Skill #3: Evaluating Social Partnerships and "Toxic" People

by Chris Shugart (

Look around. Who is surrounding you right now? Visualize your close circle of friends, your immediate co-workers, and the family members you spend the most time with. Who are they? This is important because research has shown that the best indicator of success isn't socioeconomic status, education levels, or any of the usual suspects. It's the people you surround yourself with.

For this reason, it's important to have the skill of evaluating social relationships, including close personal relationships with spouses, best friends, and immediate family. These people can help you achieve your goals or stand in the way of you achieving them. They may even actively try to make you fail - yes, even your spouse or best friend. Especially your spouse or best friend.

Let's review the three main social categories as related to the V-Diet:

The Positive Partnership

Many people choose to do the V-diet with a friend, spouse, or boyfriend or girlfriend. This is a great idea. Women thrive in groups or partnerships, from training partners to diet partners. Men do too, especially if there's an element of competition. Men compete with each other while women tend to support each other. It's in our base natures.

Couples do well on the V-Diet together too. After all, if you're having your nineteenth shake of the week while your spouse is having pizza, friction can occur. The V-Dieter may resent the pizza eater, or the pizza eater may resent the V-Dieter for having the willpower to tackle his or her weight problem. But doing the diet together removes all those possible problems, if a positive partnership occurs.

A positive partnership is supportive. It can be supportive via positive pep talks and encouragement, or it can be supportive through the careful use of "tough love." Some people simply respond better to a verbal butt kicking than hand holding. In a positive partnership, one person will simply keep the other motivated and on track.

The Negative Partnership

Negative training and diet partners are supportive too, just in a counterproductive manner. Negative partners don't sabotage one another, rather, they work together to rationalize cheating on their diets, skipping workouts, or having lazy workouts.

Their mentality is one of partners-in-crime. If one V-Dieter says she thinks she's going to skip that day's NEPA walk, the other may justify this and agree to skip her walk as well. Spouses may justify a weekday cheat meal at a restaurant.

This type of negative support is comforting because human beings feel better about negative or destructive behaviors if these behaviors are performed in a group setting, something known as deindividuation in the field of psychology. "You lie to me, I'll lie to you, and we'll all be happy" seems to be the motto of these destructive tag-teams.

Obviously, negative partnerships are to be avoided. If you find yourself in one, get out or choose to be the strong member, the one who pulls the other up instead of participating in the downward spiral. As with many of these psychological and social issues, awareness is the key. Once you're knowledgeable about this pitfall, it should be easy to avoid.

The Solo V-Dieter

Most V-Dieters go it alone, often while being told how "crazy" they are for doing it. The greatest enemy of the V-Diet isn't fast food and comfortable couches, it's other people. In many cases, these other people can be classified as toxic.

The concept of "toxic people" was popularized by Dr. Lillian Glass in her book by the same name. A toxic person is basically anyone who holds you back, cuts you down, makes you experience any number of negative emotions on a regular basis, and generally causes you to feel like a piece of toilet paper, and not that nice triple-quilted stuff either. A toxic person can be a friend, a co-worker, a family member, and even a spouse.

A V-Diet saboteur, as I call them, is out to sabotage your training and diet program. He or she can do this overtly or covertly, and through physical or emotional manipulations. Let's go through some examples:

  • A family member cooks you your favorite cheat food and encourages you to "live a little" and give up the diet.

  • A friend drops seemingly casual but negative comments:

"Yeah, you've lost some fat, but that can't be healthy."

"It's great that you lost ten pounds so far, but when you lose weight fast it always comes back."

  • A co-worker knows you're dieting yet keeps offering you junk food. This office saboteur has been known to wave donuts in your face in a "joking" manner. He or she may also refer to you as a "health nut" or "fanatic."

  • Your spouse tries to talk you out of going to the gym, or make you feel guilty about it:

"Why can't you spend time with me instead of running off to the gym?"

"We're strapped for cash and you spend $50 a month on a stupid gym membership?"

"Why do you go to the gym so often? Are you seeing someone up there?"

So why do they do it? Well, they may be doing it consciously or unconsciously. It can be done out of hatred or competition, but the usual culprits are jealously and fear.

Example: Your spouse (who usually hasn't been bitten by the fitness bug) sees you losing fat and getting more defined. Your body is looking better and better. She's afraid you'll leave her for a better looking partner, so she tries to sabotage you in order to "keep you." Delusional thinking? You bet, but frighteningly common.

Another example is the jealous co-worker. She sees your discipline and hard work, and she watches as your body changes. She's failed at fat loss many times in the past and she's jealous of your achievements. Her attempts at sabotage can take many forms: caustic comments (often made as thinly disguised jokes), tempting you with crappy food, subtly discouraging your healthy behaviors, or even spreading rumors that you must be "on something."

(Sorry, you may think I'm picking on women here. No, both sexes can be saboteurs; women are just really, really good at it.)

These types of saboteurs behave this way to make themselves feel better. Your discipline and success is like a slap in the face to them. Without saying a word, you're making their excuses look pathetic. These infectious whiners won't be inspired by you; they'll be offended. Nothing angers a toxic person more than seeing someone else succeed.

I've seen toxic men use these same tactics on their wives. You'd think a man would want his overweight wife to get into shape, right? Not if he's toxic! These men might not like having overweight wives, but they'll do everything they can to keep them that way.

Why? Rampant insecurity. Keeping your wife fat is a great way to control her and keep her at home. This is usually coupled with verbal and emotional abuse. And yes, I've seen insecure women do the same thing to their husbands and boyfriends.

Sound crazy? It is, but I can't tell you how many times I've tried to help someone with their Velocity Diet only to have their spouse do everything in their power to ruin it. And here's where we learn about how devious the saboteur can be. You know what the most common form of sabotage is for these poisonous personalities? This line right here:

"Honey, I love you just the way you are. You don't have to lose weight."

BS! That's a velvet hammer used to squash another person's opportunities. It's sleazy and dirty and only used by an insecure person who's emotionally retarded. Aesthetics aside, I'd be wary of any person who doesn't want his or her significant other to make positive health decisions.

"I love you just the way you are" is a polite way of saying "I'll feel inadequate and lazy if you get into shape and I don't! Please stay fat and increase your risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Better you die at age 45 that me feel insecure or pressured to get into shape myself!"

A few things to keep in mind regarding the V-Diet saboteur:

#1: Watch for poisonous patterns.

Not everyone who offers you a slice of pizza or suggests you skip a workout is a saboteur. What you're looking for here are consistent patterns of behavior. How often does the person do this? How many different ways does the person try to do it?

#2: There are no "casual" negative comments.

If someone regularly makes nasty remarks, even in a joking manner, he could be a saboteur. Remember, saboteurs can be awfully subtle and polite about derailing your progress. They employ the "death by a thousand cuts" technique. And their tongues are wicked sharp. The closer the person is to you (wife or parent), the deeper the cuts.

#3: The V-Diet saboteur is the one with the problem.

It's easy to take these attacks personally, but you shouldn't. The Saboteur is the one with the "issues," not you. Their insecurity, jealously, and self-loathing are forced on you because you represent the opposite. Even though you don't mean it, you're a symbol of their failings and shortcomings.

#4: The toxic person is seldom seen by you as an "enemy."

Although they can be, the actions of a saboteur are seldom overt. And the saboteur himself is seldom a person who obviously has it in for you. The most prevalent saboteurs come from within your own family and close circle of friends.

#5: Sabotage often comes disguised as concern, a favor, or a nice gesture.

I was recently contacted by a guy who'd lost thirteen pounds during the first three weeks of his Velocity Diet. Although he had more fat to lose, his family was already filling his head with negative thoughts and lashing out. They told him he was anorexic, that he had a problem, that losing fat was unhealthy, that he took "too many pills," and that protein would damage his kidneys.

No surprise, everyone in his family was obese and did nothing but vegetate in front of the TV and eat potato chips. But still, verbal barbs like this coming from your family can be the sharpest and most frustrating.

Were they really concerned? No. They were upset that this guy was climbing out of the box they'd put him in. His success was making them feel inadequate. His fat loss reminded them that they were obese couch spuds. Luckily, this guy resisted the pull of the fatty flock and dodged their attempts at sabotage. Side note: Saboteurs sometimes travel in packs.

#6: Dealing with the V-Diet saboteur

A co-worker can usually be ignored. Once you learn to recognize and interpret these attempts at sabotage, you can see them for what they often are: a sign that you're accomplishing something. Take it as a compliment. Eat it up and thrive on it.

But what about the friend, family member or spouse? Dr. Glass recommends confronting them with humor. I agree, the straightforward approach is the best. End the game as fast as possible. When they try to sabotage you, ask them directly about it:

"Why are you offering me a cookie when you know I'm dieting for summer?"

"Why do you try to keep me from going to the gym?'

This is especially effective when the saboteur doesn't even realize what he or she is doing. Remember, these are often delusional people wrapped in a security blanket of defense mechanisms, and a reality check is just what they need. It'll be very difficult for them to continue with their sabotaging ways after you point out what they're doing.

The Final Word on the Saboteur

The V-Diet and the healthy lifestyle that follows is all about achievement and living a full, engaged life. The foundation of this is exercise and a healthy diet. With that solid base, anything is possible and all aspects of life are enriched. The saboteurs hate that, and they secretly resent you for doing what they either can't or won't.

The bitter, complacent people out there don't want you to rise above the norm. You're not allowed to be different. Today, "normal" is fat, weak and unhealthy, and their message to you is "Stay in your box!" Given the chance, they'll drag you down and lock you up.

Listen to what people around you are really saying. Spot the saboteurs, let them know you're on to them, and diffuse them.