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