If you thought you’ve heard every crazy weight-loss strategy in the book, you’re wrong. This one might be the strangest yet! Moving away from your spouse to lose weight? Whatever works, I guess!
As every successful dieter knows, you have to wave goodbye to the food you love. Ditch the cake and biscuits, go gluten-free or kick out the carbs.
The most brutal regimes seem to require removing yourself from every food except kale and spinach.
But have you tried removing yourself from your partner? Extreme as it sounds, the latest thinking in the weight loss world is that being happily married and, crucially, cosying up together on the sofa with a jumbo bag of Kettle Chips is sending obesity levels soaring.
But what would happen if you ditched your other half? Would it make getting back in shape easier?
A startling new BBC documentary, Lose Weight For Love, took four overweight couples and put them through a radical diet and fitness programme over the course of ten weeks.
The unusual twist was that the couples were physically separated for the duration. They were not allowed to live in the same house or even see each other, moving in with friends and family for the entire course of the series.
Nor were they allowed to phone, text or email each other — unless pre-arranged by the programme makers. Radical? Yes, but the experts, lead by psychologist Tanya Byron, insist the couples were unwittingly sabotaging each other’s attempts to lose weight — putting their health and relationships in jeopardy — and the enforced separation would give them ‘time out’ and a chance to break unhealthy habits.
After ten weeks, they were reunited and went back to their old habits.
So did the experiment work? Here, the four couples tell their stories:
Lisa Macbeth, 38, works for M&S. Her husband Steve, 42, is a church minister. They live in North London. Lisa went from 22 st 3 lb to 19 st 9 lb during the programme and has gone on to lose a further four stone. Total weight loss: 6 st 8 lb. Steve went from 16 st 7 lb to 15 st, and has lost a further stone. Total weight loss: 2 st 7 lb.
Total combined weight loss — 9 st 1 lb
Lisa says: I reached my breaking point last year when we went to a theme park. I couldn’t go on the rollercoaster because I couldn’t fit in the seats.
I weighed 22 stone and wore a size 32. I’d always have said that my weight didn’t bother me — I’ve never been the sort to define myself by a dress size. But I couldn’t keep denying that my size was stopping me getting me what I wanted — a family life.
I had a miscarriage ten years ago. Whether it was related to the weight, I don’t know, but I know that Steve and I didn’t have a healthy lifestyle. The next step for us is adoption, but who would let us adopt, at our size?
When the programme experts did the initial health tests, they told me I had a high risk of a heart attack or stroke. That’s hard to hear. Steve was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes a while back. I was so worried about him. Once he had to be hospitalised because his blood sugar was so high.
I was still baking him cakes. I’m not a stupid person and I knew that our lifestyle was all wrong, but I couldn’t see a way out.
Steve and I were partners in crime. When we met, food was our hobby. We loved take-aways and eating out (Chinese buffet places were our favourites because they were limitless).
All that stopped when the show separated us. Steve had to stay with a friend. We’d never been apart for this length of time and it was awful.
Steve is my buddy, my cheerleader. I had a big job interview during the ten weeks we were separated and not being able to talk to him was hard. I also had no idea how he was doing. Was he cheating on his diet?
In terms of my focus, though, not having him in the house was so helpful. I threw myself into it 100 per cent. I started to exercise, which I’ve never done before. Because I wasn’t having to cook for both of us, I was thinking more about healthy options: lots of chicken and fish and vegetables.
Since then I’ve gone on to lose more weight. I feel like a different person. I’ve got more energy, I’m more confident. We still go out — but to the gym. Sometimes we catch each other’s eye across the gym and I want to laugh at how unlikely it is.
Steve says: The most amazing moment of the whole process came when I saw Lisa for the first time in ten weeks. She came walking towards me — in a dress! And heels!
I hadn’t seen her in a dress since our wedding day. I’ve never seen her so focused, and it’s catching.
I’ve had my own weight issues over the years — at my heaviest I was 23 stone — but in the past when I’d lost weight I’d tended to put it back on.
This time it was rammed home to us that this wasn’t just a diet, it was a completely new way of life and we had to do it together.
Jane Walker, 56, who runs an ironing business, and Bob Lucas, 58, an industrial window cleaner, live in Frimley, Surrey. Jane went from 15 st 8 lb to 13 st 8 lb, and has lost a further stone. Total weight loss: 3 st. Bob dropped from 20 st 5 lb to 17 st 6 lb, but has regained a stone since the programme ended. Total loss: 1 st 13 lb.
Total combined weight loss — 4 st 13 lb
Jane says: At the start, they asked Bob if he found me sexually attractive and he said ‘No’.
I was devastated, but actually it was what I needed to hear. It made me think: ‘This has to stop.’
When I met Bob 14 years ago, I was a size ten. By the time I started on this programme, I’d gone up to a size 22 — and I hated it. I hated myself.
I’ve always thought of myself as a bubbly person, but the bigger I got, the more reclusive I got.
It was horrible for Bob. He’s a sociable type and we have lots of friends, but I’d find excuses not to go out. Sometimes I’d just start a fight with him because I didn’t want to go.
Holidays were hell. We just stopped going because I couldn’t bear to be around the pool. Bob understood to a point — he’s not exactly skinny himself — but not really.
What I do know now is that he didn’t help me. I’d be on my latest diet — I’ve done them all — and would have lost half a stone, and he’d say: ‘Let’s go out to celebrate.’ Or he’d tease me and say: ‘Smell that wine, Jane.’ He was sabotaging me.
We always enjoyed food. I’d cook at home and pile it high on the plate. I used to say my meals needed scaffolding. We’d snack — Bob loved sweets and chocolate; pastries were my downfall. We loved a bottle of wine.
It’s been a slog, but I’m getting there. I’m never going to be skinny, but I feel attractive again. There’s been half a bottle of wine in the fridge for ages. There’s no way that would have happened in the old days.
Bob says: Jane is a Jekyll and Hyde. If she feels she is looking good, she’s outgoing and bubbly. But if she feels unattractive, she can be horrible.
Her issues about her weight were affecting everything. I thought she was going to pieces during the show. She kept trying to phone and text when it wasn’t allowed, and when I didn’t answer she accused me of loving being apart from her.
But when the psychologist got involved it really helped. Jane had really deep issues about her weight, which I think she got to grips with. She’s done brilliantly.
Me? Less so. I’ve put on a stone since we stopped, which I’m a bit annoyed about. Jane doesn’t mind though. She actually thought I’d lost too much weight. She likes a man with a bit of meat on him.
Celena Biggs, 36, a trainee midwife and Peter Sharkey, 34, an estate agent, live in Warrington.
Celena dropped from 21 st 3 lb to 18 st 5 lb, and has now gone down to 17 st 8 lb. Total loss: 3 st 9 lb.
Peter went from 15 st 2 lb to 13 st 5 lb. Total weight loss: 1 st 11 lb.
Total combined weight loss: 5 st 6 lb
Celena says: When this started, Peter checked the Just Eat app on his phone — the one he used to order our takeaways. It showed we were spending £100 a week on takeaways, which is awful, but it’s dead easy to fall into that lifestyle. Once we had our son, Cameron, we couldn’t really go out, so our evenings would be spent in front of the telly, usually with a takeaway. Afterwards, we’d have some packets of sweets, too, and maybe a big bag of Doritos.
The upshot was that — without even really noticing it — I went up from a size 14 to a 16, then an 18.
At my biggest I was a size 26, and had become one of those people who couldn’t get the seat belt done up on a plane. I hated it.
We should be married by now, but I refused because there’s no way I was ever going to go wedding dress shopping at my size.
This programme was make or break for me, and it was very hard. Peter had the easy option because he got to move out and stay with his sister. I had the children. There were times when I wanted to scream that it wasn’t fair, but actually it was the best thing we could have done.
I’ve stopped wearing just baggy clothes and covering myself up. I’m still curvy — but I don’t mind that people can see my body.
And I’m running for the first time. When I started exercise I couldn’t do anything. I barely made it through the first session. Now we’ve got a family gym membership.
Peter lost a load of weight — I couldn’t believe it when I saw him —but his whole attitude to food has changed. Before, he’d been one of those men who didn’t think eating vegetables was for him. Afterwards, he munched on broccoli in front of me.
That’s half the battle — getting your partner to actually understand what healthy eating is.
Now, life is very different. We still have takeaways, but only occasionally, and we will order one meal between us. Before, we’d order enough for six.
Peter says: On the first night they separated us, I stayed in a hotel. I nearly went mad. I thought: ‘I can’t do this.’ I nearly phoned Celena and said: ‘This is crazy; we are fine as we are.’ But we weren’t fine. We were in robot mode.
I’d no idea how unhappy Celena was about her weight — not a clue. We never talked about it.
I always found her attractive, but when I saw her at the reveal, I was gobsmacked.
The big difference was in how she felt about herself, though. She’s a changed woman. She skips out of the house. She’s got more energy.
On the first morning after the reveal they put us up in a posh hotel and she woke me up at 7am to go to the gym. At breakfast we had grilled bacon and we cut the fat off.
My mates can’t get over the fact I eat broccoli. That was a challenge and a half. They made me have it raw, telling me it was a mind over matter challenge. I’d never ever have done that if I’d been at home, without the TV cameras.
Now I have it through choice — but steamed, not raw. In fact, tonight we had cabbage, broccoli, green beans and carrots — four veg in one meal!
Becky, 26, works in a laundrette, Phil Waterman, 38, works in IT. They live in Warrington.
Phil dropped from 24 st 2 lb to 21 st, and has since lost a further 2 st. Total: 5 st 2 lb. Becky went from 17 st 2 lb to 15 st, but is currently eight months pregnant. Total: 2 st 2 lb.
Total combined weight loss — 7 st 4 lb
Becky says: Monday was diet day in our house. Even my six-year- old knew it — it was horrifying when I first heard her say it.
Phil and I had this routine. On a Sunday we’d say: ‘Diet starts tomorrow, let’s have a blow-out.’ We would have a pizza or a takeaway, and then Phil would go to the shops for chocolate. Oh, and a bag of crisps or six while he was there.
Then the next day, we’d start a diet — nothing but grapefruit usually. By the Tuesday night, though, we’d be wanting to kill each other. And one of us would say: ‘Oh, let’s just get a pizza and start again tomorrow.’
That’s how it would go. Our relationship revolved around food, and every time we fell off the wagon — and ended up breaking the diet — we’d blame each other. We were also drinking a two-litre bottle of fizzy pop each every day.
We needed Tanya and the experts to come in and sort us out. I honestly think we would have split up if we hadn’t got help. I couldn’t be more pleased with what we achieved. I did a half marathon at the end of my ten weeks, which for me is a miracle.
Since the programme stopped, we’ve kept up the healthy eating. Getting pregnant again has stopped me losing more weight, but once the baby is born, I’m determined to get back to the exercise.
Phil says: I’d been at rock bottom before. I’ve actually had a gastric band before, because I’d got so huge — 30 stone at my heaviest — but I had steadily gained weight again, to the point where I didn’t know where to turn. Becky and I were our own worst enemies.
Being away from home for that time was the making of me. Becky had it harder — she had the children and the house to look after — but I was able to step back.
I even played football again, which I hadn’t done for years.
I honestly don’t think we could have done this on our own.
I’m so surprised that this works!