November 23, 2010 3:09 PM   Subscribe

My boyfriend is putting weight on. It doesn't bother me, but it bothers him. How can I help him change his habits without damaging his self-esteem?

I need to stress - this is not a 'help my man be less fat' question. Well, it is, but not in that way. I am not less attracted to him at all (I actually rather like chubby men) although I have noticed he has got bigger. I have noticed, too, that he's getting very down about it. I've lost a little weight myself recently (stomach bug plus a bit of exercise, though there's more to lose) and I think that's made him worry more about it.

He cycles to work and back, so does get exercise, but it's left him with a big belly which I know makes him self-conscious. He already hates clothes shopping and is putting it off more because he doesn't want to think about it. He has a big sweet tooth - he will eat a 100g chocolate bar in an evening easily, whereas it can sit in my fridge for a few weeks - and drinks a lot of soda pop. The other complication is he tends to snack a lot when he feels down or stressed about work (we don't live in the same city so there's a limit to what I can do to help this other than just be there to talk to) and often he will come home late and turn to convenience food because it requires no effort (I am guilty of this at times too). At the same time, he feels self-conscious about his shape. He also recently quit smoking which is probably not helping.

I cook mostly when i come over, but I do worry that if I started cooking 'healthy' meals he will wonder if there's something up and get hurt. I know, though, that he wants to change things. I'm planning on getting a bit fitter myself (no idea how just yet!) and was wondering whether it's something we can both get involved with - I have a wee belly too and I'd like to shrink that down. Was there anything that helped you get over sweet snacking or to lose body fat that was round the belly? Is there a way to help without seeming like I'm doing it for my benefit more than his?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I do worry that if I started cooking 'healthy' meals he will wonder if there's something up and get hurt.

Just tell him you're eating healthier because you, yourself, want to lose weight. If you're going to the gym, or for a run, or other weight-loss related things, ask him along because you like his company. Bonus: It's the truth!
posted by Zozo at 3:11 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

How about saying, "Darling boyfriend, you know that I love you just the way you are and that I will always find you to be sexy and wonderful and so really, your weight has no impact on the way I *see* you. But I do care about your health, and I want you to live long and feel as good about your body as I do 'cause I'm kind of fond of you and that matters to me. *wink* Maybe we can work together to eat healthier and exercise more, and I think we'd have a lot of fun figuring out new foods to try and workouts to complete. What do you think? Wanna be each other's personal trainer?"
posted by patronuscharms at 3:15 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

yep - don't try extra hard for him - you get healthy and bring him along for the ride. another way you can help is when you go and cook - cook for 5 instead of 2 and then immediately put the food away in single serving containers and put them in his fridge. now he has convenient, healthier food. he'll still snack and he might even throw some of the leftovers away - but it'll certainly help some of the time. it's also just a nice thing you're doing for him. and you don't have to be all wheat grass and whole grains to be health food - i find a good meal for prior prep is chili. it's wicked healthy (or can be if you don't use too much meat or grease), it's filling, it feels substantial, and it keeps really well.
posted by nadawi at 3:15 PM on November 23, 2010

You mentioned he drinks a lot of soda- as everyone will tell you, that's a huge amount of sugar and calories. Ideally he would quit altogether, but it can be hard. Personally, I switched to diet a few years ago and I have lost a bunch of weight since then. He may say it tastes bad at first, but it's easy to get used to in a few weeks.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:16 PM on November 23, 2010 [7 favorites]

oh god - the soda - everyone has to come to it on their own it seems - but just like the masses will tell you - the husband and i just cut soda. we didn't move more or eat better. we switched to coffee (with sugary creamers to boot!) and we both lost somewhere between 5-15 pounds within a week or two and the weight is seemingly still coming off.
posted by nadawi at 3:20 PM on November 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

I do worry that if I started cooking 'healthy' meals he will wonder if there's something up and get hurt.

Does he genuinely pay that much attention to the caloric content of what you're cooking? Or, rather, does he know enough about food to notice that you'd be cooking 'healthy' as opposed to 'regular'? My girlfriend cooks 'healthy' and has recently been cooking more often and I just notice that I am eating different food than I usually do, but I wouldn't be able to immediately say that it was better or worse than what I was eating.
posted by griphus at 3:32 PM on November 23, 2010

Don't have pop on hand and substitute soda water with fruit juice as a "healthier" and "more natural" alternative. If you're worried that he's going to twig onto the fact that "healthy" = "diet" and be offended, I think you're worrying too much. Also cut down on portion sizes.
posted by bonobothegreat at 3:35 PM on November 23, 2010

I don't see why you can't be open and honest with him. AskMe will usually encourage people to communicate about their problems, not to go for sneaky roundabout non-solutions, like telling him you want to be healthier. How come weight is one of those things that are supposed to never, ever be mentioned to significant others, even when they are the most important person in your life and their well-being directly concerns you?

Just state the obvious: "Boyfriend, I can see that you are miserable about your weight loss, and it's seriously affecting your ability to enjoy our life together. It's only going to get worse unless you commit to a decision to lose the weight. You can count on me that I will do anything I can to help you get back in shape. Let's do this."

Cooking healthy meals every once in a while is not going to help at all; he needs to become actively aware of all the junk calories he consumes and do something about it.

Also, there's no need to keep chocolate in the fridge. Refrigeration will affect the texture and flavor of chocolate, and often the appearance as well – that whitish discoloration is all the cocoa fat getting squeezed to the surface of the bar.
posted by halogen at 3:40 PM on November 23, 2010

If it's something that he talks openly about wanting to change, then I don't think he will be hurt by you making the effort to help him get there by cooking healthier, especially since that's something that's beneficial to him regardless of how he feels about his weight.

As someone who has struggled with weight issues, I think it's only offensive to do something specifically to help another person lose weight if the person has never expressed interest in losing weight or dissatisfaction with the way he or she looks. If I spoke to someone close to me about how my weight was affecting me poorly and they took the initiative from that to start cooking healthier things for me or help me become more active, I think I would feel very loved by the gesture. Such help is only hurtful when it comes unsolicited. Only then would it seem more like something you want, than like something that you want for him because he wants it.
posted by houndsoflove at 4:05 PM on November 23, 2010

Nthing a switch to diet soda. It's an easy change unless you really hate the taste. I did it when I moved in with Mr. immlass, who had been forced to give up the sugared kind, and while it hasn't solved all our weight problems, it's certainly kept them from getting a lot worse.
posted by immlass at 4:30 PM on November 23, 2010

I don't see any way of you trying to deal with this issue subversively and having any success whatsoever. He has to be in on the plan.

How do you know it makes him self conscious? If you can recall specific examples of him saying something, then you could always use that to open up a conversation. "I've heard you talk about your weight a bit recently...what's bothering you? Do you want to brainstorm some ideas about tackling it?

Then go from there. Otherwise you stand the chance of being let down yourself when secret methods don't work.
posted by thorny at 4:39 PM on November 23, 2010

Diet soda. Buddy of mine "caved in" and switched to diet (the flavored Dr. Pepper versions are almost indistinguishable from sugared!) six months before his wedding and dropped from 230 to right at 200.
posted by notsnot at 4:46 PM on November 23, 2010

FWIW, Diet Soda is not a good option anymore as it's becoming more and more clear that our bodies cannot process artificial sweeteners in the quantities we tend to consume, and that is leading to some pretty harsh side effects.

IMO, cut out soda altogether - you'll be happier for it.
posted by patronuscharms at 4:48 PM on November 23, 2010

I think the main thing that helps is having the right food around the house. I don't know your location, but my husband would probably eat some junk food when he came home too, only we have Trader Joe's and there are tons of good microwaveable dinner things they sell there, stuff that is real food with vegetables and everything and takes about 2 minutes to heat up. It's great. Check labels because not all food in this style that looks healthy, really is, but I recommend trying to find out what he likes in terms of easy stuff to eat (ready-to-eat fruits/veggies, etc - for drinks, Crystal Light/diet iced tea mix/Vitamin Water are all good ideas) and then just make sure the fridge is stocked.

Remember, to cook 'healthy' meals it doesn't have to be some lettuce leaves on a plate - try reading 'Cooking Light' magazine, there is stuff in there that no one would say "hey, this is just rabbit food!" about. Do things like substituting applesauce for oil and yogurt for cream, and he will never know the difference between this 'healthy' cooking and regular cooking, unless you usually eat deep fried steaks for dinner. My husband started making brownies with applesauce and egg beaters and I really couldn't tell the difference, aside from now if I eat a regular brownie I have a moment of surprise at how rich it is.

If you are the one doing the shopping, this plan could work perfectly, if he is picking up chocolate bars and soda on his way home to eat as 'dinner' then you might want to just try saying "oh, you didn't need to buy that, we've got tons of stuff in the fridge" a few times when he comes home to give him the clue, or try making a few big batches of something he likes (the chili is a good idea) and freeze it, so he gets in the habit of eating stuff at home and not having to bring anything himself.

The key with the soda - gradual switch, first to diet, then to cutting it out completely. You'll need his investment to do this but I agree with others on talking with him about it and making a team sport of it.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:15 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'm small and thin to begin with, and I still lost a few pounds after I stopped drinking soda regularly. I rarely drink fruit juices either. For the most part, I have cold water with every meal, and a couple servings of coffee or tea every day. But what stopped me from buying soda wasn't the unhealthiness of it. It was just that I didn't want to pay for it anymore. Water, coffee, and tea are so much cheaper (when you make them at home, anyway), and I love them more than soda now.

I have to tell you, although giving up soda seems sad when you love to drink it so much all the time, once you're no longer used to drinking it, you realize how ridiculously sugary and kind of gross it is. I used to drink at least a can of Coke a day, and now if I try to drink a whole can of Coke I feel physically uncomfortable afterwards.

If you're the one doing the cooking when you're together, I don't see why it should be a problem if you start trying to cook healthier meals. You don't have to frame them as being "healthy," and it is pretty easy to make healthy meals that are freaking delicious. This is something you can practice on your own so you've mastered some recipes by the time you're with him.
posted by wondermouse at 5:16 PM on November 23, 2010

I would just tell him what you've already told him (that it doesn't matter to you), but if it's really damaging his self-esteem, he needs to realize that losing those excess pounds is definitely not impossible.

Losing weight is not that difficult once you develop the right habits. Really. I can guarantee you he will lose the extra pounds he's put on if he:

-Substitutes soda with water (seriously, so many unneeded calories and carbs are added to peoples' diet from these)
-Eats only three meals a day - breakfast, lunch, dinner. Try to avoid extremely calorie-dense meals here (pizza, fast-food, etc.).
-Daily performs a form of steady-state cardio (jogging) for 30 minutes while his body is in a fasted state, meaning either in the morning before eating anything, or waiting 5 hours after you've eaten.

As for coming home late and turning to convenience food, try buying a good amount of apples or bananas. Not much preparation there.
posted by Evernix at 5:35 PM on November 23, 2010

I'll give the same advice that I always do - eliminate non-rice grains, vegetable oils, and refined/concentrated sugars. The rest may just take care of itself. Some people need additional carb restriction beyond that, but most don't. Intermittent fasting may also be helpful. This is related to the "paleo" paradigm but I find that more useful as a framework than as dogma.

Steady-state cardio does not improve body composition much, which matters more than pure weight. Intervals and weight training affect positive metabolic changes that let your body burn fat the way it's evolved to, while building more muscle than stead-state.
posted by Earl the Polliwog at 8:40 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I was in your boyfriend's situation a couple of months back - new job with lots of snacks meant I put on a few pounds. My husband was wonderful about it and didn't bring it up at all, and eventually I started cutting back calories on my own. I'm back at my pre-new-job weight and feeling a good deal better.

I honestly think that if my husband had said anything, I would have felt cheesed off that he mentioned it and it would've taken me a few months longer to get serious about self-discipline. In fact, I was so weirded out by the fact that he hadn't said anything that I eventually mentioned it myself, and pretty much told him not to ply me with sweets or anything like that for a little while, whilst I got my caloric intake back on a healthier track.

I do think you could easily say "I'm just feeling a little chubbier than I want to be lately, let's just eat in and have a salad" and while he might read some ulterior motive into it, he might also be relieved that you're helping him without acting like you're his mom.
posted by little light-giver at 10:30 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tell your boyfriend that you'd like to get more fit, and offer to work out with him since he's told you he'd like to do the same. As for the diet, he knows that it's unhealthy, but it sounds like he's a bit of an emotional eater, so the only thing that can help him is discipline and encouragement.

I went through a depression a while back when someone I cared about died. I drank a lot and didn't exercise. This is coming from someone who used to value fitness more than pretty much anything. I'm getting back in shape now too, like you. I definitely sympathize with him about the clothes shopping: I didn't want to dress up because I felt that it didn't matter how well I dressed, because I was still fat.

Unfortunately, you can't spot-reduce fat. Cardiovascular exercise like running, swimming, biking, ellipticals, treadmill, etc. helps you lose weight. Just keep your heart rate up, and exercise frequently. The pounds will shed from everywhere on your body, but your stomach is usually the last place to lose weight. Don't get discouraged: it takes a while. But you will see results eventually, and you will both be more confident.
posted by CorduroyCorset at 11:02 PM on November 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

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