Significant weight loss isn't just a measurement of physical fitness.
It can also test the health of a romantic relationship.
Couples whose relationships are defined by collaboration and respect will likely become stronger because they can weather changes such as increased physical activity and eating a more balanced diet.
But shedding pounds can cast a harsh glare on troubled romances where tension already existed, especially if only one person drops the weight, say psychologists and obesity experts.
"It can bring people closer together because they feel more aligned with their values, they feel more alive and are able to participate more actively in life," says Susan Silver, a licensed clinical psychologist with Denver's Wellink Surgical Weight Loss Center.
"Other times, there can be a lot of fear and anxiety," Silver says. "Old friends might feel self-conscious if they are overweight. A romantic partner might worry that the partner who has lost weight will now leave them. Weight loss can make or break a relationship if there were already cracks in it."
This Independence Day, if shedding pounds is your step toward freedom, consider whether the extra weight is internal, external or a combination of both.
A healthy relationship won't get thrown off track by weight loss if the process is collaborative and concentrates on health rather than appearance, says Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles.
Stanley Bronstein, 52, says he earned his wife's respect when he lost 110 pounds. The couple, married for 11 years, even completed a tour of all 50 states, walking five hours a day in each.
Bronstein, a CPA and attorney, chronicles how he lost his weight by walking in his book "The Path of the Warrior Walker." It's available at iwarriorwalk.com, where members can log their own walks.
Bronstein says he woke up one morning and told his wife that he wasn't going to tolerate any more garbage in his life, from himself or from her.
"She didn't divorce me, so I think she handled it well," says Bronstein. "Your first relationship is to yourself and you have to be a little selfish. Do what works for you, be patient with your spouse or partner or friends and give them a chance to come along on the ride with you."
Have a salad with that pasta
To get buy-in from a partner, ease into dietary changes and create a shared space at the dinner table, Durvasula says. Be aware that always eating something different than your partner will cause distance. So begin by adding healthy options with everyday meals, such as including a salad along with a favorite pasta.
Fear is often a motivating factor that can push one to action. If it's a mandate from the doctor to get healthy or else, it helps to have the partner present when your physician lays it on the line, Durvasula adds.
Whether you are the thinner partner or the one with weight to lose, avoid getting caught up in the evangelical fervor by throwing away all your loved one's junk food, she says.
"Over time, seeing you can eat well and in a healthy way will slowly convert your partner to your new lifestyle," Durvasula says. "Sweeping it all away at once and making it your way or the highway will put any partner off. This is a change you wanted to make, not them."
Try to make exercises or activities something you can do together, Durvasula says.
Build an active life
After a few years of marriage and being spoiled by her husband's rich, delicious meals, Vanessa Lawton put on some unwanted pounds, as did her husband, Charlie. They joined Weight Watchers together and developed a plan that led to their shared success of a nearly 35-pound drop each.
Vanessa, 30, would do the shopping and select healthy foods while her husband, 28, would cook them in a healthier way. The combo worked. Vanessa says the two have developed healthier habits together. Instead of coming home after work and watching TV, they go on walks together and share highlights from their day.
Weekends and trips are also now built around a more active lifestyle with a focus on hiking — an activity Vanessa now loves but wasn't able to do with her husband before she lost the weight. The Wheat Ridge couple regularly walk around Sloan's Lake in the evening.
"I wouldn't have lost nearly as much weight as I did had Charlie not joined the program too," says Vanessa Lawton.
She noted that they are less cranky and don't snap at each other at the end of a hectic workday now that a more balanced diet swaps out fruit for chips or crackers until dinner.
Charlie Lawton says the couple is now more team oriented. They supported each other through one of the most grueling physical and emotional challenges either has faced.
Jan Spain of Centennial says that when she and her husband, Dick, joined Weight Watchers a few years ago, they both found success. But her husband's competitive nature foiled her weight-loss attempts and was one of many reasons why she didn't continue with the program.
A few years later, Dick was diagnosed as pre-diabetic. Then he noticed that Jan could barely keep up with their grandchildren, had trouble breathing and refrained from going out to play as often.
"He got scared when he realized that I couldn't keep going on like this forever and ever," Jan says. "I started thinking that this just wasn't living anymore."
Dick persuaded Jan to rejoin Weight Watchers and became a cheerleader for his wife, helping them both forge a partnership for a healthier lifestyle.
When it comes to its effect on relationships, weight loss is similar to any other proverbial straw, including alcoholism, drug use, infidelity, or emotional or physical abuse, say experts.
"Weight loss isn't ruining the relationship; it was already distressed to begin with and it was just easy to pin weight loss on it," Durvasula says. "That loss may be symbolic of that person trying to transform and grow or find their confidence. And once they do that, it empowers them to demand what they need and to assert themselves."
Growth and change in one partner can threaten the other even if that change is for the better, says Barbara Mendez, a nutritionist and registered pharmacist.
"Nowhere is this tricky aspect of a relationship seen more than in a change brought about by weight loss because one partner feels abandoned or jealous," Mendez says.
The threat of Type 2 diabetes and family health issues spurred Jonathan Sullivan, 29, to a 70-pound weight loss, from his highest of 260 pounds to 190. The Canadian radio personality says his marriage had issues before, but his wife's lack of support during his weight-loss journey ultimately le to their divorce.
Before, the couple used to spend time watching television, reading books and sharing meals, Sullivan says. Conflict arose when he began spending more time in the gym and working with a female trainer who encouraged him to get fit and run his first marathon.
Despite a couple's gym membership, Sullivan says his wife refused to work out with him. And when she would offer to cook dinner, the meals always consisted of fatty foods that Sullivan no longer ate, including ham and scalloped potatoes.
"She never worried about me leaving her or cheating on her when I was fat," Sullivan says. "But she felt threatened when I started feeling better about myself."
Loss can lead to divorce
It's not unusual for someone who has lost weight to find new self-confidence to make other adjustments in his or her life, says Silver. That might include quitting a lackluster job or ending friendships or romances if they didn't feel valued.
Carl Moore, 43, said weighing 400 pounds kept him a stay-at-home introvert in a dysfunctional relationship with his wife of seven years. His 125-pound weight loss boosted his self-confidence and encouraged him to write a memoir, "Passing Through: Recovery From Diabetes and Food Addiction" (DCFX Press).
Moore's wife resented his personality change "when she was no longer the center of attention." They eventually divorced.
"When I was fat, I developed this survivor mentality where I thought I had to accept things the way they they were. My marriage was a part of what I had been accepting because part of me didn't believe that anyone else could love someone who was 400 pounds," Moore says. "You know, if my first wife had come home with some fruit and veggies and had been part of the solution, I think we might have made it."
Sheba R. Wheeler: 303-954-1283 or email@example.com
Talking over weight loss
We asked experts to share tips on how to discuss a weight-loss journey with your partner. Here are some dos and dont's:
Barbara Mendez is a nutritionist and registered pharmacist who lectures about wellness, weight and nutrition across the country. Her ideas:
Don't wait until the 50 pounds has been shed to sit down and talk. Significant weight loss takes time. Use that time to open a dialogue about how both partners feel regarding the changes.
Show the nondieting person how the change benefits him or her. Revamp a favorite recipe to be healthier, and cook it. Incorporate dog walking as part of your exercise regimen. When one partner is out buying new clothing once some weight has been shed, pick up a nonfood treat for the other person.If one person feels that weight-loss efforts are unsupported or even being sabotaged by the other, it's time to reassess the relationship.
Constance Dunn is a communications specialist and author of "Practical Glamour." Her suggestions:
Be ready to adjust your polite-yet-assertive meter upward if your partner's response to your weight loss is anything short of positive. Realize that a romantic partner may, on seeing that you are losing weight and moving toward greater satisfaction, attempt to consciously (or unconsciously) derail you.
He or she may feel abandoned if you were formerly the person the partner counted on to go to the nearest bar to commiserate about life, eat a dozen chicken wings and down a few beers.
Clarify your rational self- interest. You have a right to achieve whatever presentation, weight or health goal you are running for. This overrides whether or not a mate likes it.