How can I get my girlfriend to exercise?
September 5, 2008 12:02 PM   Subscribe

How can I encourage my girlfriend to start exercising and eating better without hurting her feelings?

My girlfriend and I have been dating for about ten months and it's getting serious. I'm head over heels in love with her and can easily see us getting married someday (not anytime soon, of course). However, I have concerns about her attitude towards her health.

She's a little overweight. It's not bad; in and of itself it's not a problem for me at all. However, she's not overweight because she's got a large build, I think she's overweight because she has a brutally awful diet (that perversely she is proud of) and absolutely refuses to exercise or exert herself in any way. I gather that she's gained 30-40 lbs since starting college (we are recent grads) and I'm certain it's mostly due to lifestyle issues. This bothers me because it indicates a callous disregard for her personal health. I'm nervous about committing myself to a lifelong relationship with someone who is not serious about taking care of herself.

So how do I address this without offending her? She's extremely sensitive, particularly about her weight. I'll admit that it annoys me a lot that she's so neurotic about it but scoffs at the notion of exercise whenever other people mention it in conversation. But I don't want her to think that I'm uncomfortable with her body because that's not the case at all. It is truly just about being worried that she will continue these habits and be a very unhealthy adult. I certainly am not a shining example of a healthy lifestyle, but I'm conscious of it and intend to eat kind of well and be active as I grow up. I don't want a running partner for life, but I want someone I can hike around a national park with or walk around an unfamiliar city all day with. I would like her to show some initiative by going to the gym, doing something outside, or just not licking processed cheese sauce off the plate and eating McFlurries a few times a week.

I can't say "Look, you need to shape up or I'm breaking up with you" so I want to be manipulative without coming off as a shallow asshole. For the next eight months she will be living about an hour away and will be visiting every weekend, so I can't just go to the gym every day and guilt her into it. Any ideas?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (70 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Propose. :) Then she'll start thinking about fitting into a wedding dress.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:08 PM on September 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

" I can't just go to the gym every day and guilt her into it."

Even if you lived with her every day, you still couldn't do this.
At least, not for long.
posted by the Real Dan at 12:09 PM on September 5, 2008

If you don't know how to tell her without being a jackass and have to consult the internet, you're probably not the person who should be telling her what to do. You've been dating for ten months. Ten months! Sure, it's long enough that she has learned to trust you, but you'd better think about whether it's long enough that telling her she's fat won't get you kicked to the curb.
posted by sian at 12:12 PM on September 5, 2008 I want to be manipulative without coming off as a shallow asshole...

i think i detect the problem here. many people think being manipulative makes one a shallow asshole.
posted by stubby phillips at 12:12 PM on September 5, 2008 [13 favorites]

also, i'm not sure the word encourage means exactly what you think it does. or maybe it's me. if she were interested or involve in exercising and you helped or supported her in some way, that's what i'd call encouragement. if you want to change her or make her do something she doesn't want to do, i dunno, there's got to be a better word for that. control, maybe?
posted by stubby phillips at 12:15 PM on September 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

What about simply planning your weekends around the kind of activities you mention? "Hey, let's hike Mt. Pretty-but-super-steep today!" As long as you are encouraging and include yourself in any comments you make about exercising ("Wow this is hard work! Maybe we should be hitting the gym so stuff like this is easier"), I think she'd see that you are interested in being a healthy adult and hopefully she'll want to be able to keep up with you.

Consider being an activity and good food pusher--not someone who frowns when she has treats (which is very annoying SO behavior). Let her have her treats (without comments that will make her resent you), but always offer up splitting salads when you eat together. And try to plan some physical activity every time you're together.

Basically, I think the only way to do this is if you're interested in being pretty active yourself.
posted by eralclare at 12:16 PM on September 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

You can't. Best you can hope for is *you* setting a good example. Other than that, there is absolutely nothing you can do.
posted by notsnot at 12:16 PM on September 5, 2008

I certainly am not a shining example of a healthy lifestyle, but I'm conscious of it and intend to eat kind of well and be active as I grow up. I don't want a running partner for life, but I want someone I can hike around a national park with or walk around an unfamiliar city all day with.

Then grow up. Talk about recipes you're trying out, how great exercise is making you feel, and if you want to hike around a national park or walk around a city, then do those things now. If you're serious about this being a lifestyle you want to pursue and not just interested in setting it as some "this sure would be nice, someday" goal then you need to take steps to get yourself there, and then see if she wants to follow. If not, then explain these are things you want to share and do together and it's important to you.
posted by mikeh at 12:16 PM on September 5, 2008 [15 favorites]

seconding eralclare and mikeh: try to integrate exercise and healthier eating habits into your time together. As you said, you're not perfect either, so it will benefit you both.

and I'm with sian, it's too early in your relationship to bring up topics like this. Maybe being far apart will spark something and she'll make changes herself. And if she's so sensitive about it, I'd wait until she came to you for help.
posted by LiveToEat at 12:18 PM on September 5, 2008

I'm not a psychologist or anything but clearly there seems to be something mental going on. Maybe her last boyfriend was hyper-annoying about her health habits and she's doing this to test you. Maybe she hates herself and she does this to push people away and/or punish herself with poor health. Or maybe something else.

My suggestion would be to tell her that you love her, you're not going anywhere, and you want to be together for a long, long time, so you want her to be healthy. Don't make it about the weight or her appearance, make it about her blood pressure, cholesterol readings, and stamina. Tell her you want lots of sex and want to make sure she can keep up.

Of course make sure you're being honest with yourself about what is really motivating you. You talk a good game above, but if it really boils down to that you don't dig fat chicks, you need to face that.
posted by skallagrim at 12:21 PM on September 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

She's probably really insecure and sensitive about her weight, hence her defensive behavior.

I suggest lots of praise and kind words, cooking her healthy romantic meals, going for long, slow walks, and generally doing your job--which is not to change her, but to love her.
posted by sondrialiac at 12:21 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

I had a bad diet and no exercise for a long time and had the extra 30 lbs to show for it. My ex-boyfriend tried to get me to exercise etc. and I resented the hell out of him for it. Now I with a man who loves me at my current weight (I've lost the 30 lbs) and loved me when I was 30 lbs heavier. I lost weight when I was ready to lose weight and change; no one could have convinced me to make that kind of commitment for them.

You can't change your girlfriend and she'll only resent you if you try. You need to try an accept her the way she is or move on. If you're going to get married, you're going to have to work through a lot more difficult issues than her being a overweight.

If you like hiking or other outdoor activities than by all means invite her to go hiking etc. with you, but don't make it your personal mission to change a lifestyle you perceive as unhealthy because that won't work.
posted by bananafish at 12:21 PM on September 5, 2008 [19 favorites]

Sexercise. It's a win-win.
posted by wavering at 12:22 PM on September 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

I can't say "Look, you need to shape up or I'm breaking up with you" so I want to be manipulative without coming off as a shallow asshole. For the next eight months she will be living about an hour away and will be visiting every weekend, so I can't just go to the gym every day and guilt her into it. Any ideas?

No. Being manipulative--or even wanting to be manipulative--makes you a shallow asshole. If she's already sensitive about her weight, she's going to really react poorly to all of this. I wonder if you'd be concerned if she was thin.

I want someone I can hike around a national park with or walk around an unfamiliar city all day with.

Then invite her to do those things with you. If she says no, accept it, and find a friend who will. Trying to change her is just going to frustrate both of you.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:23 PM on September 5, 2008

Building habits together is probably the best way to go about this.

What if you did do some hiking, biking around the city or lots of walking one day out of every weekend she comes to visit? You two get to do something together, and you both get some exercise. She may start working out while she's not visiting you in order to keep up on the hikes and biking.

Also, take turns cooking for each other on the weekends. Breakfast is always a fun way to start and cooking at home is almost always healthier than a restaurant.
posted by dearest at 12:23 PM on September 5, 2008

Search your feelings, Luke. A friend of mine was in this exact situation, pretty much. Had a somewhat serious girlfriend who was on the chubby side, ate bad food, didn't exercise. He kept going on and on about how he was concerned about her health and her future, but in truth, he was turned off by her eating and by her body. I suspect that this is how you really feel, and there's nothing really wrong with that as long as you are honest with yourself.

People don't change through manipulation, and you cannot have a healthy relationship if you are counting on the other person to change at all. Assume that she will not. Will you still love her if she gets fatter and fatter and never does anything about it? Do you love her now?

If you try to get her to change, she will resent you for it - she is the only one who can make herself change her lifestyle in a major way, and she will do it for herself, not for you. Down that path lies pain and suffering. Don't start. If you can't accept her the way she is, break it off, you will probably both be better off with someone else.
posted by jenbeee at 12:23 PM on September 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

She's dug her heels in. I wonder if her mom or dad pressured her about this early on? Either way, she's being kind of oppositional, and she's going to need a lot of space to change (Hey! Fat joke! Whoops!).

I agree with the above people about setting an example. And no, I don't think you're a shallow asshole at all. I'd be very distraught in your situation too! One thing to do is emphasize "activity" over "exercise." The latter concept makes people sort of retreat into their shells. Taking little walks with her quickly can turn into big hikes, and seem non-threatening.

I'm not agreeing with the advice about you lavishing her with a proposal or getting her a big ring. Married people balloon. Don't "feed the monkey" here (sorry, couldn't resist). Give more care to yourself, and re-frame things so she doesn't have to keep retreating.
posted by No New Diamonds Please at 12:24 PM on September 5, 2008

Be a good role model.

Do these things and do them without preaching and invite her along.

Cook dinner to show her that you love her and enjoy healthy food and think the two go well together.

Tell her how sexy she is when she's doing things she might not consider sexy, like eating or moving about enthusiastically or even just being a lump on a log. That may help to avoid associating the health push with any assumption of attractiveness judgment.

Get excited about adventures that require movement and stamina and show that part of your excitement is in sharing these adventures with her.

Let her talk out her feelings on food and movement and, as hard as it may be, do so without jumping in with immediate suggestions on any barriers she may bring up. Wait a couple of days and then bring up any solutions you may have thought of, showing her that you've considered her words and position on things and want to respectfully offer ways for her to enjoy life more.

If you do nothing else, though (and the rest could be kind of edgy if she's perversely proud of her current state of mind), just be a good role model and invite her to share in your commitment to fitness and healthy eating while letting her know you love and appreciate her either way.

bless you. I wish more were like you.
posted by batmonkey at 12:26 PM on September 5, 2008

Man, I'm glad my boyfriend didn't care that I ate crappy, worked too hard to spend much time exercising, and gained 20-30 lbs in college. Because if he had been "manipulative" or coerced me into trying to lose weight, I would have broken up with him. Period.

In other words, you're her boyfriend, not her father. Either accept her for the way she is or find someone who is "serious about taking care of herself".
posted by muddgirl at 12:27 PM on September 5, 2008 [10 favorites]

Sorry guys, but proposing is the exact WRONG course of action. 1) It adds positive reinforcement to behavior that should be discouraged. 2) Even if she does try to lose weight to fit in the wedding dress, she doesn't have the right habits to make that weight loss sustainable.

You need to be honest and non-judgmental at the same time. Tell her first that you love her, second that you don't want to be with anyone else, and third that you're concerned about her health. You'll have to decide the best course of action (joining a gym, buying fruits & vegetables and cooking at home, walking/jogging together) from there, but the most important thing is to maintain the emotional connection & trust. She needs to trust your motives (i.e., that you truly care about her & the relationship, and aren't ashamed of her).
posted by BobbyVan at 12:27 PM on September 5, 2008

Propose. :) Then she'll start thinking about fitting into a wedding dress.

Size != health.

Someone with unhealthy habits who wants to reduce their size quickly is much more likely to do it via crash diets and other unhealthy habits.

So this is orthogonal advice at best.

Okay, back to the topic:

If you think she eats unhealthily and doesn't get enough exercise, you can mention it. Occasionally. Just as you would if she were smoking and you were concerned about the impact of that on her health.

And yeah, set a better example. If, as you say, "she has a brutally awful diet (that perversely she is proud of) and absolutely refuses to exercise or exert herself in any way," that's not good for her (or for anyone).

But none of this is necessarily going to be directly connected to whether she's what you consider "overweight"--there are plenty of "overweight" triathletes and Olympians, and plenty of slender people who are in horrible, horrible physical condition.

So if you really want her to be healthier, talk about habits rather than body composition.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:28 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

My husband is in your situation. I know, in my head, that he wants me to be healthy and that's why he's concerned. That doesn't matter - when he suggests exercise or diet stuff, I get defensive and feel shitty. That said, I don't think he should have to not talk about it -- so we talk about it every once in a while when I bring it up (duh, not like I don't know that I need to exercise) and talk about ways for him to be supportive instead of insulting. Really, if it's important to you, you need to find a way to talk about it, and if you can't find a way to talk about it (even if it's hard for her), you have a different issue all together. Communication, in this and most everything, really, is key.
posted by dpx.mfx at 12:29 PM on September 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

I'll be the contrarian here: You can try being honest. Let her know that you won't take the next step with someone who refuses to take care of their health and well being properly the way she does. It may be the end, but that may be just as well.
posted by Citrus at 12:31 PM on September 5, 2008

Also, the two of you might want to read "The Obesity Myth." I suggest it with trepidation on this community, knowing that a lot of people here aren't into the Fat Acceptance (which really should be called the "Body Acceptance movement" IMO to embrace people who just want to love their bodies, no matter the size of them). It might help you realize the class and gender factors that affect our perceptions of weight--and it might help her get into exercising NOT for looking a particular way, but as a way to love and celebrate her body, not for you or anyone else, but for herself.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:31 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

My husband is the same way. This behavior has gotten worse since we got married and he went from being a little overweight to very overweight now. So keep in mind this may not change once you get married. It may, in fact, get worse.

I've made mistakes. I've tried every tactic I could. Encouragement. Setting an example. Implementing and cooking good diet and foods in our house (this doesn't stop him from eating junk away from home). Sitting down and seriously talking to him about how his lifestyle is affecting me. Taking him to the doctor and them telling him his diet is detrimental to his life (he has super high cholesterol, triglycerides and is pre-diabetes). I've tried negotiating. I've tried explaining how his health is important to me and I want him to be around for a very long time.

The bottom line is if these people don't want to change FOR THEMSELVES (not for you or anyone else) they aren't going to. Period. We've had temporary changes in his behavior / diet, but nothing long term because ultimately he wasn't doing it for himself. He doesn't see the benefits of having a good diet and lifestyle. He is unhappy with is weight and would love to lose it, but I guess ultimately not enough to change his lifestyle.

I recommend planning events and activities that employ exercise (hiking, biking, etc) and maybe trying out recipes for her, but beyond that you really can't change what she chooses to do.

If this is important to you, it can be a source of frustration in a marriage.
posted by rainygrl716 at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

It adds positive reinforcement to behavior that should be discouraged.

If she were a puppy or a very young child, I might agree with part of this statement. But remember that you're judging her, so the idea that this is 'behivior that should be discouraged' is only your judgemental opinion, not fact.
posted by stubby phillips at 12:34 PM on September 5, 2008

"I'm nervous about committing myself to a lifelong relationship with someone who is not serious about taking care of herself."

Say this - there's nothing wrong with that.
posted by xammerboy at 12:36 PM on September 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

dpx.mfx's post makes me want to unpack this a bit more.

For many women, any discussion of healthy eating and exercise habits sounds like "YOU'RE TOO FAT YOU SHOULD DIET YOU NEED TO LOOK LIKE KATE MOSS" and they don't want to hear it.

If your girlfriend has gained 30 pounds or whatever in the past few years, she has heard "YOU'RE TOO FAT YOU SHOULD DIET" over and over and over from many, many people.

So if you really want to encourage her to eat healthier and be more active, you'll need to do this from the Health At Every Size perspective because otherwise all she'll hear from you is that you're coding "YOU'RE TOO FAT YOU SHOULD DIET" in weasel-words about health.

The book Slow Fat Triathlete is an excellent place to start for a Health At Every Size discussion of exercise and healthy eating.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:36 PM on September 5, 2008 [7 favorites]

Clean up your own habits.

Make slightly better food choices. Get some exercise regularly and include her if she's interested. Plan active weekend and evening activities for yourself and invite her. Ask her what her fitness goals are. This doesn't mean, what is your goal weight? It means, do you want to walk the Breast Cancer 3 day or do you want to ride bikes to the farmer's market?

If she's defensive and prickly, then don't push her. Just tell her that you're cleaning up your own unhealthy choices and you'd like her support.

Over time, she may shift her own choices. Or she may not and you'll have to decide if her fitness choices are important to you.
posted by 26.2 at 12:39 PM on September 5, 2008

just not licking processed cheese sauce off the plate

There is nothing utterely wrong with this. In fact, I encourage it because processed cheese sauce is utterely delicious.

Until you actively take care of yourself better, embrace healthy eating and health exercising, you can't really do anything to get her to change. You will appear hypocritical and her defensive behavior will get even worse. You have to take charge of your own health to the point where it becomes part of your lifestyle. Your complaining about her not being able to walk around a national park is a moot point if you never go to a national park. Your complaining about her love of cheese sauce is a moot point if you yourself eat it. Embrace what you'd like her to be and make it a part of your life.

Your SO knows that she is overweight and it bothers the hell out of her. In fact, it bothers her so much, she's resigned to just getting fatter because she doesn't know how/have the will to change her lifestyle to the point where she can be thin. Anything you do, from living a heathier lifestyle, going to the gym, or going hiking, she's going to see it as you trying to tell her that she is fat and she needs to lose weight. Rather than do that, you need to help create a positive and ecouraging space and point in her life where she can go "holy shit, i need to lose weight" and she can actually do it.

Or, if you must, move to new york where every chain restaurant puts their calorie count on the menu. If that doesn't make her think about what she's putting into her body, then I'm not sure what else will.
posted by Stynxno at 12:40 PM on September 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Try this: "Your attitude towards exercise and a healthy diet is a real turn-off to me. I'm asking you, as a favor to me, to get into better shape. I will help you with this in any way I can."

Maybe she'll go for it, maybe she'll dump you. But you need to open a direct and constructive dialog. Living "by example" isn't going to motivate her because you need to change her attitude first, although you need to be healthy too or you'll look like a hypocrite.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:45 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Become concerned with the social, economic, and ethical reasons for not wanting to eat crap. Also, that stuff is poison in more ways than just the fat-making kind.

Tell her you quit refined sugar, corn-fed beef, bleached flour, etc...

Ride bikes to the farmer's market.

Trick her into reading Skinny Bitch. I don't know what they say in there, but my wife cooks better now. And all of her friends that she loaned it to made at least some change too.
Does she have any vegetarian type friends? Give one of them the book for Christmas and hope it finds its way back to your special lady friend.

Or dump her. You ever go into a friend's house or something and see pictures of the mom hanging on the wall and it's like the 60's and she's hot, but now she's like 300 Lbs? That always struck me as a real bummer, man. I'm pretty sure everyone got all fat between the 50's and the 90's because we started eating garbage.
posted by low affect at 12:45 PM on September 5, 2008

Yes, I much prefer Health At Every Size to "body acceptance" as a philosophy, because everyone at every size needs to think about making healthy choices. This goes for Kate Moss as much as it does for Kevin James.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:46 PM on September 5, 2008

FWIW, here's Dan Savage's take.
posted by limon at 12:48 PM on September 5, 2008

xammerboy wrote: "I'm nervous about committing myself to a lifelong relationship with someone who is not serious about taking care of herself."

Say this - there's nothing wrong with that.

Unless he's not taking care of his health himself, but thinks it doesn't matter because he's what he defines as "thin" or "healthy weight."

In Slow Fat Triathlete, Jayne Williams talks about a slender friend berating her about how she should lose weight "for her health," even though Williams is a triathlete and the slender friend got out of breath by climbing stairs.

Note: I don't mean to imply that the OP is being hypocritical, because we don't have enough data. I'm just saying that many people make the mistake of equating "thin" with "healthy" and "fat" with "unhealthy" and that is not always the case, as studies show.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:52 PM on September 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

I actually have a few female friends who are/were a bit overweight and had the exact same attitude towards food and working out. I'm sure you've noticed the two big conflicting messages about "improving yourself" but still "loving yourself as you are": my friends were actively trying to do the latter. I think, in order to work, this involves a little bit of outright aggression towards the "improving yourself" category--hence the "perverse proudness" about her diet. My friends were the same way, though they thought of it as simply, unapologetically, enjoying food.

This attitude isn't necessarily permanent, and I think the fact that she's purposely not working out or eating well shows she's thinking about it more than most. In the meantime, I think sondrialiac's advice is best--make it clear that you really love her, and if she feels comfortable, at some point, with changing her attitude and changing herself, it might be a rather dramatic change.
posted by timoni at 12:57 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Just a note: The poster met this woman at her current weight, started this relationship, fell in love and can see spending his life with this woman. He says the weight isn't the problem and his choices demonstrate that. Perhaps we can give him the benefit of the doubt.
posted by 26.2 at 1:03 PM on September 5, 2008

Whatever you do, don't let this go on for too long. My long relationship recently ended because my girlfriend told me that she thought my smoking and drinking was very unhealthy; and that this had been bothering her for two years.

After I heard this 2 years thing, I realized that I could not trust her anymore. The relationship pretty much disintegrated after that.

Hence, if you really care about her and want to stay with her, you need to be honest, and you need to do it soon.
posted by King Bee at 1:06 PM on September 5, 2008

If she's busy or stressed out, take something off her plate, like cleaning cleaning the house or something. There's nothing worse than being overwhelmed by life and then your SO, who supposedly loves you for who you are, wants you to completely change your life 'cause they don't like something about you.

If you're serious about this, learn to cook and learn to cook delicious, healthy food. I can't think of any meal plans at the moment, but I know there's several that give recipes for really tasty food that is healthy. Yeah, it's pretty blatant what you're doing, but at least this way, you're not asking her to change per se, but enjoy delicious food with you.

Otherwise, you're shit outta luck. People change when they wanna change and trying to force or manipulate them into changing not only doesn't work, but will 'cause them to hate you, eventually.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:07 PM on September 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

Don't be manipulative. As uncomfortable as it is, you need to bring up, directly, that you love her and can't live with watching her steadily wreck her health over time. It's very hard emotionally to watch someone's health deteriorate over time through no fault of their own, but for her to expect you to do this even though it's within her control to prevent it is unreasonable.

Tell her it's not about being 30 pounds overweight (which is relatively trivial) but about cardiovascular problems, diabetes, and having a shorter and lower quality life. Eating as terribly as you say and not getting any exercise will leave her a wreck in ten years. Let her know you don't care if she stays the same weight as long as her blood pressure, cholesterol, and other serious health indicators are fine.

Try to get to agree her to talk to a doctor and work off of his recommendations. Let her know that she doesn't need to be a health freak, but that you do have to do a few things to preserve her health. I know you live far from her, but whatever she has to do, you should do as well. If she has to follow a certain diet for a while, you should do it to and tell her about your progress on it. If she has to do a certain amount of working out, you have to do the same work so that she doesn't feel alone.

If this is actually about her being 30 pounds overweight and not about her health, doing all this isn't worth it. Break up with her and find someone else.
posted by ignignokt at 1:07 PM on September 5, 2008

If your girlfriend was thin and still had bad eating habits and was sedentary, would you still be worried?

I'm not being snarky; honestly to me it sounds like you aren't so much worrying about how she looks, but how she behaves and how she might behave in the future. If you are active and she's sedntary or you like healthful heating and she likes a steady diet of chilicheezburritochiladas then that could be an incompatibility problem.

That said, it's likely very difficult to encourage change without making her feel resentful or that it is about her appearance, so I agree that being a good example and trying to participate in healthful activities may be the best way.

For the record, I'm (still somewhat) overweight and 6 months ago I made (for myself) the decision to start working out, living an active life, and eating better, but I likely would have freaked if a partner had told me I should.

Also Sidhedevil says true things.
posted by pointystick at 1:08 PM on September 5, 2008 [3 favorites]

If you expect your partner to be faithful, there's a responsibility to at least make an attempt to stay attractive. If you expect your partner to stay with you in sickness and in health, there's a responsibility to at least make an attempt to stay healthy.

I think you gotta be open and tell her that you think she's beautiful, but you can't be in a relationship with someone who is denying/ignoring a problem that she recognizes. She's doing the opposite of what she should because she's so paralyzed by it. She needs to deal with it herself, get into therapy, or you need to leave.

If she's acting like this about something comparatively simple, it will get worse. Relationships are about being open and honest and willing to work with your partner on BOTH of your problems. They are NOT about expecting your partner to just deal with their own issues and pretending they don't exist and letting them fester. You have to do it openly, though, even if it hurts feelings. Being a manipulative jerk is also against the rules.

If you frame your argument in such a way that it's about both of you working towards a common goal of hot sex and healthy living, and then aren't a hypocrite by eating a lot of cheezy poofs, she might go along with you. If not, leave, because this is about more than her weight. Y'all gotta be willing to worth with each other.
posted by paanta at 1:12 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

There can be a lot of reasons that people are resistant to exercise; dislike the attention at the gym, feeling athletically incompetent, or self-esteem issues in which they don't place any value on their own fitness. The possibilities are endless, we can't know what your girlfriend's resistance is about.
I think your concerns and motivations are valid. I think the solution is going to require an honest conversation, or series of conversations with your girlfriend. Open communication is key in any successful relationship. She may, in fact get offended, but you can reduce the odds by broaching the subject with kindness, understanding and sincerity. You spelled out your dilemma to us articulately, and you can do the same for her. Try to make the issue less about her habits, and more about your hopes and plans.
If avoiding exercise and reasonable eating habits are simply results of other issues, you will likely have to work together to resolve the underlying issues before making progress on the fitness itself. Be patient and loving. Encourage her to talk.

Finally, I would avoid manipulation in favor of encouragement. Like with quitting other bad habits, if it is forced on someone, they will probably just go underground with it. She has to see the value in changing before it will stick.
posted by worstkidever at 1:19 PM on September 5, 2008

I certainly am not a shining example of a healthy lifestyle, but I'm conscious of it and intend to eat kind of well and be active as I grow up.

Seriously, if I was dating someone and they said this to me: "I've noticed that you put on some weight over the years. This bothers me because I think it indicates that you might become and unhealthy adult. I know, I know, my own diet sucks, but see... I intend to change that! I intend to eat well, and I intend to be active! You, on the other hand, I can already tell that you do not intend to do these things," I would laugh at them.

"Things I intend to do" might as well be "things that I am lying about intending to do". If you both have the same crappy lifestyle, you have absolutely no leverage when you say "I think you should change now, but I'm going to wait." Start exercising now.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:21 PM on September 5, 2008 [8 favorites]

A year and a half ago, I was the unhealthy girlfriend. Today I'm 80 pounds lighter, run 14 miles a week, and eat a lot less junk. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels were "hey, you might die" back then, and today they're at optimal levels. I even have some visible muscles.

To get from then to now took a massive amount of time, patience, frustration, and tears, but I got there. I don't think I could have done it if I didn't want to do it, but I owe a lot of my good health to my boyfriend, who was with me every step of the way, even when I was screaming that I couldn't physically take another step.

Never once did he remotely imply that I was not beautiful at that exact moment and that exact weight, or that our relationship was contingent on my physical activity, or that he was helping me get healthy for anyone other than me. Never once was he manipulative or disingenuous about it, and never once did he fail to acknowledge the effort I was making.

If you're serious about helping someone get healthy, it's going to take a lot of time and effort and support. It's going to take honesty, and it's going to take as much kindness as you can muster. It's as hard emotionally as it is physically. But it is possible.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:21 PM on September 5, 2008 [11 favorites]

I know the perfect way!

You go to the gym everyday and soon, she'll start worrying that you're going to meet some hottie there and leave her. Or she'll feel embarassed that you're trying to keep in shape while she's not. That will probably push her to go to the gym.

Don't say *anything* about her weight to her. You probably already know this, but weight is not an issue couples ought to talk to each other about, especially a bf telling a gf she should exercise. She will definitely take it the wrong way and be hurt by it.
posted by onepapertiger at 1:48 PM on September 5, 2008

+1 23skidoo. You "intend" to develop into a healthy adult? You can't have your cake and eat it too. Be happy you don't suffer from female hormones to the extent your partner does.
posted by shownomercy at 1:49 PM on September 5, 2008

Duh, I should read your whole post. How about start an exercise blog and talk about it all of the time?
posted by onepapertiger at 1:49 PM on September 5, 2008

PS- To my previous post. It sounds like for you weight is not the issue, health and fitness is the issue. When you talk to her, don't make the conversation about weight; make it about getting fit and healthy. If she gets fit, the weight that is right for her will follow.

To Metroid Baby: That is some great first-hand advice. Congratulations on your success.
posted by worstkidever at 2:06 PM on September 5, 2008

weight is not an issue couples ought to talk to each other about,

Uh, no. Weight gain or loss can be a symptom of depression, medical problems, stress, eating disorders. You need to be sensitive and non-judgmental, but it's not taboo. People can be healthy at higher or lower weights, but weight gain or loss isn't always benign. If something is amiss in your partner's health, then you need to be grown ups and talk about it.
posted by 26.2 at 2:11 PM on September 5, 2008

It could also be a manifestation of depression. If she's just sitting around, doing nothing and endangering her health, you may want to find out what's behind this self-destructive behavior (assuming that once she was more responsible in her personal habits).

I also like the idea of your going to the gym, eating healthy, and basically taking, really good care of yourself. Hopefully she'll start getting jealous of other girls who check you out, and change her behavior.
posted by BobbyVan at 2:14 PM on September 5, 2008

If you want a certain lifestyle, live that lifestyle. Once you're living it, see whether or not the woman you say you love wants to live it with you. If so, great. If not, then decide whether or not you're happy in the relationship. But don't judge her for not living up to the standard you've set for your imaginary future self, a standard up to which you yourself do not live.

Just as you "intend" to change as you grow up, she may intend to change as she grows up. Or she may change without any conscious intent to do so. Or she may not change. You're both very young, and people grow and change in all sorts of unexpected ways in their early 20s. (I should point out that many people also change physically at this time in their lives. Many people, even people with diets straight out of nutrition textbooks, gain body fat in their late teens and early 20s as part of the end of puberty. That's a change you've already seen.) She may change to adopt a lifestyle that you consider more healthy. Or she may change by deciding she deserves someone who loves her just as she is.

If you tell your girlfriend that she is too fat and unhealthy, but that you "intend to eat kind of well and be active" as you grow up, I really hope that she tells you that you are too clueless, but that she "intends to dump you for someone more mature and sensitive" as she grows up.
posted by decathecting at 2:52 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

"she has a brutally awful diet (that perversely she is proud of) and absolutely refuses to exercise or exert herself in any way"

"She's extremely sensitive, particularly about her weight."

how I love girl logic.

first: it is not shallow to be more or less attracted to anyone because of any reason. a person suggesting that is cheapening your feelings and themselves disrespectful. I would question their feelings for you.

second: you are clearly stating not being attracted to her because of her weight gain is not the issue. you made clear you have a problem with her values. your point is that you do not like being around a person who does certain things or has certain beliefs. that is en par with a republican not wanting to date a democrat or a vegan not willing to live with a butcher. it's fine, it's your choice.

you do not have the right to tell her how to live your life. if she wants to be a certain type of person, so be it. you do have the right to voice your opinion and have your wishes for your partner but it's up to her whether she agrees or considers your relationship important enough to cater to your whims or not. it is up to you to decide whether this is still the person based on where this goes. if you approach the issue like this and don't make an ultimatum or demand, which you have indicated you won't, then you should not have anything to worry about.

there will always be conflicts in your relationships. some are going to be small and some absolutely earth-shattering. this one could be either. let her understand who you are and what you think. her reaction will tell you whether this is a good match.

good luck.
posted by krautland at 3:20 PM on September 5, 2008

Hi there. Did we date?

Just kidding. My ex had a very similar - and I'll admit, valid - concern for me when we were dating. I am pretty much just like your gf. I love delicious, unhealthy food, and my extracurriculars of choice typically do not involve much physical exertion. I also am quite sensitive about my weight. I know I'm putting myself in a no-win situation. I know.

I'll tell you what I think it is, and this may apply to your gf. My problem is my fear of failure. I don't even try to eat healthy or start an exercise regimen because I've started a million times before and failed. And disappointment sucks. I'm not justifying this behavior, just giving you some insight.

As for what to do... well, I can tell you what NOT to do. My ex once offered to buy me a Diet Coke at the movies. I have never liked Diet Coke, which he knew, and when I asked for a regular Coke he refused to buy me one. Later, while having dessert, he threw my ice cream in the trash before I was even halfway done. I already knew why when he told me, later, that it was because he thought I was too heavy. I was crushed. And I'm supposed to believe this person is attracted to me? After all this time, telling me I'm beautiful...

I think the moral of this story is, even if you think you're being subtle (i.e. the Diet Coke and dessert antics), she will notice if she is particularly sensitive about weight.

My recommendation would be to do things together that are active, but not the kinds of things you would normally consider "working out." You know, go for a hike or a walk downtown and do your best to make it fun for her. Maybe she'll like it. The only thing I can just about guarantee is that she WON'T like it if she has even a clue that getting her in shape is your motivation.
posted by Ruby Doomsday at 3:55 PM on September 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

What bananafish said.
posted by Nattie at 5:07 PM on September 5, 2008

In high school, during another thrilling round of depression, my dad came up to my room where I was moping and said to me, "Son, your mother and I have noticed that you've been down, and when you're down your grades suffer. Is there anything we can do?"

Size/Weight/Health is often wrapped up in any number of mental health issues. Self esteem, of course, but also depression, social anxieties, fear of failure; lots of stuff. When you talk only about her size you are telling her "I am only concerned about the symptoms, the external things that affect me." The best way to approach this (because I am an expert?) is to open up about life, about the internal things that drive each of you or prevent each of you from achieving what you want. It sounds like you've got an excellent entry point into that conversation: "I intend to eat better and exercise but it's hard for me." If you open up (and do it honestly, seriously) she may, too.

People are conflicted creatures. The idea that she's "not serious about taking care of herself" is naive. She is conflicted about how she takes care of herself. Accept that and be a voice on the loving and nurturing side of her internal battles.
posted by wemayfreeze at 5:14 PM on September 5, 2008 [2 favorites]

if you can afford it...surprise her by buying a tropical cruise package set in a time frame of three-four months.

chances she'll want to get in shape for that.
posted by spacefire at 5:33 PM on September 5, 2008

Take her on a walking tour of Europe, backpacking in America's undeveloped national parks, or traveling in Asia. She'll need to exercise to work up to it, and planning for the trip will take the focus off her and her body. Many Americans who are overweight and travel in Europe say that they lose weight.

If your finances / life schedules can't afford it, you need to look into whether her behavior is due to stress.
posted by bad grammar at 7:29 PM on September 5, 2008

You know how everyone always blames the media (fashion magazines & TV) for giving women low self esteem about their bodies? Well, that's not entirely true anymore. A lot of men (especially younger ones) have become quite critical about women's bodies and have developed a certain unattainable expectation of what is attractive and ideal. If you ever go to any of the gossip websites where photos of starlets in bikinis are posted, and happen to see any reader comments, you may note that there's a huge amount of males criticizing all of the perceived bodily flaws they notice. You do not want to be a guy like this.

If you want to help your girlfriend be healthier, you need to practice what you preach. Cook healthful meals together. Buy delicious fresh fruit and have it available for snacks at your house. Plan some date activities that are more active (hiking, biking, walking somewhere, playing a sport together). Tell her that you care about her and want to grow old with her and that you want her to live a long, healthy life. Tell her you don't want her to develop a lot of the health problems that are associated with poor eating habits.
posted by pluckysparrow at 7:32 PM on September 5, 2008

I certainly am not a shining example of a healthy lifestyle, but I'm conscious of it and intend to eat kind of well and be active as I grow up. I don't want a running partner for life, but I want someone I can hike around a national park with or walk around an unfamiliar city all day with. I would like her to show some initiative by going to the gym, doing something outside, or just not licking processed cheese sauce off the plate and eating McFlurries a few times a week.
Maybe I'm misreading, but it sounds a bit like you want her to start on an exercise and diet programme now, whereas you will start one at some point in the indeterminate future.

I don't think that's really going to fly. Better to start exercising and eating better yourself, right now, and see if she'll do the same. Fair's fair: if's she's going to put in the effort to become slim, maybe you should try to give her some rock-like pecs and bulging biceps as a bit of an incentive...
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:14 AM on September 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I cook healthy food it always seems like any boyfriend is more than happy to eat it. How can anyone turn down delicious homecooked food? You should at least try to learn how to cook and I'm sure she'll be impressed and both of you will be on a path to health. Your goal should be to have a grocery cart filled to the brim of things that don't need ingredient lists because they are simply food: whole chicken, peppers, garlic, apples, etc. You don't need to eat low-fat or low-carb, just whole foods.

I took several classes that were extremely useful given that I was raised on Kraft Mac & Cheese. One, which has been extremely impressive to various dates, was roasting chicken. My significant others are usually so busy eating my delicious cooking that they don't have time to go to McDonalds.

I also take them to various Slow Food events to infect them with that philosophy. It's pretty easy since most events involve eating something extremely delicious. But I think it's not hard for me because I am very immersed in health food and not just because I'm worried about my boyfriend packing on the pounds. Get involved with healthy food and see if she follows.

Same goes for exercise. I signed up for the mailing list for local hiking/environmental restoration (this is hard-core exercise!) groups and often they end up being an awesome date.

Even if this relationship doesn't work out, you have a base of activities and interests that will attract people with similar values.
posted by melissam at 3:34 AM on September 6, 2008

Wow, I really do not think it's a good idea to try and steer loved ones into some "idealized" vision we have of them.

Not unless she thinks its an issue for herself, and wants your help in changing.

You need to re-evaluate whether or not this person is right for you. Or whether you can live with your girlfriend's eating habits. Because it sounds like her eating habits are really your issue, not hers.
posted by uxo at 6:00 AM on September 6, 2008

Have you thought about making it your problem? If you want her to focus on being healthy, you need to be a good influence and focus on being healthy yourself. If you ask her to be supportive when she visits you on the weekends by coming up with ways to eat healthier or get some exercise, it won't come off as being critical of her. Try to make it as fun as possible by trying different types of food (Indian, African, Thai or even different fruits and veggies at the grocery you've never tried before). For exercise, I'm voting for activities like rainygrl716 suggested. Dancing, skating, biking, swimming are fun. Going to the gym can just seem like a job where the payoff is trying to lose weight and gain muscle.

Don't expect her to change her habits when she's away from you or try to play food police. The focus needs to be on you trying to be healthy first. After 2 or 3 months of trying to be good to your own body, then you can bring up that you're concerned about the long term consequences of her health habits and would like to do what you can to be supportive to her if she wants to be healthier. If she's not interested, then accept that or move on. You can't change someone else. It's got to be their decision.
posted by stray thoughts at 7:19 AM on September 6, 2008

For long term happiness, I think a person who's happy and proud of themselves is a lot better bet than someone whose inner critique never shuts up. If she's in her early twenties, she (like you) can probably get away with crappy eating with only a couple of extra pounds to show for it (as opposed to diabetes, cholesterol, etc). If she's enjoying her life, working on loving herself as she is, doing what makes her happy, doesn't have any obvious diet related problems that she's ignoring for the sake of the mcflurries, found a boyfriend who makes her happy and who finds her attractive just as she is, then she sounds like a person who IS in good shape and IS taking care of herself, emotionally as well as physically. What makes you so sure that she wouldn't start paying more attention to the physical stuff, if there were some pressing, personal health need to do so (as opposed to general societal angst about eating and size)?

On the other hand, if she has emotional issues or food issues that are manifesting in 'oppositional eating and sedentariness', I can't really think of any worse thing to do than for her supposedly smitten and caring boyfriend to start being nagging and manipulative (and yeah, if she's even half as sensitive, let alone more sensitive than your average woman, what you think is subtle will feel like a ton of bricks) about her size. If you really think that she's not competent to take care of herself and make decisions for herself, then you need to think about whether you want to be in a parent-type relationship to your partner. If you love her enough for the long haul, you need to think about supporting in her in getting therapy, etc, to take charge of her own life.

Otherwise get over yourself. If what's most important to you about an SO is that they're an activity partner for the activities you enjoy, as opposed to an intellectual and emotional partner (and I'm NOT judging, there is nothing wrong with that), then be honest with yourself and with her and go find someone who doesn't need to be manipulated or changed to be the partner you want her to be.
posted by Salamandrous at 7:25 AM on September 6, 2008

Fat girl, here. I've been all "RAH Fat Acceptance" and all "OMG I must lose weight," and I've settled down into what I think is a sane middle ground about the whole thing. My girlfriend and I have tense discussions about these things--I genuinely believe that she just wants me to be healthy, but I've internalized so many messages from other people who say "be healthy" when they really mean "don't be fat." Which I share to let you know that I have some sympathy for you.

If you are sure you really mean "be healthy"--and I think what someone said up there about how you'd feel if her habits were the same and she was thin was great advice--then let me share a few things. If you really mean "don't be fat," then I think you should just tell her how you're feeling, which is when you'll either start up a really unhealthy dynamic between yourselves where you are constantly judging her efforts/eating habits when she can't really reciprocate, or she'll dump you.

1. It can take years and a lot of self-awareness to even begin to reconcile what's going on in her head when she is on the one hand defensive about her weight and on the other unwilling to change it. She basically has two choices: Learn how not to care what people think about it, or lose the weight. And it's likely that neither choice will ever be attained perfectly.

2. On top of that, the effort that it will require for her to lose weight goes far beyond the effort you will require to "stay fit."

3. Respect the baggage. Many fat girls (not all, to be clear) have a lot of baggage about their weight, starting with Momma putting them on diets at age 8 to going through grade school as a fat girl to god knows what else. That baggage is often very, very confused with talk of being "healthy." When you say "healthier," she may hear "thinner," and there may be nothing much you or she can do about it. You are potentially trying to step into a big ol' tangle of noise and somehow make everything make sense for the first time.

4. Do you think an average girl in the US who is fat is genuinely happy about being fat? Do you think she doesn't have some understanding of what it takes to lose weight? Do you think she's just carrying around the extra pounds until some helpful guy comes along and points it out to her?

5. How are you going to feel if she gets fatter? Odds are, she will.

5. My advice to you is to leave it be. Take care of yourself. Let her decide how to take care of her own health. Accept that she may continue not to care, and determine whether you want to stay with her based on that. Her weight, her baggage, her health, mostly her business. If you're worried about a future together based on it, then make your decision to leave or stay with the knowledge that it's not under your control.
posted by hought20 at 9:57 AM on September 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

I think I know where you're coming from. It makes me physically ill to see someone gorge themselves on food, no matter what their weight. I think you can address that behavior specifically without tying it to the weight issue, as long as you yourself are providing a good example (i.e. not eating Twinkies while she's eating ice cream). I sort of agree with the Dan Savage article linked above, but I'd tie it to the behavior, not the physical appearance. "It turns me off when I see you eating junk food." Make disparaging comments about strangers' behavior. If you go to a restaurant, tell her that you think it's disgusting that the guy at the table over there ordered so much food. Go grocery shopping with her and point out foods you think are disgusting, plus better alternatives. Cheez whiz, yuk! No-fat yogurt, yum!

This is exactly the way I quit smoking; my significant other (who I'm marrying in 3 weeks) told me flat-out how disgusting the behavior was. Not how disgusting I was, but the behavior. My own behavior started to seem disgusting to me, and I stopped for good, despite previous tries. (It's been ~4 years now.)

Of course, don't go nuts with this. Don't have every conversation revolve around food-related behavior. And be gradual - you've been dating her for 10 months. My fiancé mentioned his anti-smoking bias within days of our first date. Frame it as "I'm tired of eating disgusting food myself, so I'm going to eat healthier." If she gets the hint and starts eating better, use positive encouragement when she does eat healthy, but stop with the "disgusting behavior" comments when she backslides, or she will feel she's failed and might as well quit. Also, don't get attached to the outcome, because she will be able to feel you pushing and controlling without you saying a word. You know what you should and should not say - think carefully before you speak.
posted by desjardins at 1:18 PM on September 6, 2008

By the way, I am skinny and my diet pretty much sucks.
posted by desjardins at 1:19 PM on September 6, 2008

You can't. You cannot make someone change if they don't want to change (or even if they desperately DO want to change but can't figure out how to do it). Decide right now if her weight/attitude/unhealthiness are a deal breaker for you. If it is, get out of the relationship. I tell you this as a life-long dieter and self-loather. Everyone who loved me tried to help/encourage/support me, but it wasn't until *I* decided that I needed to be more healthy for myself that I was able to do it.

The best thing you can do is love her unconditionally--she needs your support if she figures out how to change herself for the better.

Good luck.
posted by batcrazy at 5:30 PM on September 6, 2008

I'm about 30 pounds heavier than I'd like to be (not according to some arbitrary ideal weight) and not all of this is because I really like ice-cream. What has motivated me to think about this a bit more is seeing my partner become unhappy with his size and decide to do something about it. I've seen the change in him since he started cycling and making an effort to eat better, and it's got me thinking more about what I do and eat and how I can adapt that to make myself feel better. I'd been vaguely concerned about my weight and body image before then, but then I realised if he can do something about something he isn't happy with, so can I.

Make disparaging comments about strangers' behavior. If you go to a restaurant, tell her that you think it's disgusting that the guy at the table over there ordered so much food.

I really, really hate it when people do this. We're obsessed with other people's bodies and diets and it wastes so much time and energy. What's it to you if he's eating steak with cheese on top?
posted by mippy at 9:28 AM on September 7, 2008 [1 favorite]

Speaking from the perspective of one for whom it is too late:

My wife and I have been married more than 25 years. When we married, I was a special operator in the USAF, and very fit. She was not that fit, but was able to go on hikes with me, just not as far or as fast.

Gradually, over a period of around fifteen years, she became quite sedentary; almost never going out for a walk with me, not wanting to do much outside the house. Then came her cancer diagnosis: she had multiple myeloma, a form of cancer from which almost nobody recovers (survives).

Well, she survived, due to an experimental treatment. Unfortunately, the treatment made it much more painful for her to move about, let alone exercise, and she had never learned to discipline herself to work through even the smallest amount of pain.

Fast-forward to now: her weight is somewhere over 300 pounds; she sits on the couch watching TV most of the day; she is unable to do most jobs because of the pain; she can't accompany me on any trips, and would never consider having to walk thirty paces to be with me. We love each other, but if there's gonna be any compromise, I'm the one who's gonna do it.

Sound bitter? Yeah. You'll end up this way, too, if you don't learn to communicate with her better. I sure wish I had.
posted by dwbrant at 1:31 PM on September 10, 2008

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