Can You Tell Someone You Love They Need to Lose Weight?

“I’d ask him how much he weighs, and then I’d shed him!” exclaims Aileen Zsenyuk, a woman who recently lost 115-pounds. While her partner wasn’t the catalyst for her weight loss, for some women, it’s one of the worst things you could ever imagine coming out of a loved one’s mouth: the words “you’re fat.”

Hurtful, maybe, but in some cases, absolutely necessary for the person’s own health and well-being. In cases where one is morbidly obese, it could even save their life. But for some people, excess weight serves as a shield, one that they aren’t quite ready to shed. According to certified health coach Holly Stokes, “Weight can be a way of hiding who we really are from others so they don’t reject us or get too close, and often, it’s a way of insulating yourself from a partner’s criticism.”

So instead of coming off as critical, try a more positive approach. Caryl Ehrlich, a weight-loss coach who helps people beat food addiction says that if you decide to tell someone they need to diet; there are tactful ways to take this step. “Instead of outwardly saying ‘you need to lose weight,’ you could say ‘I love you just the way you are and I want you around for a long time for me and the kids, so you might want to eat in a healthier way.’

If you don’t go about it the right way, Ehrlich says, it could have severe repercussions. “The recipient would be mortified that someone noticed they were overweight and the relationship would never ever be the same. That’s when people go into the closet and become secret eaters,” she says.

Actions speak louder than words, says Judy Lederman, author of Joining the Thin Club: Tips for Toning Your Mind AFTER You’ve Trimmed Your Body (Three Rivers Press, 2007). “Unless you want to cause animosity, do NOT tell them with words,” Lederman says. “Instead, show the person you are concerned by taking them for nice, long walks, making them healthy meals, keeping junk food out of the house, and keeping healthy fruits and veggies readily available. You can also sign them up for a gym membership as a gift and do whatever it takes to get them into the gym, such as purchasing personal training sessions or massages.”

Now, what if you’re the one on the receiving end of the news? Sharon O’Neill, a New York based marriage and family therapist and author of A Short Guide to a Happy Marriage (Cider Mill Press, 2009), says to carefully consider what your loved one is trying to tell you instead of just dismissing it as criticism. “First, ask yourself how this request was delivered. If it was delivered with love and concern, I’d advise thinking twice about it. However, if it was delivered with anger and disgust, there could be a deeper issue going on.”

Sometimes, the person who’s demanding the weight loss could be projecting their own insecurities onto you. “If this is more of a case of dissatisfaction with one’s self, then I’d pass on accepting the advice,” says Debbie Mandel, author of Addicted to Stress (Wiley and Sons, 2008). Similarly, they could be asking for a lot more than just five or ten pounds. “If your partner is trying to change you completely, run the other way!” says body image coach Stephanie Mansour. “If you are losing weight to impress someone or for someone else’s approval, it will never stick!” she adds.

Once you’ve looked inward and analyzed the intentions of your partner, taking a good look at the relationship itself could provide some insight,O’Neill says. “Ask yourself honestly, is my weight affecting the relationship or the intimacy within it? Does my partner have some unrealistic aspiration of the perfect body?” In some cases, women have reported their marriages unraveling because, as they aged or their bodies changed, their partners became angered. In the book The Millenium Diet: the Practical Guide for Rapid Weight Loss (Healthnets, 2010), several such cases are referenced. According to weight-loss coach Pat Barone, “Some partners tend to focus on the other’s weight because they don’t want to face what the real issues are.”

For what it’s worth, some experts say, don’t take it so personally. “Often my clients will equate ‘You need to lose weight’ with ‘You are fat and worthless.’ This is simply not true,” says Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, a psychologist, physical therapist, and author.

If someone delivers you the news that you need to shed a few pounds (or more) and you agree with them, after you’ve absorbed it, experts say, it’s time to devise a plan. “After I’ve licked my wounds, I’d turn it into a case of personal empowerment,” Mandel says. “Once you’ve decided you want to get fit and live a healthier lifestyle, set a sustainable meal plan and exercise program.” And, for lack of a better term, remember that the person likely had good intentions-so don’t shoot the messenger. “I appreciate the friend who tells me I have broccoli stuck in my front teeth,” she adds.

  • By Jené Luciani

There isn’t much that Emma Allen doesn’t know about dieting. She once gave up solid food for four months. It didn’t work out. She tried the weight-loss programme NutriSystem, but needless to say, they didn’t help either. She was even one of the first generation of Atkins devotees who were required, among other things, to test their own urine.

Yet while she was publicly attempting to shed the pounds, secretly, Emma liked being overweight. As a child she had fantasies of taking a pill that would make her fatter and fatter until she eventually just floated away.

She never told anyone, but when she got pregnant 18 years ago, everything changed. “It was like a religious epiphany,” Emma says. “I remember having this incredible feeling that I could think about what was good for me, instead of calories. The possibility of thinking about food differently was a big turning point.”

Over the next 10 years, Emma immersed herself in the world of size politics. She paid closer attention to the size liberation movement: a political movement that started in the 1970s and made size an axis of oppression. Groups such as Fat Underground and Fat Activists Together (FAT) fought for anti-discrimination legislation on the grounds of weight. Then three years ago she finally took the decision to do something she had always wanted to do. “I’d had these fantasies all my life and had been restraining them all my life. There came a time when I wanted to explore,” she says. “I wanted to know more about what they were about. How would I feel about actually gaining weight, would I enjoy it?” In spring 2007, she took the plunge and gained 33lb, to reach a total weight of 17.5st.

Emma is a 49-year-old professor at a university in the north-west of England. She is also a “gainer” – sometimes known as a “feedee” – who overeats in an active attempt to put on weight. Although there are no statistics on the number of people doing this, gaining is more common than one might think. “They are everybody: every age, every country, every size; I mean, tiny, skinny people wanting to gain . . . it really is a case of, look around you, somebody is having these fantasy scenarios,” says Emma.

This week Donna Simpson, a 42-year-old mother from New Jersey who weighs 43st, made headlines by revealing that her ongoing weight gain was part of her plan to become the fattest woman on earth. Pictured with an enigmatic smile and a burger in her hand, the press coverage showed varying degrees of restraint in highlighting the £400-a-week food shops, fast-food binges and unrepentant bid to hit 73st.

Gaining is often linked to feederism; a topic that occasionally pops up as freakshow fodder in magazines, chat shows or documentaries such as Fat Girls and Feeders: a 2003 Channel 4 documentary. This focused on the relationships between men and the overweight, vulnerable women they chose to fatten to immobility and beyond. Yet many women actively seek to gain weight of their own volition.

There are many websites and groups dedicated to gaining but Fantasy Feeder (FF to its members) is perhaps the most comprehensive. There are forums, stories and photographs that show unbuttoned blouses revealing pot bellies, wobbly tummies and impressive mounds of flesh cascading over waistbands. Large bosoms escape the confines of their bras, and rolls ripple beneath over-stretched T-shirts. Before and after pictures show the usual weight transformation journey, but in reverse. The poses are proud, matter-of-fact and often sexual.

There are lots of men on the site, but it is the images of female gainers that catch the eye. In our present landscape of body blandness, they stand out as controversial, bold and visually political. Fat is still, most definitely, a feminist issue for some female gainers.”I think being a feminist has affected my relationship to my body and gaining in several ways,” says Emma. “I started, very young, bucking the trends of beauty norms, like bra-wearing and shaving and makeup. I always thought that these practices were ridiculous; so that made it easier to go against the norm. Gaining is very liberating.”

Others say they like making a statement with their weight because it challenges our stereotypical notions of beauty. Some, like Helen Gibson, a 40-year-old nurse from the Midlands, gain weight simply to please themselves. “It is my right to be fat; nothing about making a point.” Yet even she concedes putting on weight after her marriage made her feel free: “Those three months were the most liberating of my life; I could feel the fat going back on. My tummy returned to its former glory – fat, soft and flabby, just how it should be.”

Helen’s husband knows she is a gainer, as do friends, who are well aware of how much she “adores being fat”; understandably, though, being an NHS employee, she cannot come out of the gaining closet completely. At the latest estimate, 57% of women were classified as being overweight, including 25% who were obese. Overall, obesity and related health issues now account for 9% of the NHS budget. As a nurse, says Helen, she cannot be seen to publicly advocate being overweight. For others, anonymity is the result of not wanting anyone to know, which might explain the profusion of headless pictures on the FF website.

As any gainer will tell you, life outside the community can be harsh. There is still a huge amount of derision and discrimination towards the obese, so the decision to keep their gaining a secret isn’t really a surprise. Lauren, a 20-year-old American gainer, says she does not want to offer more ammunition to people by explaining the predilection. “As a fat woman, I have experienced fat discrimination almost on a daily basis,” she says. “It’s usually not so glaring as an intolerant jerk screaming, ‘Diet, fatty!’ but smaller, more painful ways: going to parties and no one talks to me, being glared at while I’m eating in restaurants, the snickering in changing rooms in department stores.”

For many non-gainers, the practice seems strange because of the health implications – both physical and psychological. Even organisations such as the US-based National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (Naafa) dismiss gaining on health grounds. Obesity experts say that being overweight can cause everything from heart problems and diabetes to high blood pressure and gall stones. The message is that fat and health don’t mix. But Emma disagrees. She says that it would be more useful for people to consider the multimillion-pound diet industry and its “95% failure rate”, and feels overweight people are instead blamed for all the world’s ills. “I think people worry about health because it’s the easiest place to hang fat hatred. The data actually suggests that it has to do with activity, and not size. People respond badly to anything that asks them to reconfigure their presumptions and preconceptions.”

Psychologically, gaining is still a grey area. While one would assume purposefully overeating to gain weight is as much of a disorder as not eating, Susan Ringwood, chief executive of Beating Eating Disorders (Beat), says that isn’t the case. “It isn’t an eating disorder as such, because there is no morbid fear of fatness, or weight gain. In its extreme forms it is more likely to be a personality disorder that is organised around submission/domination and sexual fantasies.”

Another theory, says psychotherapist Phillip Hodson, is that intentional weight gain for women could well be an avoidance tactic: they don’t want to attract the unwanted attention of men, so they transform themselves into something deemed conventionally unattractive. Most women don’t feel this way, but it could be true for a small minority. “I have come across cases where it’s quite obvious that women deliberately become large, or remain large, for psychological reasons,” he says. “These include trying to avoid attention and becoming sexually invisible. Some women use food to become so different from the stereotype and to avoid all that is involved in fitting that stereotype: from wolf whistles to being propositioned.”

It’s a thought, but it doesn’t appear to mean anything to Emma or Helen who define weight gain in very sexual terms. Although Donna Simpson’s press coverage glossed over the sexual aspect of gaining, for them, more fat means more sex appeal; the extra flesh that everyone else is attempting to shed fuels their desires.

Emma goes one step further to say that gaining is an intrinsic part of her sexual identity. She cannot gain at the moment because of MS and diabetes, but still calls herself a gainer.

For most of us, weight gain seems simple: a bit too much butter on your toast and one chocolate biscuit too many can mean the difference between zipping up your jeans or not. But the question of how to gain weight is quite a hot topic on Fantasy Feeder. There are “Eat Yourself Fat” tailormade diet plans to increase your weight, and the advice ranges from eating ice cream before bed to homemade milkshakes and lots more pasta.

While some favour junk food overload, others, like Emma, say that it is the very antithesis of what gaining is about. “For me, it’s all about a kind of hedonism; it’s about opening the doors and allowing in fleshy pleasures, whether it’s food itself, or what happens to my body, or what happens to somebody else’s body. I need a big variety, because what’s appealing to me are contrasts of textures and tastes and aromas and colours . . . if I have to eat a big bowl of pasta, I’m not interested. I mean, I love pasta, but I’m not going to eat four servings of it.”

Instead Emma maintains a healthy eating regime. “I know no one will believe this, but I eat lots of wholegrains, fruit and veg; probably a bit too much cheese, and chocolate – although I now only eat sugarfree candies. Fish, if it’s fresh . . . of course. My diet isn’t primarily McDonald’s and KFC; in fact, it almost never is.” Likewise, Helen’s love of gaining is as much about the act of eating as the result. “It’s the pleasure of food that is the biggest pleasure for me; followed by each extra roll of fat that comes with the amount that I eat,” she says. “I adore how I look naked – and I have been known to spend far too much time admiring myself in the mirror.”

The presence of online gaining communities has provided people with a support system. Many say it is like coming home. “This is our small part of the world where we are surrounded by people who say, ‘You’re not weird; it’s perfectly fine to feel as you do, in fact, we think you’re great because of it,'” says Lauren. “To virtually everyone, it is a liberating, wonderful feeling.” Emma says that she is in the privileged position of “coming out” because she has little to lose: her partner will not leave her because of it, and she is unlikely to lose her job. Colleagues don’t know, but she doesn’t think they will be too surprised, given her outspoken views on fat issues.

As a moderator on the FF site, she comes across a lot of people who on the one hand are desperate to be fat, on the other, desperate to be thin. “Real desires need attention, not curing,” she says. “Lots of people in the community want to understand why they have these fantasies and desires, and there’s sometimes an undertone of; ‘so that I can cure them’. Not always, but there are definitely people who feel that way.”

Some, she says, are just as unhappy with their bodies as those trying to lose weight. “Most people who tell you that they’re happy with their bodies are lying. There are people who are like, ‘Yeah, I’m cool: fat is beautiful – I’m having weight loss surgery . . . certainly, there are women on FF who are dieting.”

Being a gainer isn’t as straightforward or easy as it might seem, she says. “One comes into contact with messages about weight loss, health and beauty, about, I don’t know, 20 times a day. Every time you open your email, a magazine, every time you turn the television on . . . so any attempt to do anything different, takes incredible strength and courage – and we all fall down,” including Emma. “Of course it gets me down! I often feel like all men – and women – believe that stereotype is beautiful, even though I know better,” she says. “I hammer myself over not being that stereotype, but only when I’m having a bad time and am already vulnerable because of other things going on around me.”

If we look around us, says Phillip Hodson, it is clear that regardless of increased pressures to be thin, we are getting fatter as a nation. “The natural figure of the hunter-gatherer has returned: good childbearing hips and a good abdomen,” he says. “But I would be worried about people who are saying they want to get fat.”

But Helen is not worried. At 16st she still only considers herself to be pleasantly plump. She has a picture in her head, she says, of what she will look like when she is fat. “I am a long way off that, although I am on my way,” she says. “With each mouthful, calorie and year, I am on my way to achieving it.”

Some names have been changed

Feed me now: women who love being fat

For most of her life Lucy kept her feelings to herself, until five years ago, when Googling brought her to Fantasy Feeder. Here, people swap high-fat recipes (‘Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie, 500 cals a slice!’), post pictures of their naked flesh and compliment one another on their weight gain. The site works as a dating agency and much of it is given over to the exchange of explicit fat fantasies.

At the same time the discussion forum boasts a section devoted to ‘fat liberation’ where there is heated debate about size politics. It was six months before Lucy dared join the site and another four years before she started posting. ‘If it wasn’t for the internet,’ she says, ‘I’d still think I was the only person in the world who felt differently about weight.’

And who would blame her? Magazine covers and billboards tell us that female beauty comes in a size eight or under, and without cellulite or stretch marks. For anyone overweight each day brings a new diet that will help them shed pounds. An obese woman may be mocked, despised or pitied. No one would imagine for a moment that she had eaten her way there by choice.

And yet some do. Although Fantasy Feeder is one of the better known, there are many more websites and blogs dedicated to weight gain. Some participants practise alone, while others are spurred on by ‘feeders’ – mainly men – who tell them what to eat and praise their expanding size.

Until recently the issue had remained underground, with most participants keeping their habit hidden from friends, family, even partners. The American gainer Donna Simpson has raised its profile by announcing her intention to reach just over 71st, which would make her the world’s fattest woman (in March she weighed in at 43st). Simpson, who met her partner/feeder on a plus-size dating site, represents the extreme end of gaining. Far more typical are women like Lucy who dip in and out the scene and live perfectly ordinary lives – yet feel a secret thrill each time the scales register a rise or their clothes feel a bit too tight.

Or women like Jess, 50. Married with a 16-year-old daughter, she teaches at a university in the north-west of England. Her flat overflows with books and periodicals, with few clues as to her other life, except perhaps the full-length mirror in her kitchen. How many women wish to see their body reflected back at them while eating? ‘I have no idea where it came from, but one of my earliest memories is creating make-believe stories about expansion,’ says Jess, who is 5ft 2in and 16st. ‘I’d take a pill or a potion, grow larger and larger until I floated away.’

In fact, many gainers admit to similar childhood fantasies. On Fantasy Feeder one member recalls obsessively stuffing pillows up her dresses and scouring her mother’s magazines for pictures of pregnant or plus-sized women.

Despite these urges, Jess knew that to ‘expand’ was deemed unacceptable. ‘I come from a family where my parents and almost everyone around me was fat,’ she says. ‘As a chubby teenager, I spent years dieting with my mum, and carried on right up until my thirties. Before I got married I spent four months on a liquid diet and lost 50lb.’

Her pregnancy changed all that. ‘It was a revelation to be able to eat what felt right for me and my baby without worrying,’ she says. While enjoying her rising weight, Jess sought out alternative views on size. ‘I’m an academic so when something happens, I read,’ she says. ‘I read size politics, “health at every size” literature, and consciously looked at fat art to see photographs and pictures that presented big bodies as beautiful.’

Now Jess is unashamed of her preference for fat. ‘I always liked the look on men and women but I’d had decades of training in being repulsed,’ she says. ‘Now I don’t have that ambivalence. I like the softness. I like the fact that there’s mass, there’s stuff to hold.’ Three years ago Jess became an active gainer, eating what she wanted, whenever she wanted – sometimes alone and sometimes aided by members of Fantasy Feeder – and put on two and a half stone.

‘It wasn’t hard,’ she says. ‘I love food and really care about it. I’m the kind of person who keeps track of where the important chefs are working. Letting myself enjoy all that without limits felt naughty – not in a sexual way but in a “little kid” way. I’m doing something fun that I’m not supposed to do – there was a rebellious thing about it. I was also delighted by the results. I know it sounds bizarre but I felt closer to the body I’d like to have and curious as to what would happen next.’

Although Jess told her husband, he didn’t share the fantasy. ‘It’s been a difficult road to negotiate,’ she says. ‘He loves me but I’m not his physical type. His ideal is closer to what I looked like when we married and I hadn’t eaten for four months. At the moment we’re living apart for a number of reasons, and that’s one of them. I want to figure this out and see what it means to me and I don’t want to inflict that on him.’

It isn’t hard to find critics of gaining – perhaps the most vocal are from the so-called size-acceptance community, grass-roots activists who grew out of the fat-pride movement of the late 1960s and fight discrimination against overweight people. ‘It’s dangerous and exploitative,’ says Fatima Parker, president of the Size Acceptance Association. ‘There’s a difference between someone accepting you for who you are and someone trying to make you actively bigger.’

Parker’s view – echoed by many – is that most gainers are women with low self-esteem who have fallen prey to predatory men. ‘I understand it,’ she says. ‘If you are big, you spend your life feeling unattractive, unloved, being ostracised, and then you find a man who tells you he finds you sexy and he wants you to eat more. You’d give your life for it. It’s a way of feeling cherished and loved – but the feeder isn’t happy with you being a size 16; he wants you to be a size 32 or a 45. It’s about power and control and it’s a dangerous game.’

Tracey Nelson, a healthcare consultant for plus-sized patients – and plus-sized herself – agrees. ‘As a fat woman you are denied the chance to enjoy food under any circumstances,’ she says. ‘It must feel amazing to find a community that doesn’t want you to lose weight, to be able to sit opposite someone – whether it’s in a restaurant or on a webcam – who doesn’t look at you and say, “Do you really need dessert?”‘

Lucy recognises some truth in this. ‘When I look at some of the other female members on Fantasy Feeder, I do think quite often there is a hint of desperation for attention,’ she says, ‘but it’s not true for me. My size didn’t stop me getting male attention when I was single and I was never seriously bullied because of my weight. I’ve been surprised how many good-looking, intelligent, “ordinary” men are on this site, and I’m doing this for my own pleasure. I’d never dream of doing anything I wasn’t totally comfortable with.’

For Jess, gaining is an act of rebellion rather than submission. ‘I’m a feminist and I started bucking the beauty norms – like make-up or shaving – before this,’ she says. ‘Whether it’s a pink mohawk or gaining weight, going against mainstream expectations of what makes a woman attractive is a radical thing. It’s about declaring publicly that you’re not accepting those rules. When I look at the scene, I don’t see many insecure women damaged by life and craving attention. The gainers I know are more confident, have more of an internal compass.’

Lesley Terry, a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan, in Canada, has made a study of gainers and believes there is more to it than manipulation. ‘As with any relationship, when taken to extremes it can become dark and abusive,’ she says.

However, many women gain independently – with no feeder in the picture. ‘If you look through history, fat used to be – and still is in many cultures – considered beautiful,’ Terry continues. ‘The stick figures that walk down the runway wouldn’t be considered capable of surviving a famine or sustaining a pregnancy. In certain African tribes and in parts of Nigeria girls still go to “fat houses” to be fattened up before marriage. In our own society we have completely different images of beauty thrown in our faces every day – but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t those who have different preferences.’

But what of the health implications? Few can be unaware we face an obesity epidemic, linked to diabetes, heart disease and cancer. ‘Feeders and feedees would argue that there are many things people enjoy that aren’t great for health,’ says Terry. ‘Smoking and drinking or extreme sports are a few examples.’

Jess is currently only dabbling in gaining, with the odd binge now and then, because of unrelated health problems. She has multiple sclerosis and exercise is becoming difficult. However, she remains adamant that, with care and exercise, people can safely gain weight. ‘People are misled by the Donna Simpson story,’ she says. ‘Most gainers are talking about one or two stone, some about seven. Not many are talking about 72.’

Lucy is more cautious. ‘I do worry,’ she says. ‘I’m a fairly active person – I do a lot of walking and swimming. If a doctor told me to lose weight I’d rethink, but I wouldn’t be happy about it.’

Until that day comes she admits that she is becoming addicted to what she calls her ‘double life’. ‘It’s almost like it’s my escape,’ she says. ‘It’s harmless online fun, and I have no interest in eating my way towards immobility – though to be honest I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the attention can be quite addictive.’

In fact, one of Lucy’s online feeders lives close to her and they are thinking of meeting face to face. Perhaps it’s only
a matter of time before her gaining spills into her real life one way or another.

Lucy and Jess are not their real names

Brian gets tired of my self-hatred. He has limits, he’s human, and more important, he’s a human who loves me and finds me attractive, and is frustrated with having to defend those choices to me, of all people.

Once, we were at a bar, and I saw a very large woman sitting at the edge of the bar. “Do you think she’s cute?” I asked Brian, in a way that clearly indicated she was not. It was a petty, mean question, and one I already knew the answer to. But I found myself wanting to hear him say it, like I could trick Brian into openly admitting that his idea of beautiful — and that his ideas about me — were so obviously, incredibly wrong.

“Yes, I do.” Brian said, not taking the bait. “She’s very pretty. What is your problem? Do you want another beer?”

One of the things I’ve come to understand is that, when you’re single, hating your body is more or less a victimless crime, if you don’t count yourself. When you get into a relationship, however, it becomes a constant referendum on the tastes and judgment of the person who loves you.

The other problem was that, the more that I poke at myself, the more Brian pokes at himself as well. While he is objectively not a very big person, he’s succumed a little bit to the 10 to 15 pounds everyone gains when they are happy and in love. But one morning, I saw him looking at himself in the mirror, grabbing the small pudge from his stomach, and agonizing about how much he felt it made him into a terrible person.

“That’s ridiculous,” I said. Because it so obviously was — he was trying to grab handfuls of his tummy for emphasis, but was struggling to even get one hand full.

“No, it isn’t,” he shot back, in that angry, desperate tone of voice I have so often used. “I am just a fat person, now.”

No, you’re not, I thought, and I wondered how many times Brian had felt like this: frustrated, annoyed, and helpless as he watched me tear down a thing he loved.

The thing that I have struggled the most with understanding is that, just like I am not just a fat girl, Brian is not just someone who likes fat girls. He is someone who has made it through this life, one that is inundated with social mores about what is OK and not OK in terms of physical attraction, and he is unmoved by any of it. How he handles this attraction is actually one of the most attractive things about him. He knows that his is not a popular opinion, and wastes no time caring about that fact.

I wish I could say that I am 100% OK with myself. I still do the thing where, when people compliment pictures of myself that I hate, I will wonder just how bad I look in all the other photos they aren’t complimenting.

But I do little things. When a couple of co-workers and I published this post about “one size fits all” clothing last December, I was terrified at the types of things people would say about my body. But when people were so overwhelmingly positive toward me, it reminded me of how important it is not to be your own biggest censor. I let myself believe the nice things people said.

Two years ago, I didn’t even realize they made bikinis in a size 18 — turns out that they do. Lots of cute ones. And this year, I intend to buy one, and wear it to the beach. And I will enjoy that no one will be able to complain to me about my belly fat (without looking like a crazy person). I will enjoy how excited that makes Brian, to see me happy in my own skin. I will let him enjoy the thing he loves without tearing it down. But more importantly, I will work to earn love from me, who is the person who will always play the hardest to get. I will flirt as hard as I can, and I will win myself back.

How To (Nicely) Tell Your Partner That They Need To Lose Weight

Let’s assume that your partner has recently gained weight. I’m not talking about a few pounds as I believe we should accept our partner the way they are, even if that means with “love handles.” But, let’s say you’re really worried about your special someone’s health and want to talk to them about it because it’s affecting the both of you. How do you do that? What’s the best approach?

Chances are your partner will immediately take it as negative feedback or criticism. Mr. Sutton, psychologist at Stanford University, sustains that nowadays people aren’t used to giving or receiving criticism anymore. However, without feedback and criticism, there wouldn’t be any progress – anywhere.

When we notice that a friend’s button up shirt is quite tight around his belly, we might not hesitate to teasingly ask whether he’s gained a couple pounds. However, the closer we are to someone, the harder it gets to give them honest feedback – particularly when it comes to delicate topics. Weight is just one of those touchy subjects – especially among women. A nicely intended reference to the muffin top can quickly lead to several days of the silent treatment – uh oh! If someone points a weapon at us, we have two possibilities: attack or defense. This also happens in relationship discussions, especially since we (uncounsciously) perceive words as weapons. We almost always react by defending ourselves against even the most positively formulated criticism.

Everything we say can be interpreted in different ways:

He says: “Honey, the traffic light is green.”
She says: “Who’s driving – me or you?!”

The statement “Honey, the traffic light is green” can be received very differently. While the man could have been making a purely factual statement, the woman took it totally offensive as if he was trying to tell her how to drive. This is the tricky part. It’s hard to predict with which ear a communication partner will receive a message, however, you can do certain things to minimize or cushion a possible defense reaction. When it comes to a weight discussion, it’s vital to be prepared and start a conversation cautiously, yet with courage. Today, I want to show you how to disarm your words or, at least, call a truce before kicking off “the talk.”

“Sweetie, maybe you should do without that piece of cake today?”
That’s an honest comment, but it won’t get you anywhere. A study on 1,300 women showed that by trying to manipulate their eating behavior, their partners actually caused the opposite reaction. Cravings and binge eating increased among those women, they started taking laxatives or developed an unhealthy attitude towards food and eating in general.
Therefore, it’s best to not interfere and control, but give support instead.

Create an appropriate atmosphere
Enough time and a calm atmosphere are the right conditions for the talk – maybe in the evening, when calls and e-mails don’t come in every other minute. Warning: holidays are usually a rather hectic, emotional time and therefore not ideal timing.

Be appreciative and respectful
What goes around comes around. If you start a conversation with appreciation and respect, chances are that your partner will treat you in the same way. Make your loved one feel that you mean well. So-called “stroking,” that is using flattering words, can be of great help when it comes to conveying to your partner that you’re doing this for their own good.

Watch your body language
A gesture or facial expression says more about what we’re thinking about others than a hundred words. Adopt a posture that conveys affection, not rejection. An attentive look with your head slightly inclined to reveal your neck shows the other person that you, too, are vulnerable. Don’t cross your arms, but try to lean towards your partner instead.

Be fare and square
Even if the truth isn’t always pleasant, honesty is the best policy. Frankly express your thoughts rather than surprising your significant other with a scale or fitness equipment for their birthday or secretly booking active vacations instead of an all-inclusive resort. Up-front and honest doesn’t equal rude or mean. It’s not what you say, but how you say it – so choose positive words.

Send first-person messages
Let your partner know you “come in peace” and that you’re not exactly sure how to best approach this topic. Ask whether he or she is okay if you just give it a try. They’ll most likely say “yes” – which is a positive first step.

Turn accusations into wishes
Some people sustain that accusations are just badly expressed wishes. Therefore, make sure you convert accusations into wishes before uttering them. Take time to think about what you really want from your partner. As most people like to lead a healthy, vital life your partner may even wish for that very same thing and you can discuss how to make this wish come true together.

Motivation, not pressure
Suggest activities you can do together and that guarantee a healthier lifestyle for the both of you. Jogging as a couple, taking dance classes or cooking fresh, healthy meals several times per week are excellent examples. By the way, did you know that couples who head out for a run together on a regular basis have more and better sex? Yep, true story. You’ll burn additional calories and strengthen your relationship at the same time. Let’s go, start your first couple workout!

Seek feedback
Ask your significant other how you can best motivate them, what would help them and how you can support them. If the talk goes well, you should seize the chance to find out how he or she would like to be approached about this topic in the future. In case your conversation goes down like a lead balloon, you should still ask your partner how you can address such topics in the future and what they’d need for you to be able to freely express your needs and make suggestions. No matter how you do it – always make sure you’re setting a positive example. If you, too, snooze instead of getting up for a run, spend your evenings on the couch shoving chips in your mouth or widen your belt every month, that’s not a great prerequisite for success (neither yours nor your partner’s). Men and women tend to converge in the course of a relationship – so you better start with yourself. Be the change you want to see.

If you are the one getting weight-related feedback from your partner, try to take a deep breath and accept the criticism as something positive instead of getting all defensive as an immediate reflex. Not that easy, is it? 😉

Bye for now,


Top 10 Ways to Support a Spouse Struggling to Lose Weight

How do you help your spouse lose weight?

Yesterday I was talking about how to heat up your sex life, and I was hoping to run a post today on how to make HIM feel great in bed. But I had so many comments on older posts come in yesterday about problems with a spouse’s weight, and I thought I’d run this one first, because it seems to be a real stumbling block for so many when it comes to feeling attracted to your spouse.

So here’s Leanne Seel, a frequent blog reader, homeschool mom, and writer, who makes some amazing points here about the dynamics in a marriage when one spouse really needs to lose weight!

Here’s Leanne:

I’ve had a weight problem for most of my life.

Like most strugglers, I’ve gone up and down over the years. I can tell you the calorie count in most foods, have spent countless hours exercising, and I know about chocolate’s secret super-power of being able to call you from the pantry.

Sheila’s recent posts about weight here and here got me thinking about this lifelong struggle, its effects, and what a spouse can do that is actually helpful.

So, here are my top 10 ways to support a spouse who’s dealing with a weight issue.

1. Remember that it’s your spouse’s issue, not yours

Any change that your spouse is going to make has to come from within. You cannot force it or nag it into place. If you start taking too much ownership of your spouse’s body issues, not only is that unhealthy for you, it will actually make things worse for your spouse. They will feel like they are adding yet another burden on to you.

2. Remember Thumper

Thumper the rabbit wisely said:

If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.

If you don’t have something encouraging to say to your spouse as they work on their weight problem, don’t say anything at all.

When was the last time you made a lasting change for yourself because of someone else nagging you? Making critical comments about your spouse’s appearance will not motivate them to change, and is actually more likely to cause destructive behaviours – either because your spouse is ashamed or because your comments are making them angry and they want to spite you. Either way, it’s not healthy for your spouse or your marriage. Keep your negative, critical thoughts to yourself.

Making comments about the bodies of other men/women and talking about how good they look compared to the person you’re married to is not going to motivate your spouse to change either. Definitely NOT helpful.

It’s also better to keep your mouth shut when you’re tempted to comment on things your spouse is eating. Trying to control what they eat won’t work. Your spouse needs to make daily eating decisions for themselves.

The only time I can think of when it might be helpful to speak up is when your spouse is in denial – they are not actually dealing with a weight issue as the title of this post suggests – they are ignoring it. Maybe your spouse is clearly obese, but thinks they are fit. Maybe they are passing on unhealthy eating habits to your children. In those cases, I would definitely say something. Exactly what would depend on the situation. If I were in denial, I would want my spouse to start a conversation on a reasonably relaxed day with:

I’m concerned about … Do you have any thoughts about it?

That approach may not work with every spouse, but it’s somewhere to start.

If your spouse is actively working on their health, you do not need to give your opinion on what they are doing unless they ask you directly for it.

3. Quietly set a good example

Make healthy food choices yourself. Exercise. Get to bed at a decent hour. Do all this without broadcasting it, and the behaviour may just catch on. Sound hard to do? It is – even when you’re healthy to start with. Now imagine how hard it would be if you felt like your whole body & genetic makeup were working against you, and you’ll have a miniscule insight into just how much of a struggle your spouse faces every single day.

4. Watch for triggers and for goodness sakes try not to be one!

There are all kinds of things that can trigger overeating for someone who is struggling. Stress, boredom, loneliness, conflict, fatigue – or even some positive things like celebrations and social gatherings. Find out what your spouse’s triggers are. In private on a reasonably relaxed day, ask them – gently.

Helpful: “I’ve noticed that you’ve been really trying to make healthy choices lately. Are there certain situations that make that more difficult for you to do?”

Not helpful: “What causes you to binge eat?”

When you figure out what your spouse’s triggers are, can you think of ways that you can help them without nagging? If your spouse really struggles with overeating when they are bored, can you plan some fun activities together? If they struggle when they are stressed, are you able to take some things off their plate? Or can you help them relieve their stress in healthy ways – with sex and/or exercise, for example?

I’m not saying to rearrange your entire life to your own detriment – we can’t possibly meet all of our spouse’s needs. I’m just asking if there are small things that could be done differently to everyone’s benefit.

5. Don’t bring junk food into the house

If you know your spouse has a donut addiction, bringing a dozen home for breakfast is just plain mean. If you really want a donut, eat one when you’re away from the house. Recycle the box it came in before you get home. Don’t lie to your spouse, but don’t put their vice under their nose either.

If your spouse does the grocery shopping, don’t ask them to buy junk food – even if it’s “just for you.” The junk can stay at the store.

If you do the grocery shopping, buy stuff that works with your spouse’s healthy eating plan.

When we were first married, my husband did the grocery shopping. Included in the items he came home with the first week was a package of Fudgee-O cookies. Now I was old enough to know that I could not have Fudgee-O’s in my kitchen. I explained this to my new husband, but he didn’t get it. To him, having a few cookies after work was no big deal. He didn’t understand that for me, it would never be 2-3 per day. If I ate even one, I could easily plow through the whole bag within a day. I should have pushed the point, but I didn’t. I second-guessed my own experience and the cookies went into the cupboard.

Well, 7 pounds later, I pleaded with him to please take the cookies to work so he could have them at lunch instead. I appealed to his math brain: 60 calories per cookie x 3 per day = 18.77 pounds per year. The lightbulb went on and he got it. The cookies were never to be seen again.

He learned to trust me when I ask him not to bring specific things into the house, and has honoured every request since without complaint. I learned that I should never, ever take food advice from someone who doesn’t know about chocolate’s secret super power.

6. Be happy when a healthy meal is put in front of you.

If your spouse does the cooking and tries to make something healthy, be happy about their effort.

Helpful: “This looks delicious!” If delicious is a bit of a stretch, try “This looks interesting – how did you make it?” Mean what you say. Don’t lie or patronize.

Not helpful: “What is this rabbit food?! I thought Tuesdays were for chicken-fried steak and potatoes with gravy?”

For a spouse who’s trying to eat healthy food, it can be incredibly discouraging to have a husband or wife who complains about what they are being served. This in itself can be enough to completely derail a healthy eating plan.

That being said, once you’ve eaten the meal, if you don’t like it, speak up. “That wasn’t my favourite – I prefer the stir-fry you made last week.” Be honest about what you think. There are other healthy recipes out there that you will both like.

If you do the cooking, make food that works with your spouse’s healthy eating plan.

7. Grant reasonable requests for accommodations for a healthy lifestyle

This will look different in every situation. Maybe it means looking after your kids so your spouse has time to hit the gym. Or, if your spouse manages to get to strollercise in the morning, maybe they need some de-stressing time at the end of the day, or time to make a proper meal plan. Whatever it is, if you can reasonably give it to them, do it.

Sometimes making accommodations involves one-off things here and there. We recently took a family day trip to an amusement park. We were packing lunches to take with us and I didn’t have what I needed for me, so I asked my husband if we could stop on the way to pick up a pre-made salad at the grocery store.

Helpful: “Sure, no problem. That will only take a few minutes. I’ll wait in the car with the kids while you run in.”

Not helpful: “That’s five minutes out of the way in each direction. We were supposed to get there at 10. Traffic is going to be bad. We’re on a tight deadline as it is.”

Those of us who struggle with our weight often find it extra difficult to ask for what we need. I’m not sure if it’s because we have subconsciously bought into the cultural idea that we are second-class citizens, or if we had trouble voicing our needs to begin with and the extra weight is a manifestation of that difficulty. For whatever reason, it often takes a lot of agony just to voice a request. If a voiced need is abruptly dismissed without any thought, it can cut pretty deep – particularly when it’s something that is relatively simple to accommodate. Am I not even worth a 10-minute detour for an outing that isn’t really time sensitive?

So stop and think before answering without thinking. If you can reasonably make the accommodation, do it. If you can’t, validate the request before saying no. “I really want to give you time to get to the gym today because I know how important it is for you. I have a meeting with my boss until 6 tonight. Could we switch things around so you can go after dinner this time?”

8. Recognize how difficult this is for your spouse

Remember that it’s rarely about the food. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there’s something else going on. Genetics, metabolic conditions, medications, and age can also pack on the pounds. In all likelihood, it’s a combination of different things that is adding up to your spouse’s difficulty in losing weight.

You can help in this area by validating their feelings of frustration if they vent them to you, while staying positive.

Helpful: “I get that this is difficult/frustrating/stressful. If it were easy, nobody would have a weight problem. I have seen your strength and determination before. If anyone can get victory over this in spite of the constant obstacles, it’s you.”

Not helpful: “I don’t get why this is so hard for you. Just stop with the cookies already.”

9. Accept your spouse the way they are

If your spouse were not able to lose a pound, would you still want to be married to them? Oh, I hope so. If the answer is no, then please get help – with your own attitudes and/or the other issues going on in your marriage.

Tell your spouse what you love about them. Express gratitude for the things they do. Affirm their character. Point out what you love about their body.

10. Pray for wisdom

I may not have mentioned exactly what your spouse needs, but God knows. Pray for your spouse, for your marriage, and for wisdom for both of you.

So, there you have it. Ten ways to support a spouse who’s dealing with a weight issue. What would you add to this list? Let’s talk in the comments!

Leanne is a homeschooling mom who blogs about ideas for teaching French. You may be interested in her post Five Fun French ideas for summer, plus 3 resources for fall – link to

She also has a free e-book: Getting started teaching French at home (whether you speak French or not). You can get that here.

Tags: body image, family meals, getting in shape, Guest Author, husband is too fat, husband thinks I’m fat, losing weight

Social support is a crucial part of any big change in your life, especially anything that you do for your health. You can be successful without anybody helping you, but success is much more likely if the people in your life are on board with it.

Social support can come in many forms:

  • Direct aid in the needed activity (like joining you for a walk, or helping you plan/make/prepare healthy foods)
  • Aid in another activity that frees them up for the needed activity (like watching your kids so you can go to the gym without undue stress)
  • Removing obstacles that would normally be in the way (not scheduling a meeting at lunch time so you can get your walk in)
  • Direct encouragement (“I think what you’re doing is awesome!”)
  • Declining to discourage (not doing your usual friendly teasing during this time)

You may have a loved one or friend who tells you that they are trying to lose weight. Weight loss is difficult for most people. If it isn’t clear to you how to help, here are some thoughts about what you can do and what you shouldn’t.

When someone is trying to lose weight, don’t:

  • Tell them “You should…”: “You should join a gym,” “You should follow the _____ diet,” “You should stop eating ____.” Just get “You should” out of your vocabulary. What follows will almost always be interpreted as judgment and criticism.
  • Aggressively offer them food: “But I made this just for you!” “You’re crazy! You don’t have to lose weight,” “Have one, they’re good!” Maybe you’re proud of your cooking or your hospitality, but try being more considerate instead.
  • Act as the food police: “Are you supposed to eat that?” “I thought you weren’t going to eat that anymore.” Just cut it out. Nobody is perfect, so stop pointing out their faults.
  • Bombard them with advice: If they ask for your opinion once, it doesn’t give you license to make them into your personal project. There is a limit, even if advice is solicited.
  • Embarrass them about it: There isno need to announce their weight loss plans to everyone in the room. They can control the message themselves.
  • Celebrate things with food gifts: Wrong signal.
  • Ask why they ate something: “Why” is usually interpreted as an attack on their decisions.
  • Eat in front of them: Seeing other people eat is one of the most powerful food cues. You could be making their mouths water and stomach growl.
  • Threaten them: Making your decent treatment of them contingent on their weight loss success is mean, and they will likely rebel against you, if only for their own dignity.
  • Minimize the struggle: “Just don’t eat so much.” Baloney. Just because it’s simple doesn’t mean it’s easy. And just because something is easy for you doesn’t mean it’s easy for others.
  • Guilt them for no longer being “fun”: This is selfish, or worse.

When someone is trying to lose weight, do:

  • Ask how you can be helpful: They usually know best; just ask. Get specifics, and then resolve to follow your friend’s requests.
  • Celebrate things with a non-food activity: Go to the movies, take a painting class, go sky-diving, or take a walk together. Buy them a hat. Don’t make food the only reinforcer.
  • Put away the junk food: Have it put away and out of sight. The sight of food is powerful. Make it easier on them.
  • Be a good listener: Do this especially after you’ve asked them how you can be helpful. Listen without judgment. Suspend the urge to help ‘fix” things (unless they directly, explicitly ask you to). Just hear and understand them.
  • Join them: Eat healthy choices while with them, even if it isn’t your usual way of eating. Go for walks with them. Be a partner.
  • Offer to help them with other things: Maybe doing their dishes for them or picking up their kids from school gives them breathing room to plan meals or take more time to grocery shop.
  • If you know their obstacles (if they’ve told you), anticipate those obstacles and clear them ahead of time: Maybe you can help them with a seat assignment that isn’t near a vending machine or cookie table. Take a driving route that doesn’t go past the fast food places.
  • Tell them how proud you are of their efforts: Make it about who they are, not just about their weight loss success or results. They’re doing something difficult. Openly admire their tenacity.
  • Cheer on the good: Let them know you see their progress. “I’m so proud of what you’re doing!”
  • Lead by example: Go for the salad or other healthy food choice in a tough environment. Get your own walk in, and invite them along. You may inspire and embolden them to see healthy actions as normal, even in a challenging setting.
  • Set aside the teasing: Maybe that’s a fun part of your friendship, but it can wait until they’re on less shaky ground.

Raise your hand if you’ve done some of the don’ts, and neglected some of the do’s. (My hand is raised.) That’s OK. You can decide to be more aware from now on.

Ultimately, the responsibility to make healthy changes is on them, not you. But it’s already difficult for most people, so why be part of the problem when you can be part of the solution?

Remember, if you or someone you know wants help with weight loss, they can call a UPMC Health Plan health coach at 1-800-807-0751. If they are not eligible for our programs, the health coach will direct them to competent and helpful resources.

4 Ways to Support Your Friend’s Weight-Loss Journey

But research shows there’s a difference between boosting your friend’s motivation with positive feedback and shared healthy habits versus weighing them down by telling them what you think they should do. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found people who received unsolicited advice were more likely to regain weight than keep it off, possibly due to the added pressure and frustration.

The good news is you can absolutely show up for your friend without derailing their efforts. Here, experts share four ways to do that:



Step one: Know what type of support (if any) your friend wants, so you’re helping, not interfering, says Sari Chait, a psychologist at the Behavioral Health and Wellness Center in Newton, Massachusetts. If your friend wants support, start by asking why they want to lose weight. When you know what’s truly motivating them, you can do a better job of cheering them on. “For someone who wants a partner in crime, you could try going to the gym together or learning to meal prep together.” Conversely, for someone who values privacy, you can offer to be there if they need something and then not bring it up again unless they do,” adds Chait.



Compliments are tricky. You might want to say, “You look great!” or “Wow, I can tell you’ve lost weight!” However, comments like these can come with the implication your friend didn’t look good before they slimmed down, while ignoring progress that’s not so visible. This perpetuates the belief we’re only attractive at a certain weight, explains Chait. Instead, applaud what your friend is doing. “Try complimenting your friend on her dedication, how she’s dealing with stress or how she’s focusing on self-care,” says Samantha Cassetty, RD.



When your friend reaches one of their weight-loss goals — saying ‘way to go!’ but then taking them out for loaded nachos and bottomless margaritas isn’t so helpful, says Cassetty. Rather, taking time to acknowledge wins along the way can help by giving your friend extra motivation and showing them their efforts are worth rewarding, adds Breeding. Suggest something that will bolster their success. Try out a new restaurant you know has more nutritious fare or even take a walking tour of a new city together.



As a well-meaning friend, your role shouldn’t be to say, “I don’t think you should order that” at a restaurant or side-eye them over some potato chips at a party. “Remember this is a highly personal process and losing weight in a healthful way doesn’t mean eating perfectly 100% of the time,” explains Cassetty. While your intention might be to help your friend stay on track, as a consequence, they could feel judged or worry you think they’ve failed somehow, notes Chait.

Close to 70 percent of Americans are overweight or obese—chances are that you know someone who struggles with her weight. It can be heartbreaking to see a loved one who is unhappy about her size. “But the decision to do something about it is ultimately up to that individual,” says Melissa Horowitz, Psy.D., director of the Eating Disorders and Weight Management Program at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City. In the meantime, you can be a source of support and encourage your friend to shift her thinking from negative to positive.

Respect how she feels. Studies show that the farther one gets from a perceived ideal weight, the greater the feelings of shame. Once shame sets in, other negative emotions like worthlessness, loathing and feelings of inadequacy appear. But when your friend says, “I look fat in these jeans,” you shouldn’t necessarily rush in with a “No you don’t!”

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“A more caring approach would be to say, ‘Those jeans aren’t cut in a way that flatters your figure. We should shop for something else that you will look great in,’” says Horowitz.

Focus on the rewards. Losing the weight is only half of the battle; you also have to keep it off. If your friend has yo-yoed in the past, she may be reserved about trying to lose weight again—or reticent to talk about a new effort. But if she does want to talk about it, take the focus off of the pounds she regained and emphasize how great she’ll feel after another successful attempt. “Remind her of the good things that came out of her earlier successful efforts: more confidence, better health, more energy,” says Horowitz.

Be supportive. Studies show that dieters who have a support network, like a weight-loss group or a group of friends, are more likely to lose weight and keep it off. If you want to start eating healthier or get some more exercise, who better than your friend to take a fun fitness class with or share cooking tips with? If you aren’t trying to lose weight, you can still be there to help if your pal needs you. Support was always a phone call away for Dawn Hudson, 43, of Jasper, Ga. “I had a friend on speed dial who I could call any time I was tempted to blow my diet. And my sister was always sending me healthy recipe ideas,” she says.

Celebrate achievements. Acknowledging lost pounds can be a great source of encouragement, says Horowitz. It can be something subtle such as, “I cannot pinpoint what is different, but you look fantastic,” or more obvious, “I really admire your dedication to losing weight.” Kim McDiffitt, 44, enjoyed a much-needed morale boost when a long-distance friend sent her a department store gift card so she could shop for smaller clothing sizes. “It was nice to know that she believed in me and was cheering me on from afar,” says the Charles Town, W.Va., resident. You can offer to go shopping with your friend to help her pick out a few pieces or sign up for a charity walk together in recognition of how strong and fit your friend has become.

Listen more. Sometimes people just need an understanding ear—not someone who is going to dole out advice or judgments. “Your job should be that of cheerleader, not coach,” says Horowtiz. While it may be tempting to want to point out to your friend all that she is doing wrong, it’s more important that you help her focus on her end goals, without feeling bad about herself right now.

A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.

How to Reassure Your Partner That They’re Hot When They Hate Their Body

Frequently, I get messages from people — usually cis men who are dating cis women, but not always — asking me what the hell they’re supposed to do when their partner talks negatively about their own body.

“She’s unhappily gained weight since we’ve been together, and I know saying ‘I still think you’re beautiful’ confirms the idea that fat is bad,” they say.

“My boyfriend is shy about not being bigger muscularly, but how can I reassure him that that’s exactly my type without confirming his insecurities?” they say.

“I don’t know how to respond when they talk about needing to go on a diet,” they say.

And I get it.

As a woman in eating disorder recovery who still harbors body issues, I can imagine how difficult it is for partners to know what the right thing to say is.

So while I certainly can’t speak for your partner and their needs, what I can do is give you some ideas that you can mix and match depending on your situation. So let’s start there.

1. Ask Them

Like I said: I can’t speak for them. And unless I’m your partner (and babe, if you’re reading this, hi!), I have no idea what will feel best for them.

So ask.

And it doesn’t have to be an awkward conversation like “Hey sweetie! How do you want me to talk about your body when you hate it?”

It can be as simple as taking some time — when your partner is in a good space, by the way, and not hyperfocused on body negativity — to say, “I want to check in about how you’d like me to respond when you’re struggling with your body image. What would be helpful to say? And what would be harmful? I care about you, and I want to support you; I just need a little help.”

Communication goes a long, long way.

2. Validate Their Experience

When your partner is unhappy or feeling down, they’re unhappy and feeling down. And no amount of “No you’re not!” or “You’re beautiful!” is going to make that go away.

And affirming their feelings and validating their experiences is really important.

The thing about body image is that it’s a psychological relationship to one’s understanding of one’s body. It’s not really about what’s “real” and what’s not; it’s wrapped up in perspective and emotion.

Rushing to suggest that they change their mind — “No, babe, I love your body!” — doesn’t acknowledge that they’re in a difficult emotional place.

Try “I understand where you’re coming from, and ” or “I hear what you’re saying, and ” instead. That way, you allow space for their feelings, while also reminding them of what’s objectively true.

The evocation of reality can be anything from “fat isn’t a bad thing, but you also just so happen not to be fat” to “your body isn’t all that you are.”

Just remember to use “and” and not “but” — because that implies that there are two truths that are connected, rather than implying that your partner’s experience is false and that your assertion is correct.

3. Focus Attention Away From Their Body

Living in our society — and especially when we’re women — we’re forced not only to constantly define ourselves based on our physical appearance, but to prioritize that over our other dimensions.

And that’s actually the root of all of our body image problems.
So try to focus attention away from your partner’s body entirely. Because when you zero in on their body — even if you’re telling them how amazing it is — you might exacerbate the problem, leading them to stay focused on exactly what’s stressing them out.

So, why is your partner awesome outside of their body? Are they smart, funny, thoughtful? Give some lip service to those attributes, and that might help your partner stop fixating on their body so much.

4. Compliment Parts of Their Body That You Know They Don’t Like

OK. I know this one completely contradicts the last suggestion, but different things are going to work for different people — or sometimes a little bit of both can help someone shift their perspective on their body. So give them a heads up that what they see as insecurities, you see as sexy as hell.

For example, pretty much the only part of my body that I don’t like is my stomach. Everything else, I more or less always like or am comfortable with. But my midsection? Blah. I usually struggle with it.

And I don’t think I’ve ever had a partner say, “I like your stomach. It’s cute.” And, I mean, in reality, what does a “cute” stomach even look like? So I don’t blame them for not thinking about my stomach when they can think about my ass or thighs (both of which are awesome, PS). But when no one ever compliments the one thing that I hate, that kind of confirms in my head that it sucks.

And is that unfair? Sure. But negative body image isn’t exactly known for being a rational beast.

So just letting your partner know that you like the things about them that they don’t can be a little boost.

5. Remind Them of Exactly Why You Love Their Body

Admit it: As attractive as your partner’s body might be to you, it isn’t necessarily any quote-unquote “better” or “worse” than any of your other partners’. Because the biggest reason why you love your partner’s — and why you’ve loved your former partners’ bodies — is that it belongs to them.

And I think one of the nicest things someone can say about their partner’s body is just that: “I love your body because it’s yours, and I love you.”

Those words can go a long way in reminding us that the idea of “beauty” is entirely subjective, and that a few pounds’ difference either way or stretch marks or small breasts or whatever-the-fuck mean nothing in the long run.

Because I can already tell that you’re a good partner. The fact that you’re asking about this and reading this article proves that. So remind your partner that they’re a good partner, too — exactly what you need and want and love, body and all.

Your partner may be secretly making you fat

Being in a relationship makes us pile on the pounds as we feel happy and secure in a loved-up couple, research shows.

Having a long-term partner is something most people crave, longing for the stability and intimacy it brings.

And you have someone to curl up under the duvet with when it rains, someone to cook you dinner and go halves with when ordering a pizza.

But a study lasting more than a decade has confirmed what many suspected – being in a relationship makes you fatter.

Conducted by the University of Queensland, Australia, researchers found being together could be a source of weight gain.

Analyzing data from more than 15,000 people over 10 years, they found those in a couple weighed on average 12.7 pounds more than their single counterparts.

And those with a significant other also had an average weight gain of 3.9 pounds per year.

The researchers said: “Marriage (or de-facto relationships) comes with spousal obligations such as regular family meals.

“While they may include more healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables and less fast food, people often consume larger portion sizes and more calories in the company of others than they do alone, resulting in increased energy intake,” New Scientist reported.

It seems no longer going out every weekend resulted in people letting their appearance slide.

Lead author Stephanie Schoeppe told the magazine: “When couples don’t need to look attractive and slim to attract a partner, they may feel more comfortable in eating more, or eating more foods high in fat and sugar.”

And constantly having someone there to share takeaways, drink alcohol with or go out to dinner with sees the pounds pile up.

The study asked people about their lifestyle habits, including how active they are, how often they ordered food in and how much TV they watched.

While not all bad for couples, they found they ate more fruit and vegetables and smoked and binge drank less.

How To Talk About A Significant Other’s Weight

Dear Sugar Radio is a weekly podcast from member station WBUR. Hosts Steve Almond and Cheryl Strayed offer “radical empathy” and advice on everything from relationships and parenthood to dealing with drug problems or anxiety.

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Today the Sugars take on a sensitive issue for millions of Americans: physical appearance — and specifically, how much someone weighs. A young man writes to the Sugars, wondering how to talk about his girlfriend’s weight. It’s an especially complicated issue, given how society has historically treated women related to their appearance.

They’re joined by Lindy West, a writer, editor and performer whose work focuses on pop culture, social justice and body image. She’s the author of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman.

Dear Sugars,

I am a 24-year-old college graduate in my first serious romantic relationship. My experience with girls before this was extremely limited. I’ve been dating my girlfriend for over six months now, and she is wonderful.

However, her weight has always been a minor issue in the back of my mind: She is not fat but she has a few extra pounds and this can be seen more when she’s wearing fewer clothes. I love her and would never ask or demand her to change just for me, but I’ve been thinking more and more about how her weight bothers me a little bit.

I’m a very thin guy and have naturally gravitated physically toward thinner girls. Until now, I have avoided talking about the matter with my girlfriend except in general terms about others, or the few times she has brought up and engaged with me directly on the matter. When her doctor told her she needed to lose some weight to be healthier, she was upset, although she did not disagree.

So I spoke to my therapist and my roommate, and although they’re both men, they both thought that if it was something on my mind and was making me a little uneasy that I should bring it up with her. I did, and she did not respond with as much understanding as I hoped.

She felt hurt and a little violated, like the one guy who’s supposed to love and accept her and find her beautiful just the way she is was attacking a part of her identity. She was shocked, confused and taken aback. She tried to explain how some issues are so sensitive, touchy and personal for women that they should never really be brought up for the sake of the satisfaction in the relationship. In all fairness, I did bring it up a little suddenly and not in the most tactful or direct way, but I didn’t know how else to start a hard, uncomfortable conversation I was not looking forward to.

She has genes that make it easier for her to gain weight and harder to lose. She has recently started going to the gym, and I was trying to support and encourage her to go more consistently.

My question for you is: Was I wrong for not being sensitive to how women think? Should I have let it go if I considered it a smaller issue in our relationship? Would it have made a difference if I spoke to another woman to ask her thoughts beforehand on if and how I should bring this up with my girlfriend? Did I need to?

I love her and she is very big on being honest and open and comfortable in trusting each other. Our relationship never hinged on her weight, but I just want to come out stronger.


The Question of Weight

Cheryl Strayed: The Question of Weight, you sound like such a sweet and innocent and naive young man, and I think you made a big mistake. Indeed, you are supposed to love and accept her and find her beautiful just the way she is.

I think you stepped into something that has a deeper and more complicated social and cultural history. Women are under scrutiny in enormously harmful ways when it comes to their bodies and their appearance and their weight in relation to their value to men, especially in romantic relationships.

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Follow the Sugars on Twitter @dearsugarradio.

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And I think that, honestly, if you found her to be chubbier than you want her to be, you maybe should have not dated her to begin with, or you should have decided that it was worth ending this relationship with this person.

Steve Almond: I have a slightly different take on this. I think he’s coming to us in his first serious relationship with insecurities of his own about his body. There’s something in him that feels a little bit unmanned by her being larger. It’s not just about her body. His attitudes toward this woman, who isn’t thin, somehow is triggering within him a kind of self-doubt about his own body image that he hasn’t quite recognized.

Cheryl: The Question of Weight, I have strong feelings about what you did because I know how it feels to be that woman who is being told by a man, “You don’t meet this ideal that I’ve constructed and that society has helped me construct. And even though I love you and you’re wonderful and I don’t have any complaints about you, I’ve decided that I’m going to ask you to be physically perfect for me, too.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen in this relationship. I do think that this was hurtful to your lover, and she’s probably going to carry this into your sex life, as well. I do think that honesty is really important. I think kindness is too, and generosity. I think that, Question of Weight, your relationship might be permanently damaged because of this. But whether it is or not, I encourage you to examine those messages that you’ve received about what women should look like, and how you might open your mind a bit.

Lindy West: What comes through in this letter is that their relationship isn’t “real” until she can fix herself. That’s how I felt about myself; I needed to fix this problem that made me not a real woman and not worthy of the respect that every other human being deserves. Everything was on hold until I could make myself thin. There was just this really low-grade despair all the time, because the narrative that you’re fed is that as a woman, your job is to be pretty and small — small physically and small in your presence. And then you wait for someone to pick you. I was always very aware that I didn’t look like the kind of girl who got picked, and so I was sort of resigned to the fact that I would be alone.

But what you learn when you grow up is, what you look like is irrelevant compared to what you are like. If you’re confident and fun and engaged with people and you go out and are yourself, that’s extremely attractive. And that proved true for me.

You can get more advice from the Sugars each week on Dear Sugar Radio from WBUR. Listen to the full episode to hear more discussion about how weight and physical appearance can affect relationships.

Have a question for the Sugars? Email [email protected] and it may be answered on a future episode.

You can also listen to Dear Sugar Radio on iTunes, Stitcher or your favorite podcast app.

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