Originally written for The Washington Post, February 14th, 2017

What happens when a couple tries to lose weight together? It can be a recipe for success — or a total disaster. Losing weight is difficult, and if someone feels alone during the process, lasting change may seem impossible. If a couple goes through the journey together, though, they can create healthier habits and strengthen their relationship. Supporting each other, having fun and being honest are the keys to making it work.

Compare habits, not numbers

Comparing body weight and/or pounds lost isn’t the best way to go. This is especially important for women to remember, because men are likely to lose weight more quickly. If you want to compare, consider using behaviors and habits to gauge how you’re doing. Notice what your partner is doing well and use that to learn how you can improve.

• “My partner brought lunch to work every day this week, so I’ll try to do the same. We can pack our lunches at the same time.”

• “I feel good about not having had a soda all week, but my partner exercised five times this week. I’m going to focus on exercising three times next week.”

• “I filled half my plate with veggies at lunch and dinner. I’m going to work with my partner so we both increase our vegetable intake.”

Make competition useful

Competition can be an effective motivator, but a couple needs to remember they’re on the same team. If every event turns into a competition, weight loss may be achieved, but the relationship might suffer. Instead, use competition to stay accountable and focused.

• “My partner woke up at 5 a.m. and got an early-morning workout in. I’m going to make sure I get my evening workout!”

• “My partner had only one glass of wine at the party last night. At our next event, I’m going to follow that lead to help manage my alcohol intake.”

Splurge vs. sabotage
Treats and sweets are key to success, but moderation is essential. It’s important to realize that your splurges may be different from your partner’s. One person may want a glass of wine while the other wants a doughnut. One may want to sleep in and watch TV, while the other wants to take a walk and eat french fries. Everyone can enjoy a treat when they want it, but that doesn’t mean both partners must participate. One may not want a treat that day. One may be craving something different. If one side of the couple feels obliged to splurge out of guilt, that can lead to resentment and arguments.
Loving honesty vs. nagging

Although many excel at nagging, the recipient rarely enjoys being on the other side of that conversation. Having a partner who’s working for the food police can take the fun out of a romantic dinner. While a partner may be sincerely trying to help, too much scrutinizing may cause the other half of the relationship to sabotage everything. Both sides of the couple are trying to succeed and to be their best selves. Consider a calm, honest conversation, or even an email or note to express thoughts and concerns. A relationship can get stronger through this journey.

Embrace diversity

There’s one indisputable truth about weight loss: One diet does not fit all. While a couple can be in this experience together, it doesn’t mean they have to follow the same plan. What you eat, how you exercise, your schedule and your goals can all be different. Respect that. For weight loss to be successful, it has to make sense to the individual. Do what feels right to you even if your partner doesn’t agree or want to participate.

Have fun

This is the most important part. Losing weight is tough stuff! If a couple jumps into deprivation mode and creates a rigid and strict plan, it will probably not stick. There are ways to make this process enjoyable. Take a silly dance class together or go for a gorgeous walk or hike. Take a fun cooking class or start a cooking night with friends to create a social aspect to changing eating plans. Plan a date night that has nothing to do with eating healthy or splurging. Go see a movie or a show. Join a group or take a class. Laugh a lot! There are going to be moments of frustration, anger and struggle. Taking a moment to find some humor will help with the bumps in the road.