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Social Support, Sabotage, & Assertiveness

By Lawrence Feinstein, PhD

Our eating habits are influenced by those around us.  For example, how and what others eat and whether they offer us food will influence our own behaviors.

The people around us are part of our environment.  Practicing environmental control therefore includes working with those around us to have them support our weight management efforts, or at least not to hinder them.

Types of support:

  1. Information

  2. Advice

  3. Aid or Assistance

  4. Encouragement

  5. Emotional Support (listening, caring, "being there")

Many people mistake advice for support.  The most effective way to communicate support is to let others know that we hear what they are saying; the most difficult thing to communicate is that understanding.

Intentions:  sometimes the interaction feels unhelpful even though the person was intending to be helpful; e.g., someone offering advice or checking up on your diet while you don't want them to.

Types of sabotage:

  1. Overt: example: telling you that you "should be able to control yourself", and that "the rest of the family should not have to suffer (without ice cream) just because you have a weight problem; taking you out for dinner and suggesting that it won't hurt you just to eat this one time; bringing donuts into the house; telling you that weight management programs just don't work.

  2. Covert: example: bringing home chocolates as a "reward" for success on the diet; asking you to break the fast to go out for a "special" dinner.

Responses to sabotage, e.g., spouse bringing problem food into the house, insisting that you go out for dinner or prepare food for family and you don't want to:

During the fast: explain that the fast is time limited, that it is important to your medical health that you maintain the fast down to goal weight and that the longer you maintain the fast, the faster you will be able to eat again.  Invite him/her to attend the groups.

During maintenance:  explain that now that you have significantly reduced your risk of heart attack, cancer, and premature death, and feel better about yourself, you would like to keep it that way, and that you would appreciate his/her help.  Then discuss specific ways for him/her to help.

Communication and Support: 

  1. Express to those around you what types of support you want; don't expect them to know
     or to read your mind.

  2. Express what types of support you don't want; e.g., wives tell husband that you don't want
     advice or surveillance, tell him to keep it to himself.

  3. If your desires change, be sure to express that; if you're confused regarding what you
    want, express that.

Assertiveness and Confrontation:

  1. What do you do if your spouse is not supportive?  Nothing, or maybe talk about it.

  2. What do you do if your spouse is sabotaging? 

  • You need to decide what you need, what you deserve, and what you are entitled to...

  • What you are willing to risk, and how much conflict you are willing to tolerate until things change.

  • Understanding your own fears and regarding risk, confrontation, conflict, rejection, and possible abandonment, and what you are willing to do to avoid them is essential (your role as the "peace-maker", the pleaser).

  1. Being assertive involves two components:

    a)  skills in how to communicate and negotiate effectively; some examples:

  • present your message clearly:  to express feelings, say what you feel, don't label the other person; to request change in behavior, express your message in specific behavioral terms

  • listen to and acknowledge other's message to reduce defensiveness

  • then stay focused on your message without being distracted by other issues

  • use repetition: repeat your message like a broken record, and use problem solving to figure how the other person will comply with your request

    b)  willingness to do so:  may involve tolerating temporary conflict and coping with fear of rejection



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