We both want it, but how do I help?
March 18, 2011 3:07 PM   Subscribe

How can I support my girlfriend in losing a small but persistent amount of weight?

I want to start this off by saying that I have an amazing, sexy, funny, awesome girl in my life. We get along extremely well, have lived together for almost a year, and have had about one real fight in the year and a half we've been dating (unrelated to today's topic). We're both in our early 20s.

However: she's gained a bit of weight since we met. Not much, about twenty pounds, but to be absolutely frank I'd prefer it if she lost it. (In fact, I've privately been sort of obsessing about it, which makes me feel really gross and shallow and sexist.) I've never said anything about it, but she's started getting really upset (following a doctor's appointment where she was weighed, and later some problems getting into dresses she was able to wear a year before), and I don't know how to help her. I tell her she looks awesome, she's not "fat," (she's really not!), etc. I don't want to say "it's not a big deal, I still love you" because it IS a big deal to her and matters to me as well (although I don't want to admit that to her). Part of the problem is that I'm extremely skinny, and I've got the type of body where I can eat a jar of Nutella every day and not gain an ounce - she's mentioned it enviously more than once. Another part is that she was fairly overweight when she was 13-14, lost it all, and now she feels like she's reverting to that person she hated.

We both get reasonable amounts of exercise - we got gym memberships last December, and we run on the treadmill for 20 minutes about 2-3 times a week, and sometimes do extremely aerobic yoga on the weekend. We also both walk and bike a lot. She's started eating more salads for lunch, although on the weekend we tend to pig out on beer, pizza, and diner breakfasts. (We do cook at home every weeknight - all nice home cooked non-packaged stuff. She's a big Michael Pollan fan.) At the end of a few months of trying to eat healthier and exercise, though, she's actually a few pounds above where she started. She definitely has the motivation, but I think (at my most uncharitable) that she's a little too willing to skip the gym if she's "not feeling like it," or eat a 1500 calorie breakfast because "fuck it, it's the weekend." I don't know if or how to gently cajole her into getting to the gym more or not eat that whole bag without being an ogre. It doesn't help that I don't really know the first thing about nutrition or fitness or weight loss, but I think she needs a stricter routine than the sort-of-trying-to-eat-better-and-do-some-jogging plan she's on, since that doesn't seem to be working. Ideally I'd like to set up some rules or routines, like "pizza only every other week," but I don't know what would work nor how to propose such a thing in a way that includes both of us.

So I suppose this is really two connected questions - first, what can she do to "get serious" and lose that little bit of weight? Second, how can I help her?
posted by anonymous to Health & Fitness (80 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Wait....has she asked for your help?
posted by availablelight at 3:13 PM on March 18, 2011 [35 favorites]

Ideally I'd like to set up some rules or routines, like "pizza only every other week,"

This sounds like a really bad idea to me, from a mental health and relationship health perspective.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:14 PM on March 18, 2011 [24 favorites]

its not for everyone, but I really love my garmin forerunner heartrate-gps-watch thing. It hooks up to garmin connect and records all the geeky exercise stats. They have also done a great job of making it social-networking-ish or whatever you call it, where you can see other hikes/run/whatever people in your area record so you can find new places to go. Its totally irrational, but I simply cannot have empty spots on my exercise calendar feature there, which gets me out there a lot.

I'm not sure if getting your girlfriend an exercise watch is the equivalent of getting your wife a vacuum, but you asked...
posted by H. Roark at 3:14 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Please, don't do any of those things you mentioned. I am in her position, having gained some weight since dating my boyfriend. If my boyfriend did any of those things to me, especially sneaking around trying to find out my weight and making rules for MY LIFE, I'd be very disappointed and would lose trust in him forever.

You *are* being shallow and sexist.

She'll figure it out on her own terms. Leave her be.
posted by lettuchi at 3:14 PM on March 18, 2011 [43 favorites]

You were right when you decided to keep quiet about it. Unless she explicitly tells you she wants your help, don't meddle with her calorie intake.
posted by Tarumba at 3:16 PM on March 18, 2011 [16 favorites]

Don't expect her to do anything you aren't willing to. Being genetically blessed into thinness doesn't mean that you get to feel superior about your willpower (which but I think (at my most uncharitable) that she's a little too willing to skip the gym if she's "not feeling like it," or eat a 1500 calorie breakfast because "fuck it, it's the weekend" veers dangerously close to).

So lead by example. No more pigging out on beer, pizza, and diner breakfasts for you! Start going to yoga every day, making it more attractive for her to do so too.

You don't get to set rules for her. But you can be a more understanding and supportive partner, which will help.
posted by kitarra at 3:17 PM on March 18, 2011 [14 favorites]

She needs to be the one asking the first question, or it's not going to do her or your relationship any good. I'm not saying that to be flip, but if you know nothing about weight loss, nutrition, or fitness, and you start telling her what to do, I very strongly suspect it's not going to end well.

What *you* can do is support the choices she makes. If she says she wants to eat healthier, don't be the one bringing home a six-pack or ordering pizza and expecting her to have a salad and water instead. Don't actively make it harder for her. Other than that, it's really on her.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

If she hasn't asked for your help in making her "get serious" about her weight then all you can do is back off. Making little suggestions like "how about you have something healthier for breakfast?" or "Are you sure you don't want to run on the treadmill for longer than that?" are insulting, transparent, and upsetting especially if she is already unhappy with the gain. Yes, the beer and pizza and giant diner breakfasts are going to contribute to the problem, so maybe you can schedule other activities and forage new traditions to replace those unhealthy ones, but again if you do it the wrong way it will be transparent what you're really trying to say.

I'm sure you're a great guy and maybe you are the best boyfriend ever, but if the guy I was dating and living with for over a year was really upset over my gaining 20lbs I would be incredibly hurt.
posted by gwenlister at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

I don't think you're shallow or a bad boyfriend. But honestly, don't try to help her too much. Even if you're acting totally in good faith, too much encouragement is going to sound like passive-aggressiveness.

Just try to be healthier yourself, make healthy meals alone and when you're together, and be active; trying to find active things you can do together is probably as much as you'll want to do here. It's entirely up to her whether she wants to take the steps needed to lose the weight (I mean that in the moral sense, but also in the practical sense. You have no control here).
posted by auto-correct at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sometimes I feel like humans shouldn't really enter into serious relationships with each other. In part because of stuff like this.

Here is a thing about life I know to be true and still periodically find difficult to really live out:

You can't control other people.

If looking at someone doing X makes you upset, because of how you CANNOT CONTROL OTHER PEOPLE, you are better off paying attention to something (or someone!) else.

You cannot control other people. You will never be able to control other people. You can control two things:

1) Where your attention goes.
2) Where you choose to put yourself. Which is basically second verse, same as the first.

So, in this situation, you can either choose to ignore what's going on with your ladyfriend's weight, or you can leave the relationship. I think either of those things is okay.

But you are never going to be able to control her. I don't care what anyone else in this thread says. Maybe she will get skinny and hot again or maybe she won't, but nothing you say or do, subtle or unsubtle, is going to make that happen. It will, however, contribute to huge relationship drama.

(If that's something you're interested in.)
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:19 PM on March 18, 2011 [34 favorites]

The only thing you can do is to focus and enjoy being in good health for yourself. If she chooses to join you in those activities for her own health, that would be her choice, and whether or not that resulted in weight loss for her would and should be irrelevant. Get over all the rest of it.
posted by kch at 3:19 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you really want to "help," you have to stop eating like someone who has the metabolism of a rabid squirrel and start eating as healthily as she needs to. No beer-pizza-and-diners on the weekends. YOU can do that. SHE can't. Which means YOU can't either. Nothing's worse than living with someone who constantly sabotages your diet, unless it's someone sabotaging your diet while complaining (even in his own head) about how fat you are.

Incidentally, women almost always gain weight upon moving in with a male romantic partner, because they eat "up to" their partner's food.

And then you need to back the hell off and not say anything about it.

But really, this is shallow and sexist, and I can't help thinking that if it matters this much to you and you can't stop obsessing over it, you should break up with her. If it upsets you now to see her gaining 20 lbs., wait until you see what it's like after she has a baby and even if she loses all the weight, everything's a different shape and in a different place. If you don't like real women's bodies and the inevitable changes that they go through in different life phases, don't date real women.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:20 PM on March 18, 2011 [108 favorites]

Ideally I'd like to set up some rules or routines, like "pizza only every other week"...

Oh yes, do try that. I'll be looking forward to next week's AskMe: "Dear HiveMind, my girlfriend has sliced my nuts off with the pizza cutter. Do you think I need to see the doctor?"

Anything you say is going to go poorly. I am in a similar boat. I've gained probably 10-15lbs over the last two years while I've been with my boyfriend. For me it's because I broke my foot and couldn't get out and walk around in the lovely spring weather last year, and I've been unemployed for several months and not doing a whole heck of a lot. That's my story. My boyfriend, who is extremely fit and active, I'm sure would like me to exercise and lose a little weight. But he doesn't say anything. You know why? Because likes having me around.

The best you can do to "help" your girlfriend is to eat well and be active yourself. Ask her if she'd like to come along. If you're ordering pizza for the second week in a row, say "gee, we've been eating so much pizza lately...you know what I'd really like? Some stuffed zucchini. Why don't I make some for us both?" Police your own behavior and hope she follows suit.

And in the back of your mind, assume she's going to keep gaining weight. Like, another 100lbs or so. How would that make you feel? Do you still love her? Do you still want to be with her? It's an important question to ask yourself.
posted by phunniemee at 3:22 PM on March 18, 2011 [12 favorites]

Your question ("how can I help her?") is unfortunately the wrong question.

The question you're really asking is how do you change someone else's behaviour. That's a much more broad question - but the answer is useful both in this case, and in general.

The answer: you can't. They have to do it themselves. The only thing you can change is your own behaviour. On the low end, 20 minutes twice a week on a treadmill is giving you all of 400 extra calories to play with. A week. That's one bag of chips, and not nearly enough for even weight maintenance for someone whose metabolism is likely slowing down, in addition to starting what's likely a desk job.

There's literally dozens, maybe hundreds of AskMe questions that have this same answer. Part 1 is you can't change their behaviour. Part 2 is be the change you want to see. 40-60 minutes of running and one session of yoga a week honestly isn't enough. For you, not her.

Yeah, you'll probably be in better shape, nicer, more professional, better groomed, etc. than the person you're trying to take along for the ride, assuming they even decide to follow your example. But FOR SURE them doing all the heavy lifting while you sit around basking in moral superiority is not going to get it done.

Worse case, at the end of the day, you're healthier and in better shape, even if she's not. Better case, she's closer to where you and she would like her to be. Best case: she drops your ass when you're on a bike ride.

Good luck.

On preview what kitarra, kch, Eyebrows McGee said.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:22 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

"I don't feel like pizza/diner food."

Oh, and do the grocery shopping. Don't buy junk unless she asks for it. Then, buy it with zero complaint.

Other than that, don't do anything. Don't set "rules" unless you both get off on that kind of thing.
posted by the young rope-rider at 3:27 PM on March 18, 2011

One of the things I've noticed is that I always gain large amounts of weight when I live with a guy, because men eat more than women, and there's more food around when you're cooking for two. When I live alone the fridge is full of yogurt, diet Coke and veggies. Or, to put it another way, what Eyebrows McGee said.

Men can often lose weight by 'eating right and exercise', mostly because you guys don't have built in baby-feeding fat deposits. But many women can't: I can only lose weight if I eat less than about 800 calories a day. It's kind of scary how little most 'naturally slim' women live on. If she's built similarly, having you tell her what to do WILL NOT HELP.

And you know, if you really think she's awesome and lovely and all those good things, then accept the plumpitude. 20 pounds is nothing. She will gain more as the years go on, especially if she was heavy as a kid; she can't help it any more than you can help being skinny.
posted by jrochest at 3:32 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am a woman around your girlfriend's age trying to lose weight who has a much more fit partner (though through a lot of hard work and not an enviable metabolism). My husband has tried to encourage me in my efforts, but no matter how well-meaning he is, it usually backfires and makes me resentful, offended or hurt. My husband is really into fitness and healthy lifestyle choices (a new thing he picked up after several years together), and it really does not help. I've had to institute a rule where he's not allowed to discuss my fitness or eating habits AT ALL unless it's in response to something I've brought up.

So, as others have said, you really can't do anything to try to push her to lose weight. However, she will find it much easier to do if you are in the same situation - you can't expect her to make healthy choices when she sees you making the fun, unhealthy ones. So no more pizza and beer. Sucks for you, but it's something you have to do if you want to support her in this. You can't stop her from eating cheesecake for breakfast if that's what she wants, but you decline trips to the diner or ordering in pizza, and choose to make a healthy meal with or for her instead. You can invite her to go hiking/jogging/dancing/whatever with you. You can split the cost of a stationary bicycle or fitness classes if it's something she brings up. Most importantly, you can give her your verbal encouragement and support whenever she's frustrated or down on herself. Make sure you say "wow, your arms are looking toned" or "that dress looks great on you" when you've noticed that she's made progress, and also to say "I think you're beautiful" when she's griping about how fat or unattractive she feels.
posted by Safiya at 3:36 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

amazing, sexy, funny, awesome girl in my life.
I tell her she looks awesome, she's not "fat," (she's really not!),

Okay....? Yet you want to start controlling her food intake to lose weight because you can't stop thinking about it?

You said you were in your early 20's and I understand people think differently when they're young for the most part - but if you really can't see over some weight gain, then maybe a serious relationship isn't for you yet.

I mean, you never even mentioned being concerned for her health. Just the fact that she has gained some weight. So, yeah, that IS shallow.

It seems while she is not totally watching what she eats and only sometimes exercising, she should really see a doctor about the weight gain.
Was she at the doctor in relation to her weight gain?
When my sister started putting on pounds, it ended up being a thyroid condition.
And I remember when I was on Depo (birth control shot) I gain 30 pounds in one year.
Is she on any medications that may be giving her a weight gain side effect? Maybe she can switch 'em.

so. um. good luck, man.

oh - and just because you're in your early 20s and can pig out on garbage and not gain weight, doesn't being you will be void of any eventual weight gain or health problems.
posted by KogeLiz at 3:43 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

"doesn't being you "

doesn't mean

posted by KogeLiz at 3:46 PM on March 18, 2011

(yeah, I think you need a bit of work of your own here first, to take partners as they come and as they evolve. Wise words, KogeLiz: We all evolve, and have to live with the consequences.)

Other than that:
Ask ask ask. When she tells you that she's unhappy about it all, say first whatever needs saying to make her feel more okay according to her terms, (and give her that hug already) and then ask: what makes you think this, what would you like me to do to support you here, shall we make a plan, or is it better if I let you sort it out alone, how is it going today, etc. etc.

And: if she does have a plan, don't abandon her. I know people where lady tries to lose weight and guy occasionally brings in the old rack-o-ribs because he feels like it, and that clashes.
posted by Namlit at 3:50 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Not much, about twenty pounds...

Dude, 20 lbs are much. You're enabling her by contributing to her accepting that 20 lbs weight gain are somehow okay for an otherwise healthy twenty-year-old. You can't change her behaviour, but you can stop deceiving yourself – and her as a consequence. Stop telling her she looks awesome. Her doctor probably already told her that it's unhealthy – why are you undoing that with compliments?

Also, stop stocking your fridge with beer and quit it with the pizza in her presence already. Don't expect that exercise will make her lose weight: it won't. Research has repeatedly shown that "cajoling" her to go to the gym won't help her shed the fat. She needs to focus on eating less, and if you're in this relationship for the long haul, you'd better learn to feel comfortable with sharing what's on your mind.
posted by halogen at 3:51 PM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]

quit it with the pizza in her presence already.

Quit it with the pizza at all. Don't expect her to live under conditions that you're unwilling to abide by.
posted by KathrynT at 3:55 PM on March 18, 2011 [8 favorites]

You need to eat right and go to the gym. But not for her, you need to do it for yourself (I'm sure you've heard about skinny people and heart disease). If you eat a salad, you can offer to make her one, too. If you pack a healthy lunch, you can offer to pack a second one as well. But if she doesn't want it, then drop it... Remember that this is all about you and if your girlfriend loses weight then that's a happy and totally unexpected side effect.
posted by anaelith at 4:00 PM on March 18, 2011

What *you* can do is support the choices she makes. If she says she wants to eat healthier, don't be the one bringing home a six-pack or ordering pizza and expecting her to have a salad and water instead. Don't actively make it harder for her.

This is probably the most active help you can be. Do your part to make your lifestyle together a more active one and a healthier one. While you might be skinny, it isn't healthy to be mowing down on excessive amounts of bad food so you can benefit from this change as well. Make creating a healthier brunch a project - try a new one each weekend and rank your favourites. Or both of your sign up for a road race, say 5k, and train for that. It will be more cardio than you're getting, help drop excess weight, and encourage you to view food as fuel.
posted by hepta at 4:01 PM on March 18, 2011

One thing you haven't mentioned is her medical history. Is she on birth control? Anti-psychotics? PCOS medicine? All these things can cause weight gain that are extremely resistant to weightloss efforts.

Also, like others have said, if you're unwilling to put up with a 20 pound weight gain, you really REALLY need to check your priorities about dating. EyebrowsMcgee has this in the bag.
posted by lettuchi at 4:03 PM on March 18, 2011

So I suppose this is really two connected questions - first, what can she do to "get serious" and lose that little bit of weight?

Keeping a food diary and tracking calories of everything she eats will probably help.

Second, how can I help her?

You said you don't know anything about fitness or nutrition or weight loss, so I'm not sure you can. If you're serious about this, you need to first ask her if she wants help and respect her decision, even if it's no. If she says yes, you both need to educate yourself on fitness, nutrition and weightloss.

I have an amazing, sexy, funny, awesome girl in my life. We get along extremely well, have lived together for almost a year, and have had about one real fight in the year and a half we've been dating (unrelated to today's topic).

It would be shame to mess that up over 20lbs.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:06 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've been with my husband for 15 years. Since we were both in our early twenties. His open and hot appreciation of me as a beddable woman has not wavered, not at all, not for a week, in all this time though my body has looked different, at different points, for different reasons in the way Eyebrows McGee pointed out, real women's bodies do.

He is not a saint or some kind of evolved male creature, and if he had to explain his steady-on horniness for me, I'm pretty sure that he would say that he just plain likes women, in general, and managed to get one of them to hang out with him all this time, and why the heck would he want to mess that up? Also, all those different bodies I've had? There's always been something he's into at the time, sometimes something he wasn't into before. He's, at different times, loved my neck, my legs, my mouth, my booty. You get the picture (or maybe you don't). I change, he adjusts his love goggles, chasing me around the proverbial kitchen table ensues, as usual.

He was my 23-year-old slinkster boy, too. All long legs and concave belly and glasses. Guess who's almost forty, though, and regrettably rubs his adorable bit of a belly when the Mexican restaurant server offers more chips? Did I mention how freaking sexy comfortable-in-their-own skin 40-year-old men with hairy love guts who can't get enough of their wives are? That's right, really goddamn sexy.

Hey, you know what? Maybe I'll keep trying to take good care of myself for the next 15, 20, 30, 40 years just so I can be around for a man who will keep chasing my saggy 80-year-old ass around a kitchen table. I wouldn't do it for any-fucking-body else, that's for sure.
posted by rumposinc at 4:10 PM on March 18, 2011 [151 favorites]

Do you want to inspire an eating disorder and/or lifelong body insecurity in your girlfriend, who has told you already in many ways that body image is a really serious self-esteem issue for her? Then bug her about her weight gain. If she's really as amazing, sexy, funny, awesome as you say, you should be grateful for her; you shouldn't do destructive things to her. You're just going to have to man-up and stop obsessing about her body.

Note: I'm not saying that you're wrong to have whatever body shape preferences that you do. But that doesn't give you the right to hurt your girlfriend.
posted by yarly at 4:17 PM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Stop telling her she looks awesome. Her doctor probably already told her that it's unhealthy – why are you undoing that with compliments?

If you want to stay with your girlfriend at any weight, please, please do not do this. If your girlfriend is all the things you say she is, she can tell the difference between medical advice and her boyfriend treating her decently. And if she's overweight, she's already mentally beating herself up.
posted by gnomeloaf at 4:17 PM on March 18, 2011 [14 favorites]

Do you want to inspire an eating disorder and/or lifelong body insecurity in your girlfriend...

Oh please, people aren't that fragile. If she is, then she wouldn't be able to handle a mature relationship anyway.

... who has told you already in many ways that body image is a really serious self-esteem issue for her?

As it is for the overwhelming majority of women, and rightfully so if they have a body they take good care of.
posted by halogen at 4:24 PM on March 18, 2011

This depends on the two of you. Most women are sensitive about their weight, as you can see from the responses here. However, even if some here insist otherwise, the fact remains that losing weight isn't magic or a secret. Through a combination of diet and exercise, she can do it. Without knowing her, I'd say the best way for you to help her is to lead by example and tackle this together. Avoid rules but be more careful with what kind of food you buy and allow into the house. Eat healthier together.
posted by smorange at 4:25 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's OK to be concerned about your girlfriend's weight gain, especially if it continues. It's OK to even mention your concern to her (but I really don't know the way to do that without her hating you at least for a little while), as long as you really are concerned for her health, and concerned that 20 lbs might turn into 40 lbs, and so on. And it's OK to want to help her if *she* asks for help and says she wants to get back to her normal weight. As other said, helping her would involve you cutting back on bad foods around her. And this whole time, make sure she knows that you find her attractive either way (don't even say it in those words, because that sounds like you're forcing it, just keep complimenting her). If her progress is slow, or she can't lose the weight, make sure you don't comment on that. As long as she leads a healthy lifestyle (and it sounds like she does already) and doesn't keep gaining weight, aside from these first 20 lbs, there is nothing else you can really ask for.

I just want to point out what while it's OK to want your girlfriend to not become more and more overweight, think about the long term future. Almost ANY woman's weight *will* change due to age and childbirth, and there is no way you can guarantee yourself a woman that will stay skinny because you don't know how their bodies will react to these things. If you are not going to be able to secretly stop obsessing over your future potential wife's weight gain, then the problem is with you. Try to stop obsessing about her weight.
posted by never.was.and.never.will.be. at 4:28 PM on March 18, 2011

The signal to noise ratio in here is not good.

Honestly, the issue here sounds like this girl is seriously down on herself about gaining the weight. That's a mental thing, not a "am I really fat or not" question. The dude was honest and seems to genuinely care about his girlfriend's feelings. "Suck it up" and "quit being shallow" isn't helpful advice.

The useful advice is:

- Don't try to "help".

- If she outright asks for help, talk about specifics and what she would like you to do to help HER work whatever HER plan is.

- Don't bring crap into the house. Both because it is mean, and because you will be in the same boat soon enough. NOBODY has the "I can eat anything I want" metabolism for very long unless they work really hard at it.

- Never agree or argue with anything she says weight-wise. "Aww come on, you're not fat" or "who cares, *I* think you look great" doesn't work. Because if she believes she is overweight, rationally or not, she will hear that and it will sound like you are patronizing/lying to her. (Especially if deep down you prefer her skinnier.) I don't know what TO say, but that isn't it.

(This is NOT a misogynist thing- it is true for anyone who is down on themselves about something.)
posted by gjc at 4:31 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Weight loss is not rocket science for most people. She already knows that pizza is part of the problem. Pointing it out is just patronizing and mean. I went through this, where I tried to "police" what someone ate "for their own good" and "because they said they wanted to lose weight anyway amirite" and letmetellyou it is not worth it. At all. She knows she's not supposed to eat ice cream if she wants to lose weight. Telling her she shouldn't eat it just compounds the guilt. It also may start a cycle of rebellion and control: you tell her what to do, she pushes back, you feel an increased need to control, etc.

Is 20 lbs more important than your relationship? You're not a horrible person if you decide you want to be with someone of a smaller size. You are, however, unrealistic.
posted by desjardins at 4:36 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

Just something to think about: we have no idea where "fat" falls on this guy's/his girlfriend's personal body barometer.

We don't know if she was 5'9" and 130lbs and gained 20, and they're both just extremely sensitive with regard to body type, or if she was 5'0" and 130lbs and gained 20. We have no idea. Note that the OP didn't say that his girlfriend's doctor said something to her about her weight, merely that she was upset after being weighed.

While I'm 100% for someone who is overweight wanting to get healthy and drop a few pounds, we have no idea where she is now or where she started out. The advice here should (and for the most part, it is) focus on the OP and how he should handle this problem and not so much what the girlfriend is or is not capable of doing.
posted by phunniemee at 4:43 PM on March 18, 2011 [10 favorites]

I weigh more than I should. I'm related to several people who do not eat healthily, but will not put on weight. I think they have faster metabolisms and/or smaller appetites. People like this don't get to comment on my weight or what I eat. No exceptions.

Similarly, I don't comment on other people's skin, because I'm fortunate enough to currently have skin that isn't particularly prone to acne or wrinkles even though I don't look after it at all.

If you know nothing about diet and fitness, I strongly suggest you get your own house in order first. And accept that your girlfriend might never be motivated to lose the weight.
posted by plonkee at 4:45 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Be supportive but silently. As one of those guys who is naturally very skinny (and who subsequently wants to be more athletic), we really don't understand how hard it is for 'regular' people who gain weight.

My girlfriend and I have conflicting diets. She wants to maintain weight while I want to eat all the carbs and proteins in sight. Don't be so judgmental about the pizza or skipping days at the gym. I'm sure you've skipped the gym before.

So try out a little empathy and imagine if people hated you for being so skinny. What if you partner secretly resented that you didn't down that steak and hit the weights today? Changing one's body composition takes a lot of work.

I also guarantee you're the wrong person to give advice on the topic. If she asks for advice, steer her to someone who has managed to lose weight before. I would ask Bruce Lee for muscle building advice, but wouldn't necessarily ask him how to go from 200 to 130 lbs. That's a loose example, but remember foremost that we don't know what fat-prone people are going through.
posted by just.good.enough at 4:48 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh please, people aren't that fragile.

So I must not be a person, because I've been that fragile. A family member "cajoled" me right into a lifelong eating disorder. I still battle it, and that family member still makes halogen-style comments about my body despite having seen the effect their comments have had on my mental well-being.

OP, please don't follow halogen's advice if you want to keep your awesome girlfriend.
posted by palomar at 4:55 PM on March 18, 2011 [25 favorites]

Unless she asks for your help, do nothing. Any attempt to set rules for her will do more harm than good for your relationship.
posted by John Cohen at 4:58 PM on March 18, 2011

This only addresses the second question about how you can help her. I say, by helping yourself.

Why is the question about her need to be thinner if it is only because you would find it more attractive? If this is not about improving her health in a way specifically directed by her doctor for a specific reason why shouldn't you be working to change your idea of what it is that you find attractive? If it continues to be about appearance, there is a deal breaker coming along called age.

If twenty pounds means you fear you can't love her 'that way,' why was it that Marilyn Monroe and Clara Bow were so stunningly attractive to whole generations of men? The human race has not actually evolved so much over the last century that men nowadays are better judges of beauty. The real answer is what has evolved is media--and you are influenced by a very nearly pornographic standard of beauty imposed by media to make mega profit, not by love or anything else innate. Please notice I am not accusing you of indulging in actual pornography, my indictment is totally of the fashion, beauty and entertainment (and yes, pornography) industries which have led you by the nose.

Why isn't your question "How can I find my authentic inner choice of what I love and find desirable in order not to be such a sucker for the artificial standards of beauty imposed by the fashion and entertainment industries that I would consider sabotaging my most important relationship?"
posted by Anitanola at 4:59 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Why don't you set a health and fitness goal for YOURSELF (endurance, strength, muscle growth, running a 5K, or eating X grams of protein and Y grams of carbs daily, whatever floats your boat) and start working at it right now, *without* asking your girlfriend if she wants to lose weight? At some point she'll probably join in with you -- it is 100% easier to work on a health plan if you're not doing it by yourself -- and therefore you can both work on your health TOGETHER, instead of her working on it and you badgering her to work on it and then her resenting you.
posted by telophase at 5:08 PM on March 18, 2011

Mod note: folks? dial it back a little. Assume good faith on the part of the OP and leave the DTMFA for some other thread, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:10 PM on March 18, 2011 [9 favorites]

People have a responsibility to maintain themselves reasonably close to the condition in which they enter the relationship, notwithstanding extenuating circumstances. If you think that this recent weight gain is a serious change in your girlfriend, then I'll take you at your word, as opposed to joining the cascade of assholes who can't. But you should verify to yourself that this is the case before you embark upon a plan which may upset your girlfriend.

You should start by formulating a very general plan (which you're clearly attempting to do here) and then expressing gentle concern to her. Don't plan out specifics--the idea of pizza every other week sounds great, and it will definitely help, but presenting such a thing to her reeks of you dictating her behavior, which is problematic. Better to say "What if we plan out some foods not to eat at all, and some foods we only eat irregularly?" which has the benefit of engaging her in the process.

She may be hurt. But that's okay--you have a right to have the feelings that you have, and to present them in a respectful way, with an idea of how to resolve the problem.

In any case, as halogen pointed out, exercise generally doesn't lead to weight loss in most people, despite the other positive health effects. Furthermore, just because you're eating according to the dictates of Pollan does not guarantee that you're eating healthy amounts or healthy kinds of food.

When I was seriously dieting, the thing that worked for me above all else was counting calories. It informs your choice of food and your portion sizes, which are paramount to controlling your weight. If actually keeping track of calories is too much work, then yes, create some rules about foods you can't have, and also foods you must have (carrots are incredible for a low-calorie high-fiber snack, for example).
posted by TypographicalError at 5:21 PM on March 18, 2011

I will leave the question of your motives and her self esteem out of it. I have a partner who I appreciate because he is pretty damn honest with me about what he is thinking, appearance inclusive, and that is an attribute that I value in a long term romantic partner. Not all women are going to fall into a self-hating eating disorder spiral if you approach the situation non-judgmentally. You know your girlfriend better than we do, and hopefully you know her well enough to assess the situation, but clearly the thread consensus is to tread cautiously.

Me-specific anecdote: I find it surprisingly easy to divide homemade food evenly between myself and my husband without thinking about - and once food is on my plate, I usually finish it. After having realized this and pointed it out, I now appreciate when he reminds me that his caloric needs at dinner are nearly twice mine, given our usual lunch+breakfast eating patterns. Afterwards, I feel full, and do not feel slighted.

That said, he's now lost some 60-odd pounds, and we've been together for 8 years, so he's got a bit of leverage that you may not.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:26 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: OP, you cannot help your girlfriend. I've been in her position and you really, really can't openly help her, by setting rules or making meal plans or exercise programs or any of that crap. She has tremendous self-esteem issues tied to her weight. No doubt some of the overeating is in response to these. Women who are overweight often feel an overwhelming amount of pressure in their own heads about this weight. Twenty pounds feels like forty pounds sitting on their mind. Often times a way to relieve the pressure is by overeating and purposefully practicing bad habits--it's a little private "fuck you" to feeling like crap all the time.

Adding your own pressure, by "cajoling" her into the gym or rules will make this tendency worse as well as increase her self-hatred.

You can't change her habits, but you can change yours. If you really, really want her to lose the weight, you have to abstain from the beer and pizzas and diner food and move to cooking healthy foods. Your indulgences are her pitfalls and offer irresistible temptation. "I don't feel like the diner, let's cook breakfast instead." You also have to set your own exercise goals: "I'm going to the gym regularly, I've decided I want to run a marathon/squat 300/whatever."
posted by Anonymous at 5:27 PM on March 18, 2011

I started skimming responses after they all seemed to be falling into the "DON'T DO THAT," "leave her alone!!" thing, so I apologize if someone else has already said what I'm about to.

I'm currently in your girlfriend's situation. I have some weight I want to lose, and living with my fiancee doesn't help because he will eat anything and everything, and it's hard for me to resist his offer to get a pizza on a hungover Sunday. So I've set some rules for myself, and asked him to help me stick to them. I think all the people above saying that you can't help her, it's cruel to try to, her "self-esteem issues" preclude you from participating in this aspect of her life are a little out of line - there's no way they can know her personal feelings about this and the strength of your relationship. My SO and I view ourselves as partners - we're a team, and although I don't LOVE it when he says "no honey, you said you didn't want X," I realize he's only doing what I asked him to. I'm not terribly self-conscious about my weight, especially with him, and I think it's kind of offensive to assume every woman that wants to lose weight is embarrassed about it and can't deal with a rational discussion with her SO.

So my practical advice - no, don't do weird and transparent things like say "don't you think you should stay on the treadmill longer?" but next time she says "God, I hate that I can't wear my favorite dress anymore," say "I'm sorry baby, is there anything I can do to help you?" Don't bring junk in the house, and don't eat like you currently can due to your metabolism in front of her. Do learn more about eating healthily, because you should be educated about that. Do express admiration for her when she tells you she had a great workout. Do realize that it's tough to live with someone that can eat a lot with no repercussions.
posted by coupdefoudre at 5:53 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]

I'm a woman, and I'll give it to you straight: if you're in your early 20s and you're "extremely skinny, and I've got the type of body where I can eat a jar of Nutella every day and not gain an ounce", chances are pretty good that your girlfriend would prefer it if you put on about 20 pounds yourself... of muscle. Preferably before your metabolism changes and you do it with fat.

Like schroedinger said, if you're really serious about this you need to get rid of the beer and the shitty food, stop thinking of "on the treadmill for 20 minutes about 2-3 times a week" as "a reasonable amount of exercise", and start getting serious in the gym, preferably with the free weights. Include your girlfriend if she's willing... which she probably will be, if you make a serious effort to enjoy a healthy lifestyle rather than just expecting her to do it for you.

Otherwise, keep your opinions to yourself. This is a classic (perhaps the classic) put-up-or-shut-up situation.
posted by vorfeed at 6:04 PM on March 18, 2011 [13 favorites]

Having a guy move in has always created a slight weight gain for me, for reasons Eyebrows McGee and others have mentioned. We changed our eating habits so that our main meal is breakfast and we eat very little at night - say Pho/soup or similar. Without the carbs at night we both lost our little pot tummies, and I lost ten kilograms over 3 months without trying. And it's nice making time for a good breakfast together. We have thin ciabatta toast with olive oil, avocado slices, Roma tomatoes sliced, and poached egg n cracked pepper; or grilled sausages, mushrooms, beans n scrambled eggs. It took a bit of finessing but breakfasting has been amazing. I don't feel hungry for sweets and with a medium sized lunch, don't feel the need for big dinners.
posted by honey-barbara at 6:13 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't see how this is "sexist", plenty of women feel the same way about their boyfriends at times. And it's a fact that people can gain (or lose!) weight to the point where their partner is no longer attracted to them, regardless of how much they may love them otherwise. In my experience you can't "force" yourself to be attracted to someone.

That said, this is the kind of thing that people are touchy about, and it's easy for it to backfire seriously. The only thing I think you can do is start eating and exercising yourself the way you want her to. There's a decent chance she might change her habits to match yours, but don't actively suggest it, just do it yourself (can't hurt, right?). If you say "I'm not going to eat pizza more than once a week", she can either eat it by herself or eat what you're having. And it will be easier on her to do it if she's matching what you're already doing.

Just coming out and saying it (and making it about her weight) is going to put her on the defensive and probably block any chance of change.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:39 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

My first reaction was OH GOD DID MY BOYFRIEND WRITE THIS?! I'm in a similar situation to your girlfriend, except my boyfriend isn't a skinny-mini, and I'm fairly sure he's not harboring a secret obsession about my losing weight. I'm much more concerned about myself losing weight than he is, which explains my initial reaction to this post... My last weigh-in at the dr's office made my eyes bulge out of my head, and I've had to replace more clothes than I care to admit.

Did you guys just recently graduate from college? I did. During college I was very much go-go-go, I did activities and ran marathons and shit, and I was so damn exhausted by the end of it that I just wanted to VEG the FUCK out of life for a while, and the thought of picking up my previous workouts made me wanna hurl (especially because I had no goals for them, really). And. Um. it's almost been a year and I'm still vegging. Does she work 9 to 5? Is she super tired and still adjusting to it? Does she commute? Get her a cheap bike, or move closer to her work so she can walk.

Here is the advice I would give my boyfriend if he implied in some way that wanted me to lose weight:

1) Work out with me! (sounds like you have this covered and like similar activities? If not, ask her what SHE wants to do that's active and actually do it, even if it's something girly you don't like.)

2) Don't keep snacks in the house. just don't buy them. just don't.

3) drink wine, not beer. I know beer is amazing, and if you drink it i'm going to want to drink it too.

4) If we're working opposite hours, let's take turns leaving each other healthy leftovers in the fridge so I can have more motivation to eat quickly and go to yoga class/go running/etc.

4a) do the shopping if I'm really busy so I don't have to resort to ramen.

5) Get up with me in the morning with me and work out. Make some kind of plan to do this 2-3x a week.

6) Get up at a reasonable hour on weekends and Go Do Something (making a large greasy breakfast is wonderful but doesn't count). Doing stuff leads to doing stuff leads to (probably) walking a lot.

7) Buy me a Wii or Kinect or something

8) Help me work towards something! advanced yoga poses or different yoga styles? a black belt? work up to advanced dance classes? couch to 5k? a hundred push ups? train for a cross-country cycling-camping trip?

(none of those things apply to my boyfriend and I. but if he were to express a problem with my weight, this is what I'd say, probably followed by a "Deal with it.")
posted by ghostbikes at 6:43 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]

er, I meant to say "something you don't like" not "something girly you don't like". I think I was just venting at guys not going to yoga class with me when I want them to because they think it's girly. boy are they wrong. sounds like you're way ahead there.
posted by ghostbikes at 6:46 PM on March 18, 2011

Mod note: few more comments removed - halogen, please stck to answering the question. Other folks, use email if your answers are not talking to the OP and answering his question.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 6:46 PM on March 18, 2011

The "lead by example" comments are the most helpful in this thread. There is no way you're going to be able to change someone's behavior, but changing your behavior might influence her. Google socially contagious habits for some info.

Leading by example is useful for any cohabiting couple. Things that "should/shouldn't" be done may seem obvious to you, but until you start making the habit yourself, your partner won't do it. (Helpful Tip! Nagging will not work.) The best parallel to weight/exercise is housework: I've noticed that when I quietly start doing a new habit (making the bed every day, going through the mail each night), Mr. Kiddo starts doing it as well. So then we're both supporting each other and building a new positive habit without making it a big deal. Did I mention that nagging just makes everyone feel bad and doesn't work?
posted by sfkiddo at 7:16 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

This reminds me of the Japanese word 幸せ太り (shiawase-butori) – “happy fat” – weight gain after getting married/moving in with your significant other. It happens all around the world. :)

I'm about 5’2”, and on my frame 20lbs in a year would be a lot for me. I gained around 10lbs in 1 1/2 years after I moved in with my boyfriend, and the extra weight made a big difference in how my clothes fit, my self-esteem, and how I actually physically felt. I recently lost the weight after experiencing some stress in my work and personal life last year, but I believe that changes in my lifestyle also contributed to it and that they are helping to maintain my current weight.
And I have to say, I feel a lot better *physically* and have more energy after losing the weight.

Here is what my advice would be for both of you:

Maybe _you_ can totally pig out and not gain any weight. But you will have to commit to acting as a good example. You will be healthier for it, though, and it will help prevent weight gain later on.

Watch what you are eating after working out. People often overeat after the gym because they feel like they've "earned" it. This was a serious problem for me- I would run for 30 or so minutes on the treadmill and would end up feeling famished. Even though I was cooking healthy meals at home, I would end up eating more than normal, drinking a lot of juice, eating dessert, and to make matters worse would eat all of this around 11pm and right before going to bed. After I stopped going to the gym, I lost the extra weight within 1 1/2 months!

Instead I have been doing weight training at home with cheap barbells and walking a lot. I try to only eat when I am hungry, and then only to the point where I feel 80% full. I also try to do the Tracy Anderson method mat video when I have time, and the shape of my body has changed quite dramatically (friends have randomly commented on how it’s changed without me saying anything). I now weigh the same as I did in high school, but look and feel much healthier and sexier ;D

If you must go to the gym, I would suggest swimming or playing basketball or other games. Seriously, treadmills, stationary bikes, and elliptical machines have done nothing for me or anyone that I know whose goal was to lose weight (it has helped with endurance for me, but not for weight loss). If you must use a machine, use the stair climber.

Stop getting on the scale every day. Instead, focus on how your body feels and how your clothes fit. Focusing on numbers only made me hungrier. Instead, I aim for burning fat and gaining muscle.

>pig out on beer, pizza, and diner breakfasts.
Stop doing this. If you are like me, breakfast on the weekend is more like brunch… and then you are not hungry at lunch time so you end up eating dinner later. Why don’t you make a nice breakfast (that just happens to be healthy) for the two of you instead?
Try not to eat dinner later than 9pm (if you do, make it with veggies and fish or chicken breast).
If you can’t live without pizza, get thin crust instead of pan crust. I feel less bloated and greasy after eating thin crust, too. Also, try to eat it for lunch instead of dinner.

For drinks, try to cut down on beer and especially sodas and juices. Keep a pitcher of water in your fridge (adding drops of lemon to it will make it tastier).

When you eat out and want to order dessert, why not share one together? It's more romantic, too.

Let her feel free to eat at the time when she is hungry, don't ask her to wait to eat dinner with you.

Be supportive, but please don’t badger her into going to the gym. Try to do fun activities together as much as possible.
posted by koakuma at 7:30 PM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]

Just eat more vegetables and less junk food and carbs. Losing a little weight doesn't require imposing a whole strict diet/exercise routine. Have some fruit for dessert instead of ice cream or cookies. Don't eat giant fatty diner breakfasts or a ton of pizza for dinner, but if you have to do this once a week, have an omelet and fruit instead of fried stuff, and only have 2-3 slices of pizza with veggies instead of sausage and pepperoni. Skip the extra bread. Walk everywhere you can and take the stairs. Beer has a ton of calories! Don't drink much beer. Salads can be really fattening because a lot of them come with lots of dressing, cheese, nuts, croutons, dried fruit - all this stuff together has a lot of calories, so be careful about what's on your salad - sometimes a sandwich is better. Soups with broth and lots of veggies are healthy and really fill you up.

My experience is that it's helpful to get used to not eating more when you're full (no need to stuff yourself), and that it's OK to be a little bit hungry sometimes (such as at the office) instead of snacking on candy and chips.

Just be cool and change little things.

Of course, the caveat to this is that I've adopted a lot of good habits and stay pretty slim and I still obsess constantly about needing to lose five pounds. Thanks, society! Be nice to your girlfriend.
posted by citron at 7:40 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

You: There's something I like to tell you.
Her: What?
You: I think you need to lose weight.

Simple, and to the point.
posted by jchaw at 7:42 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]

Twenty pounds in what, outside, three years is actually something to be concerned about, or something it's ok to notice, unless she was underweight, or is a tall woman. I don't think you are a horrible person for asking this question.

But if you read these responses carefully, and ignore the strident stuff: you cook, you work out, you set an example - and as a person in a 15 year relationship - bodies change for better and worse and back again, and do remember that if you choose to stick with this relationship, you may find yourself on the other side of the coin - she may be fit and you may be slack one day. What would you want her to do for you, if anything, in that case? There is no right answer, just think about it.

If you develop a strong, long term relationship, you may get to the place with each other where you can say "X is your weight number you need to watch - if you aren't above that, you aren't heavy. Even if you drift above, I still love you, but I understand you then feel self aware about your weight. Otherwise, shut up, you are lovely." What you cannot suggest is that your partner (nor can she suggest it to you) work on any kind of spot reduction or building - bodies are bodies are genetics and that ass is that ass, etc. It's probably what made you attracted to one another in the first place, and is almost impossible to change weight distribution.
posted by rainbaby at 7:44 PM on March 18, 2011

I think people here SECRETLY wait for someone to ask a question like this. It makes their year.

First off, I can tell you're kinda youngish. No big deal...being new to something doesn't make you an asshole or the kind of boyfriend some people here had in the past. You just aren't seeing the way you are viewing this as a problem.

The weight is hers, not yours. If she wants anything done, she will say it. You don't get to decide that for her even if you think she wants it. Its just how it works.

Also, you don't eat tons of garbage since you eat at home most of the week. You just kinda pig out a little on the weekends...maybe a few nights of a lot of drinks for both you and her?

Well, you both are reaching the age where you won't have the metabolism you once had. The food will start hitting your body and staying there. So yeah...if you can do without it...it would improve your girlfriend's weight too. Its not your fault...but you can make a difference here without getting into "discussion" territory.

Thats all. Good luck...
posted by hal_c_on at 7:58 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't think like this—or at least try not to. Things will not be x better if y changes. Even if y changes then likely as not z will start to trigger your worry. This question is a symptom, not the disease.
posted by oxford blue at 8:19 PM on March 18, 2011

Signing up for a 5k is a great idea, since you already run 2-3 times a week.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:23 PM on March 18, 2011

I totally empathize with where you're coming from because I was you. I hope you can learn from my mistakes...

I was with a woman who was great in every way except.... Except I just wasn't quite attracted to her the way I wanted to be. I got it into my head that if she just lost some weight maybe I'd feel different and then we could spend the rest of our lives together. (ASIDE: I've dated women before/since with higher BMIs with zero issues of attraction, and have since come to realize that this had nothing to do with her weight. We lacked the chemistry that I wanted us to have and there was nothing she could do to change that.) As you did, I obsessed about her weight, even to the point of having a nightmare which haunted my daytime perseverations. I kept my attraction concerns to myself for a very long time, and encouraged her weight loss goals without letting her know I had a vested interest in her succeeding. But it bugged me. Because she wasn't losing the weight and I wasn't feeling the way I wanted to feel. In hindsight, I realize these two issues were orthogonal.

Eventually, the issue of her weight came up in conversation because the relationship wasn't moving forward. It became clear to me that I could either end the relationship over my feelings or give her an opportunity to address this issue. I convinced myself that our wonderful relationship was worth breaching this taboo topic. In as gentle a way as possible, I brought up that I felt her weight was maybe getting in the way of my attraction. Several months later, we broke up, as she came to realize that she was not going to wait any longer to see if my feelings would change. She has since revealed that despite my delicate approach, it was maybe one of the most hurtful things ever said to her.

Some lessons I've learned:

1. Some things can not be unsaid. I've apologized to my ex for my behavior (we're actually quite good friends now) but I know that doesn't mean a hill of beans. She's let me know how much it hurt her and I feel terrible to have done that to another person, especially someone I loved/love. And the reality of it is that it's not a one-time hurt, but is something that's likely to stay with her for a very long time. She's had weight issues since childhood and no amount of sincere, heartfelt apologies can erase my contribution to her self doubt. I will never live that down. And I will never make the same mistake.

2. As helpful people have mentioned above, you can not control other people. I know this sounds obvious, but you need to really accept this deep down where your dark parts live. Yoking your happiness to your girlfriend's weight is doing neither of you a favor.

3. The heart wants what it wants. And the opposite is true as well. I'm of the opinion that you can't make yourself feel something, no matter how bad you want to. As "amazing, sexy, funny, awesome" your girlfriend may be, if you're not feeling the way you want or need to feel, you might need to walk away from this.


The next woman I dated after this experience was heavier than my ex. I couldn't possibly have been more attracted to her. I told my friends that I thought she was the sexiest woman on the planet and I meant it. The contrast in my feelings couldn't have been stronger. I've come to realize that as much as someone might look right on paper, if it doesn't feel right, there's not much I can do. Only you can figure if you're attracted to your girlfriend in the way you need to be, but I think it would be a mistake to confuse and conflate that with her weight gain. At least, that's what was true for me.
posted by the real deal at 8:34 PM on March 18, 2011 [23 favorites]

Forgive me for piling on the thread here, but I had a boyfriend do exactly this to me some years ago. While he was initially supportive, he began sneaking behind my back, switching out the hamburgers I'd made for ones he felt were "better" for me, and reproaching me for taking seconds or whatever. It was humiliating and upsetting, and I chafed at the attempt to control something so personal as my eating habits. It was as invasive and as offensive to me as if he'd tried to control when I had my period.

Please think twice before raising this issue with your girlfriend.
posted by LN at 8:38 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

The only behavior you can control is your own.
posted by Space Kitty at 10:44 PM on March 18, 2011 [3 favorites]

Adding to Space Kitty, the only behavior you can control is your own - but that may be a boost to her goals too if she wants to lose weight.

It is ridiculously hard to not eat when someone near you is eating pizza and beer and a jar of Nutella at a go. It's also ridiculously hard to eat like shit when your partner is eating healthy. If your girlfriend is anything like me, she has good intentions that unfortunately fail her when tasty delicious food is nearby and ready to be eaten.

I know a lot of people in this thread are kind of piling on that you are a sexist guy and trying to control her et cetera. I don't think so. I think 20 pounds is quite a bit to gain and she probably doesn't look or feel the same. Good on you for not mentioning it to her, because I am sure she is unhappy as well. If she brings it up again ("ugh I wish I could lose weight" or "jeez I feel fat"), you can take that opportunity to say something like "You know, I've been trying to eat better and exercise more lately too. I feel like I've been letting healthy eating slide. You want to work on it as a team?". And then do so. Take walks together after work - which it looks like you're doing.

You don't have to set rules like 'pizza every other week' if you are the one not ordering the pizza. I would never order a whole pizza for myself but I would if my partner was like "oooh pizza would be so good right now, let's get it". Don't underestimate how her food habits are linked to yours.
posted by amicamentis at 5:18 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

Some other ladies have noted that they gained weight when moving in with a guy, and I had the same experience. It's tough to remember how my weight gain began, but I don't think it was necessarily the types of food we had so much as the portions (my husband's weight has fluctuated very little since we moved in together whereas mine jumped about 20 pounds, that I've since worked off). If you are cooking and serving dinner for both of you, maybe start with a smaller portion *for both of you.* Eat, and if you are still hungry after a bit, get seconds for yourself (and for her if she asks). From my experience, if my husband waits a bit before serving seconds, I often decide I'm already full. That has allowed both of us to eat the amount each of our bodies need without creating an obvious inequality.
posted by Terriniski at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've actually been not too bad with gaining weight with my boyfriend (an athlete, I'm not), and I think there are a few reasons.
1) I've trained him not to give me as much food as he takes if he's serving me food, I've told him "half" or possibly less, especially with the rice and pasta portions.
2) as soon as I start feeling satisfied and I still have food on my plate, I say "do you want this?" and feed him the rest of my food. Food gone, I stop eating.
3) we don't drink beer, we drink scotch and sometimes wine.
4) Pizza and chinese food are only every couple of weeks at best, we cook otherwise.
5) He really enjoys being active, so we've gone skating a lot this winter (and I've improved lots!) and I was the one to suggest we go to the gym in the morning together, as a way to spend more time together. I do it "for him", as a way to keep him more active because he likes it. And I'm becoming a more active person as a result.
posted by lizbunny at 7:25 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been rejected because of my weight before, and I tend to rage when guys complain about girlfriends gaining weight - but I think I get where you're coming from on this, Anonymous.

This is probably one of your first long-term relationships, and the early twenties are often the hot years, so this is probably your first time you've been with someone who's physically changed over the course of your relationship. You're already aware that people change as they age, it's just hitting home now. (In a way I have it easier because I've never been slender or super-hot, so everyone I've dated has had to put up with the pudge up front, but maybe you guys are built like models and haven't had that experience.)

Furthermore, I suspect it's not the physical change you're worried about as much as her unhappiness. She sounds deeply self-conscious about her weight gain, and it's opening up some old wounds, and that's rubbing off on you. Would you have noticed the weight gain if she hadn't panicked about it?

Approach it from the happiness angle. If you ever let on that she's less attractive because of her weight gain, it will break her heart and her self-confidence. The next time she complains about her weight, reply with your standard (but heartfelt) "you're beautiful and you're not fat" (and, optional but helpful if it's sincere: "no matter how much you weigh I'll still find you beautiful") - and then, add "I know you've been really self-conscious about your weight lately. It upsets me to see you so down on yourself. I want you to feel as good as I think you look. Is there anything you'd like me to do to help?" And then listen. If she says no, leave it. If she says she just wants reassurance that she's attractive, then that's what you do. If she wants you to back off on the pizza and beer, do that (seriously, it's really hard to ignore someone eating piles of junk food in your presence). If she wants your "help" losing weight, work together to find out what helps and what just annoys.

If she does enlist your help, start out very slow and back off at the first sign of her resistance. If she doesn't want to go to the gym, she doesn't want to go to the gym. Anything after that initial "no" is nagging, and will make her want to do it even less. And don't do that "well, it's your choice" or "just trying to help" passive-aggressiveness. Don't say "should" or "are you sure?" or anything that sounds like you're judging her.

Getting healthy is a personal decision; her motivation needs to come from within. The more nagging or rules you impose, the less internal that motivation will feel. It creates an imbalance of power in your relationship, and she might start pulling away.

Her self-dislike is a bigger strain right now than her weight. If you keep that in mind you may have more success.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:57 AM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a woman, and I'll give it to you straight: if you're in your early 20s and you're "extremely skinny, and I've got the type of body where I can eat a jar of Nutella every day and not gain an ounce", chances are pretty good that your girlfriend would prefer it if you put on about 20 pounds yourself... of muscle

This makes absolutely no sense. Chances are NOT "pretty good."

It's just as unfair to say that a woman needs to lose weight to be attractiveas it is to say a man needs to gain muscle to be attractive.
posted by Windigo at 8:50 AM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

A couple more things you can do AFTER having that conversation where your girlfriend concedes that she would like your help (and she really might; dieting is a lonely, hard task).

1. When I don't want to go to the gym, I often say, "I really should go, but..." That's when the best husband in the world replies, "You know, you'll thank yourself/be much happier if you do." He puts it back on me, which is not the same as nagging, it's just encouraging me by telling me what I already know.

2. Possibly one of the clearest acts of love: my husband researched the diet I was going on (on his own!) so he could buy and cook the right foods, and serve me the right size portions. It didn't feel like I was controlling mealtime, unilaterally making all the food decisions or putting him on a diet too. Yep, he's a skinny, high-metabolism dude.

3. I'd been doing great about building my gym habit up, and one or the other of us started using the phrase "gold star!" and exchanging a kiss each time I proudly reported that I'd gone. Again, positive reinforcement. After a while, he came home with a packet of foil stars for me -- the kind your kindergarten teacher awarded. I absolutely swooned, and we started putting a star on the gym schedule that hung on the door every time I'd made it in. It felt good to accumulate a bunch of tangible (if abstract) evidence of my progress. YMMV, but the little rewards go a long way for me.

I lost 15 lbs using www.livestrong.com/myplate to help me set goals and count calories, and it feels great! In my relationship of 17+ years it's clearly always been about my interest in living up to my own standards for weight and health, but it's been great to have a partner who helps me get where I want to be.
posted by nadise at 10:13 AM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

You're going to have to do all the things you want her to do yourself if you don't want to make it obvious that you want her to lose weight.

Just because you're naturally thin doesn't mean it's good for you to pig out on beer, pizza, 1500 cal breakfasts, etc., either.
posted by elpea at 10:38 AM on March 19, 2011

Yeesh, people are being harsh. Honestly, I see no ill will in this question. Things I recommend: going to the gym more yourself, and inviting her along. 20 minutes on a treadmill 3 times a week is not much exercise, especially with weekend pig-outs. Can you find another activity you both enjoy, like frisbee or running with your dog or something, and add it to the gym-going? Or if there is something she's always wanted to try (circus arts, crossfit, pilates) maybe a gift certificate to a specialty studio she wouldn't buy for herself?

But I think the big thing is to change your diet--YOUR diet. Don't bring junk food into the house, don't go out for pizza--"pizza's been making me feel gross, let's try that new pita place instead" or whatever. Don't make it about her, but lead by example. Take the reins in cooking some of the nights.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 12:21 PM on March 19, 2011

It's just as unfair to say that a woman needs to lose weight to be attractive as it is to say a man needs to gain muscle to be attractive.

True, but the OP seems comfortable with the former, so I figured that shining a light on the latter might open his eyes a little. I'll be the first to admit that body expectations are unfair, but they are very common nonetheless... and what's really unfair is the double-standard which encourages men to expect their partners to be thin, and at the same time places little or no emphasis on their own shape.

In short: yes, plenty of women like skinny dudes who live on pizza and beer, and more power to 'em. Plenty of men like women who weigh what the OP's girlfriend weighs, also. I think it's perfectly fair to point out that since the OP is not a member of the latter set, he might consider that his girlfriend may not necessarily be a member of the former set.

Whether that leads to gym-going or a new perspective on his own expectations is up to him. I figure either (or both!) would probably be helpful here.
posted by vorfeed at 12:46 PM on March 19, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like both of you need help planning and preparing healthy meals and having them on hand during the week. These are important skills many people don't seem to learn. Preparing and eating meals together would be a great way to nurture your relationship, as well.

However, this is a process and can take a long time. If you can't stand the fact that your girlfriend, while not fat, weighs more than she did when you started dating in your very early twenties, the most helpful thing you could do would be to break up with her. It may be that you met her when she was at a weight that is not realistic for her to maintain. If that is the case, it would not be fair to hold her to this unrealistic standard.
posted by odeon at 12:55 PM on March 19, 2011

You want her to lose weight? Fine. You're BOTH on a diet. If she can't have pizza, neither can you. If she has to work her ass off at the gym five days a week, so do you. If she's only allowed 1600 calories a day, that's all you get. As someone who "can eat a jar of Nutella every day and not gain an ounce", you really have no idea how hard it is for her. This way you will find out. You'll be a bit more sympathetic and won't be sabotaging her diet and eating snickers bars in front of her (which is just plain mean, btw). Plus, people are much more successful dieting with a buddy than they are going it alone.
posted by ValkoSipuliSuola at 2:14 PM on March 19, 2011

Dude, 20 lbs are much. You're enabling her by contributing to her accepting that 20 lbs weight gain are somehow okay for an otherwise healthy twenty-year-old.

20 pounds may or may not be a big deal, depending on where she started out. One does tend to put on weight in ones 20s through metabolism and lifestyle changes; it's especially noticeable if you start out really skinny. It may be that a certain amount of what she has gained, she's going to have to live with unless she wants to starve or run marathons. So, if (as you say) she is not fat, I think what you may really need to do is encourage her to stay at a higher weight for a while if the diet thing is stressing her out.

That said, another thing you discover in your 20s is that you can't eat pizza and drink beer all weekend and expect to lose any weight at all. Any significant amount of beer-- forget it. Alcohol slows down your metabolism for days. It wouldn't hurt either of you to find a different weekend routine.
posted by BibiRose at 4:04 PM on March 19, 2011

Ok, I stopped reading the responses after the first 20 harsh ones, so apologies if this has been said. As a woman who is currently losing weight successfully, I gotta say that my boyfriend's support has been Fabulous and made a huge difference. This different from previous relationships, and AWESOME.

Things current guy has done RightRightRight:
- Tell me and show me that I am sexy to him as I am. A LOT.
- Ask me what I want, how I want to lose weight, what my goals are, and how he can support me. Listen! And not complain when the gym impinges on our plans.
- Always give me the option to over-ride his healthy suggestions - he is clear that the decisions are Mine.
- When he's with me, he eats at least as healthily as I do, partially in support of my goals.
- Also tell me that, yeah, he'd love it if I were slenderer, too - so if I want more incentive, I can do it partially for him. And then he reemphasizes that he loves me at every weight (see point one).

PS - it's totally ok to be a little shallow - Really.
posted by ldthomps at 7:00 PM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]

Way to go on the gender presumption folks - women can be naturally skinny too! But anyway, whether you're male or female it seems like 20 pounds is a relatively small amount to be putting you off your girlfriend. I wonder if the weight gain is just indicative of a general behavioural trait that you personally find unattractive. Some people find drive or discipline very appealing, others not so much. Maybe the thing you're finding unattractive is her seeming inability to take control of something she's unhappy with, regardless of what that thing is (but, as others have described, you should not underestimate how herculean a task proper diet control can be).

If so, this is more about your differing characters than your differing physiques and you need to question whether you're happy to live with these frustrations or not.
posted by freya_lamb at 4:32 AM on March 20, 2011

Tossing my anecdotal observation into the fray: my metabolism used to be similar to anonymous' metabolism, where I could eat anything and any time that I wanted to, and I was the skinny one, without trying to be fit. I walked everywhere, ran around for fun, and I was young(er). Now I'm sedentary, I have a desk job and don't get outside as much as I used to, so I've put on weight. My wife's job rarely gives her time to sit down, so she's lost weight without trying, dropping a few dress sizes.

In short: chances are that your metabolism won't always be this good to you, and there could be a point where the roles are reversed. Don't get too comfortable with your current habits.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:06 AM on March 22, 2011

I don't think you're being bad. People just are attracted to certain things.

Losing weight can be very hard if you do it the right way, though. In my case, it takes big commitment or massive depression.

When I am on the commitment track, I count my calories. A bummer, but totally essential. Exercise is great and healthy, but unless you're going really hard for like an hour running or skiing or something, it won't matter. 20 minutes won't make a difference in the face of a 1,500 calorie breakfast. It's all about calories.

You'd have to make the commitment to eat less, too, I'm sure. You can't eat pizza in front of her face and expect her to have a salad.

(Pizza doesn't have that many calories, by the way, depending on the type.)

I think you should implement these changes together. Tell her you want to be more healthy. Gradually, maybe you can work up to counting calories.

When I am the depression track, I use cigarettes. Hey, get her to take up smoking.

I would not be offended if my boyfriend told me in a good way that he wanted to get healthy with me. I would be offended if he said I was fat and ate pizza in front of me.
posted by amodelcitizen at 1:32 PM on March 22, 2011

and never, ever say "If you love me, you will get on the treadmill."

That kind of emotional abuse might take years of therapy for the both of you to undo...
posted by dreamling at 10:43 PM on April 10, 2011

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