thoughts:

- Weight loss is a very personal, very touchy subject for most people - often tied in with a lot of negative emotions and self-loathing - so be aware that while she is making a positive change, the entire process may also entail dealing with some NEGATIVE emotions.

- Let HER guide how you support her. It's easy to become "TOO" supportive of someone you really love and whom you want to see succeed. You've got to take cues from her as to what she needs.

- Baseline recommendations, though: 1. Provide lots of unconditional positive regard ("You're doing great", "I'm so proud of you", "This is a tough row to hoe and you're handling it SO well"), and 2. Every month or so ask her, "Hey, so there anything I can do to help with this? Say the word, and I'll make healthy snacks, or help with tabulating points, or whatever!" And be sure to take her answers at face value.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:55 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Also if she fails at any particular goal or the entire process and is moping about that, your response should be "Aww, that sucks, but I still love you, so whatever."

Don't make her struggle about you or what you should or could be doing. You are her support network, so act like that.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:56 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think one of the most valuable things you can do is make sure she knows that you love her and support no matter what she weighs and how she's doing on the diet (and it totally sounds like that is how you'll approach this). One of the things that is really hard about dieting is all of the positive affirmation that goes along with it and then if things don't go well at some point or if priorities shift, the support and affirmation just kind of goes away.

Really supporting her isn't specific to this diet, it's about letting your spouse know that you support the decisions she makes for her life regardless of how they turn out and that you're there when she needs you.
posted by Kimberly at 7:59 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

Lots of food counts as zero points. So have the zero points snacks together -- cut up fruit and veggies into elegant slices and textures.

You mention exercise is difficult. If she's able to walk, she might enjoy using a Fitbit, which is really fun to use and a low pressure way to track moderate exercise.
posted by mochapickle at 8:01 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

I support doing it with her, while letting her lead. Nothing is more motivating than having a partner in crime to make lifestyle changes with.

Weight loss involves revamping the diet and increasing exercise as possible, so having to make more than one meal is an obvious downside, as well as watching other family members eat delicious forbidden foods while you look forlornly at your salad. If you're both doing the shopping, prepping and cooking it's a lot more fun, and you can get creative together.
posted by tatiana131 at 8:01 AM on November 8, 2013 [4 favorites]

If you do the program with her, be aware that men (assuming that you are a man) frequently lose faster than women on WW. This may be either motivating or frustrating for her.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 8:03 AM on November 8, 2013 [9 favorites]

I have been on Weight Watchers since last May and recently hit my goal weight. The most helpful things my partner did were:

-Expressed interest in my progress and offered moral support re: my weekly weigh-ins (cheers when I lost, encouragement when I gained or maintained)
-Expressed interest in the program guidelines -- or at least listened patiently as I told him about them in detail
-Expressed interest in trying and sharing the Weight Watchers food products (especially the frozen desserts)
-Commented on positive changes in my body

The least helpful things he did were:

-Continued to buy and eat junk food in the house. I didn't ask him not to, but it was a real test of my willpower, which is not very strong. Luckily he's a lot taller than I am so he can hide his cheetoes, etc. on the higher shelves.
-Commented when I was going "off plan." I knew perfectly well what I was doing and didn't need to hear it from him.
posted by southern_sky at 8:06 AM on November 8, 2013 [15 favorites]

It wouldn't hurt to do it with her, even if just at a maintenance level, so you know how it works. Assuming you do part of the shopping and cooking, it's a lot easier not to be an accidental jerk if you know the rules. Also, that way you're not the squeaky wheel with stuff she can't have but has to ignore/make/buy.

Aside from that, you kind of need to hang back and not make this about you. If she wants your help, she should tell you what help she needs.

I struggle with my weight, and I kind of need my husband to not be a thing that is attached to that problem. I prefer he be careful about his treats (he keeps them in his office for the most part) and not campaign for meals - especially our pretty occasional meals out - that don't offer me many options.

I do all the cooking, and it would be nice if he would handle the packing-up of leftovers since I did everything else, and stuff that I could be packing for lunch gets left out and has to be thrown away instead. We have an agreement that he will tell me when clothes are getting too big, if he happens to notice, before I leave the house with something sagging or falling off. He is extremely low key about commenting on my successes - how I look is not his to dictate, and I take extremely unkindly to being patronized - but will take my lead. If I'm happy about my walking time/distance improving or some other thing, he will be happy too.

But aside from meals, we keep our diet and exercise stuff kind of separate, and I appreciate that because I don't need to manage two people, I just need to worry about me.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:08 AM on November 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best try not to set any goals. She can set her own and share with you or not as she sees fit.

Are you currently sharing the shopping for, preparation of food and eat together most of the time? If so cooking different meals will add to the level of 'difficulty'. Why not embrace whatever dietary changes she makes as well? Not to the point of becoming the food police obviously but to avoid temptation for her and make the positive change together.

I am not suggesting you count points as well unless she would like you to do the full program. But you eat the same meals, prepared in line with the new regime.
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:11 AM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Weight Watchers is not a diet, it's a way of changing how you view food and exercise. Every week you get a little booklet with ideas for different things that help along that journey. Read the booklet and then assimilate the information.

Sometimes it's about small changes to get more exercise. So park far away from the store, instead of circling the parking lot looking for a closer space. Don't make a BFD about it, just do it.

Sometimes it's about trying new foods. Go to an Asian market and pick out some things you may not have tried. Look online for recipes. Asian Broccoli is delicious and pretty different from the broccoli you can get in the supermarket. Try Dragonfruit, or an Asian pear. Look on You Tube for how to peal the Dragonfruit. If you're super adventurous, get a durian, just to say you've tried it. (For fuck's sake, prepare and eat it outside!)

Familiarize yourself with the on-line tools. There are neat things there. A recipe builder where you enter ingredients and then it spits out a recipe for you.

Be hip to the program, and upbeat and positive, but don't look at her choices and comment. Sometimes you want a chocolate bar, and that's okay.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:26 AM on November 8, 2013

Focus on the fact that this is about her being healthy so you can live with one another for a long, long time. Let her be your guide about the rest, and let her know you're proud of her for the effort she puts in, not the successes she achieves.
posted by The Wrong Kind of Cheese at 8:30 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

IMHO, the best things you can do are to not inadvertently make things harder for her. Don't bring crap food into the house, and don't eat the crap in front of her. Out of site really is out of mine. Don't force her to say no to you with regards to food, ie comments like 'are you only having a salad? Here, have some potatoes!' is equally as annoying. Also support her when other people do that. On the other hand, don't judge her mistakes. If she wants to spend all her points on chocolate, that's her call.

In a nutshell, do your best to make sure nothing of your presence in her life makes it harder for her to stick with it.
posted by cgg at 8:36 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The best way you can support her is by remembering that eating is social. If you end up eating cookies around her, it becomes a compound challenge of a) delicious thing she can't enjoy, b) being social and happy with partner she can't enjoy. If you have a TV show you always watch together, imagine how you would feel if she started watching episodes on her iPad, in front of you, without you being able to join in. Double sad!

So, eat the good snacks with her, and forget the bad snacks until you're out of her sight.
posted by samthemander at 8:37 AM on November 8, 2013

I am doing WW. I started at 335lbs and have lost the better part of 100lbs on the program. I speak from experience.

1. Talk to her about it. Ask her what supportive looks like to her. Ask her what would help.
2. Ask her what would NOT be helpful.
3. Don't police her food choices. If she decides to spend her points on a candy bar she is allowed to without guilt. I save up my points to be able to eat the odd candy bar from time to time. It lets me enjoy treats without guilt, and it doesn't feel like I'm "cheating" so it doesn't derail me. The whole thing is to make this a sustainable, liveable, long term lifestyle, and that can include the odd candy bar as long as it is planned for.
4. Don't make it easier for her to go off track. Don't bring junk food in to the house, especially when she is first getting going.
5. Start meal planning as a household. The program is SO MUCH EASIER if you just put a little effort in to planning. I do a broad-strokes plan for the whole week (this is relating to grocery shopping as well) and then I try to plan what I am going to eat the following day, working out my points so that I know in advance how that will add up. Having a plan for my lunches for the week is a massive help. Bonus points if you can prep them all in advance (ie. make a big batch of soup and then freeze off individual portions to take for lunch each day). I always leave some extra points in every day so that I have the option of a snack or a treat or maybe just a little larger portion of supper.
6. When YOU are cooking supper, you need to measure and weigh everything if you really want to be the biggest help ever. The teaspoon of oil you cooked the onions in, the 3 cups of crushed tomatoes, etc. My husband does this for me and god... it helps so much. If she knows exactly how much of each ingredient went in to the meal she can enter it in to the recipe builder, which will add them all up. Then you put in how many servings it made and voila! She has the points calculated for her meal! And it will be there the next time you make the same meal.
7. Get a food scale. It is so much easier to just weigh things instead of using measuring cups. Meats, cheese, and not easily measuring cupped things (like pretzels) just have to be weighed.
8. Yes, you really do need to weigh and measure out everything, especially at the beginning. Don't eyeball things. Use your measuring cups, measuring spoons, and food scale. A big part of the program is learning what a normal portion size actually looks like, and knowing how much a cup/tablespoon/ounce looks like plays hugely in to that. When I start to have crap weigh ins it is usually because I've stopped measuring things and have been eyeballing things.
9. Gains are going to happen, especially during lady time. Try to keep her from feeling like a failure when she has a gain week. They happen, sometimes a few weeks in a row. If you stay the course and are doing the program honestly it will all shake out in the end.
10. Try not to make her feel like the only way she will be attractive is if she loses weight. My husband has done an amazing job with this for me. He makes me feel like the sexiest, most attractive woman in the world. He likes seeing me naked at the weight I am now, and makes me feel really good about it. Yet all the while I know he is supporting and happy for my weight loss. He comments when my thighs are visibly smaller, he gets excited with me when I go down a size in pants. Hell, I still remember the day when we were in bed and he was snuggling me and he was able to feel one of my ribs for the first time and how awesome we both thought it was.
11. Liquor is mega high point and adds up so quickly, so try to limit how many boozy things you guys do.

Honestly, I could keep going. If you want you can memail with with any questions, or you can have her memail me. I know this program inside and out and am happy to help out if I can.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:45 AM on November 8, 2013 [5 favorites]

The other thing about liquor is that it can make you retain water like a son-of-a-bitch, so even if you drink while staying perfectly within your points the water retention can make your weigh in a fucking disaster. (Yes, this warrants profanity. Liquor has resulted in man a horrible friday morning weigh in for me. Grr.)

Anyway, my point is that water retention can make what was actually a successful week look like a bad one. Liquor, lady time, heat, sickness, and salt (among other things) will make you retain water and throw the weigh in off. The scale isn't the end-all-be-all measure of success. If she has a bad weigh in after having what she thought was a really on-program week, try to get her to not be discouraged by it. The simple fact that she followed the program so well all week should be a thing of pride. Maybe she can see some other changes in her body. Maybe her clothes are fitting differently. Maybe she is seeing progress in her fitness. Maybe she was faced with a big temptation but didn't veer off course. We call those "Non scale victories" or NSVs, and they are important too.

Oh, and the weight watchers forums online can be fantastic. Some of them are catty as hell, but there are some boards that are legitimately supportive and helpful and wonderful.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:56 AM on November 8, 2013

My wife recently went back on Weight Watchers (and off of it, now that we're expecting, woo hoo!).

Some things that I learned as I didn't really want to join in with her due to all the point counting and what not were:

1. When I cooked, I made sure to keep close track of any non-zero calorie additions, such as cheese, butter, sauces, sugar, ketchup, etc.. And when done, made sure that her portions were roughly measured and made sense (8 oz. of chicken, 1/4 cup of vegetables, etc.)

*ProTip: A nice, supportive gift might be some extra measuring cups/spoons. Since everything needs to be measured out, often times we'd have everything in the dishwasher or she would have to constantly clean one or more cups/spoons to use for additional ingredients. We got a bunch of commonly used sizes so she could make a full meal without having to repeatedly wash the cups/spoons to use on other ingredients.

2. Let her do the shopping (or create the grocery list). I tried helping her shop based off of things I thought were healthier or were advertised as low-fat or more "diet" but apparently, this may or may not fit within the WW matrix. Some things, which I thought would be low points, were almost as high as the regular stuff due to how they come up with their points.

3. No judgement if she cheats (beyond the bonus points), No pressure to get her to "cheat" (No matter how much I want to eat at Favorite Restaurant X twice a week).

4. Communicate. Don't go on board with WW if you don't plan to stick to it. If you're not sure if you want to or not , be clear about the uncertainty at the beginning. If you choose not to partake, don't rub it in, but don't feel bad about having a cheeseburger if she can only have grilled chicken.

5. Be supportive. Ask about how many points this or that is. At times, it seemed my wife was talking incessantly about WW, points, and WW-related stuff, but she was genuinely interested, so I focused on the parts of it that I was interested in (mainly curious about how many points were in various restaurant foods) and it was cute to see how fired up she was about this, so I endured the rest.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:22 AM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The holidays are coming up. Let her know that you won't miss the full-fat versions of the foods people traditionally serve this time of year. If she wants to do lite versions of high-calorie items (pie, mashed potatoes, etc) --be enthusiastic about it. Hell, maybe even help her find WW-approved recipes for the holidays and tell her you are cool with skipping the marshmallow-laden version of sweet potatoes this year.

I think the holidays are guilt-traps for a lot of women cooking for their families, and they feel badly imposing their restrictions on others. Let her know you are up for any holiday-meal swaps she wants to do, and even if they taste like crap compared to the usual-- just don't say anything about it so as not to make her feel worse.
posted by np312 at 10:51 AM on November 8, 2013

It's really hard to be on WW and have crap food tempting you at home. One of the main things in WW is to "spaces" - i.e. you need to manage the food around you. If you are okay with not buying junk food for you (or only buying stuff she hates) that would help her a lot.

If she goes to meetings (which I highly recommend) ask her about them and actually act interested if she talks about them.

I felt bad for doing this, but I designated a little bit of food that was "mine" that I didn't let my fiance touch. Some of it was expensive, some of it was just healthy snacks and meals. He could eat whatever he wanted without thinking about it, or could just grab fast food. I was SOL if he finished the last, say, frozen Lean Cuisine that I wanted for dinner.

Definitely meal plan. If you like to cook, offer to pick out some WW-friendly recipes off the WW website or Skinny Taste. If you really get into it you could create a shared Pinterest board of recipes! However when you cook, you absolutely have to weigh and measure. Ask her to show you what foods are zero-points. For example, all fruits and most veggies are zero points, so you can put as much of those in a salad as you want. You have to measure the dressing and also avocado.

If she falls off plan or eats junk food or whatever, don't ask "can you eat that" or "is that on plan" or make any negative comments.

Compliment the hell out of her any time she has a loss or another milestone, and when you notice that she is looking lighter/fitter.

Oh one thing I wish I'd done when I started was to measure myself - waist and such. Get out the measuring tape and help her!
posted by radioamy at 12:11 PM on November 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

The most helpful things my guy has done for me are:
1. Offer to help in any way possible, and really listen to my ideas.
2. Make it Very Clear that he doesn't have a dog in this fight. He's supporting me in my goals, not because my being thinner would be better for him.

It makes a WORLD of difference when someone asks the question, "are you sure you want that?" and the answer is really about your desires, not theirs.
posted by ldthomps at 12:15 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best thing you can do is join in the diet with her. Studies show with overwhelming evidence that people lose weight more successfully when their partners are on a similar meal plan. Even if you don't need to lose weight you can still eat bigger portions of many of the same foods.

Don't keep any junk food around the house or in the car.

Working out together is also a good idea. Much easier to get motivated with someone else.
posted by manderin at 12:27 PM on November 8, 2013

As someone said above, losing weight is such a personal and loaded experience. When I was working hard on losing weight this year, I basically forbid my hubby from asking me how much weight I'd lost, or what size I was wearing now, and I refused to tell him anyway. I didn't want any comparison of the numbers from week to week, in case I had a bad week.

I also had to tell him at some point to stop commenting on how different I looked. I know that sounds weird, but it made me defensive - I felt like "I'm still the same person I've always been, it's not about how I look!" (Of course, I felt the same way when I had gained weight too).

I'm not saying ignore her efforts. But if she's anything like me, it's helpful to say things like "I'm so proud of you for making this effort", but otherwise, let her come to you, or not, with the numbers. Maybe just tell her beforehand that that's what you plan to do, so she doesn't get it in her head that you don't care.
posted by vignettist at 12:48 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

Of course the obvious - never ever ever ask something like "is that on your diet?" or "are you sure you want to eat that?". If she's eating something off-diet, she's probably already feeling guilty about it. You calling her out on it will likely result in one of you sleeping on the couch. And maybe a binge. Just don't do it.
posted by vignettist at 12:50 PM on November 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

My wife and I have both been successfully losing weight for a while. One of us is in weight watchers and the other is fallowing the Hacker's Diet. However we're both doing the Hacker's Diet daily weight and activity log using the online tool. The tool displays your diet goal and current weight on a weighted mean graph which vastly helps when faced with a heavy weigh in from water retention or other reasons. You can see that ya, this was the heaviest I weighed in the last 8 days but I'm still below the regression line so everything is OK. I very as much as five pounds a day and weekly weighings would kill me.

Also take some full body 180 pictures of your wife now (with her cooperation obviously). Because one of the problems with a long term weight loss plan is you don't see yourself changing because you see yourself every day. Having a few pictures of yourself at your starting weight can be a great motivator when you start disparing in a few months that your diet is never going to end.

I'll also second starting a fitness plan together. My wife and I started C25K together and it's been a great motivator even when our schedules mean we do our runs asynchronously.
posted by Mitheral at 1:34 PM on November 8, 2013

Reward the efforts, not the weight loss.

At every WW meeting, you get weighed. Sometimes the scale doesn't show a loss, and that can go on for weeks, especially for women. She's going to get discouraged if she gets validation mostly from the number that signifies how heavy she is.. So many little things go into one healthy day -- getting enough sleep, increasing fiber, avoiding sugar and the other white carbs, adding protein, eating way more vegetables than you ever wanted to, eating often so as not to get too hungry, having enough water, eating more slowly, moving the body a little more... It's too easy for a person to have a rich brownie and feel like the day is a failure. She should acknowledge as many constructive behaviors as she can.

In the beginning, you lose weight more quickly...don't get too excited! A lot of it the initial "loss" is (to make it overly simple) glucose and water that your body stores for quick energy. Try to make yourself believe that slow weight loss counts. Keep in mind that a pound of fat is a lot -- here is what it looks like. A pound a month is still 12 pounds in a year -- during which period most overweight people normally gain weight.

Weight Watchers is pretty good, but if the group leader or members are so-so, it can end up not really helping you. Try different groups if you can.

If a certain food spells trouble for you, stay away from it even if WW says it's okay. One slice of good white bread makes me crave more; one cookie causes the same problem with sugar; one glass of wine can make my appetite and judgment go haywire. This is really important when holidays, birthdays, etc., present you with huge amounts of unhealthy foods.

Your wife can learn about herself and a few things about how she can lose weight, even if Weight Watchers doesn't work out for her. A "failure" just means you need a new perspective and a changed plan.
posted by wryly at 7:50 PM on November 8, 2013

Mod note: This is a followup from the asker.
Thanks everyone for the very helpful comments. Here I am 3 months in and she's had quite a great success. 30 lbs lost over 3 months, having to buy new jeans/rediscover old clothes that didn't fit, getting positive comments from people.

Alot of the advice in this thread was very helpful and spot on.

I started doing the plan with her, just to see how it worked, but it ended up not helping as I was allowed almost twice as many points and that was more discouraging than everything.

So, I settled on just helping the process. Some of my observations were:

1. MEAL PLANNING. Boy is it a pain to sit down on Sunday and write out the meals for the whole week, but it makes all the difference. I printed out a schedule and do it every week. We've worked out a good number of staples that are great go-to recipes. The immediate effect of this was that our grocery bill effectively doubled: we weren't buying enough food before and so would end up eating out as the week went on.

2. Prepping: I help with all the measuring and prepping. The practical tip to get extra measuring spoons was very useful. It's a pain, but it helps to have a bowl of roasted, seasoned brocolli in the fridge as opposed to an unwashed stalk.

3. Encouraging the effort: Honestly, the challenging part has been encouraging her and letting her know how great she looks while maintaining that I "don't have a horse in this race" as someone put it and was happy before as well.

Overall, as challenging as its been, its made us enjoy eating out even more as a treat, its made her feel much healthier and we're looking forward to being more active this summer as well together.

Thank you again for the thoughtful and practical answers.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:45 AM on March 5, 2014

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