59

My spouse is and has always been quite overweight. From the beginning it was no problem for me, I just don't mind.

Yet, since we've been living together, my spouse somehow put on a lot of weight (over the course of several years). Mostly because we are both connoisseurs of fine food and whenever we spend time together we tend to eat quite generously.

But it has come to a point where it is dangerous for my spouse's life in the long term, and even though we talked about it... I doubt she really listened to me. As far as I can tell, she thinks "Yeah, yeah, I'm going to be more cautious, I will make sure not to put on more weight!" and when I'm with her that's definitely what she does. Yet when we talk about what we eat when we're not together, I clearly understand that she is far less cautious without me. And even though she perhaps doesn't gain weight that's just one part of the problem... Losing some would be important for her health.

Now, I need to talk about this with her seriously, without being rude because that's not my goal. Problem is: she dismisses easily everything I tell her because "she knows best". Which is true on some level, she knows exactly what to eat or not to, but doesn't apply her own advice. Even when I could point out some irregularity in her diet, I just can't say it without sounding rude.

My goal is not to blame her for everything she eats, but merely to pinpoint some excess she does once in a while and which does not help her at all. All in all, my goal is to help her in the long run, because it has gone too far.

Any idea on how to approach her about this problem?

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    Has she gone to a doctor? Also, do you have children? – Alina Cretu Oct 13 '17 at 12:51
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    @Fildor 30 kg more between when we met and now so that's no little weight gain. Also, we're already doing sport together, that's probably what prevented my spouse to be in a state of morbid obesity : because she was doing a lot of activity on her own and some with me too. Yet that's not enough to lose weight I'm afraid. – Kaël Oct 13 '17 at 13:44
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    Yes, that's definitely a considerable amount. Just wanted to give this a little objectivity. I think that's giving us a better understanding of how urgent this is. – Fildor Oct 13 '17 at 13:50
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    Can you certainly exclude medical problems? Like some issue with the thyroid gland (at least that is one I know of - I am not an M.D.)? – Fildor Oct 13 '17 at 15:13
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    @Fildor I can't exclude medical problems at 100%. Because my spouse didn't consult specifically for this, but me and our friends we always knew her as a chubby girl, and that's only recently that her weight became a problem. By the way, I think it would be quite rude to ask her to consult for this. But if you have some idea on how to tell her to consult without being rude, you'll be welcome :p – Kaël Oct 13 '17 at 21:28

13 Answers 13

39

The first thing you need to ask her is: "Does she seriously want to lose weight?". There are people who realize that they are overweight, but do not consider it an issue which is serious enough to change their lifestyle. That's their decision (and so is yours to leave your partner when you no longer feel physically attracted to them, but that's just by-the-way). When one is not committed to losing weight, then pressuring them towards a healthier lifestyle will be perceived as an uncalled for infraction on their lifestyle choices.

But when one is seriously committed to losing weight, then a supporting life partner can be a great asset and motivator. These are some things you can do to support your partner in their weight loss efforts:

  • Help them research different weight loss concepts with their advantages, disadvantages and scientific validity.
  • Exercise with them. Insist on a regular exercise schedule. Having fixed appointments with an exercise partner makes one much less likely to skip scheduled exercise sessions, because one consciously needs to cancel with a sufficient excuse instead of just conveniently ignoring them.
  • Call them out when they overeat, snack or break any other rules of their chosen weight loss concept.
  • Help them monitor and record their calorie intake and weight.
  • Provide praise when they do well. The intrinsic motivation of "Hey, I lost 2 pounds this week" is not nearly as powerful as the extrinsic motivation when someone tells you "You lost two pounds this week, I am so proud of you".
  • Provide encouragement when they do badly. Many people abort a diet when they reach a plateau phase. Having someone who talks you out of that can prevent that.

But you should only do any of that when she has explicitly agreed to you doing that. If you do any of that without her explicit consent, then you will stress your relationship. Someone with a weak personality might bend to your will and start losing weight, but will certainly not be happy about it. Someone with a strong personality might defy you out of principle and gain even more weight.

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    "The first thing you need to ask her is: "Does she seriously want to lose weight?"" While that's certainly a rather important factor, I'd take a step back: Can we certainly exclude medical reasons for her gain? Is it really how much and how much unhealthy she eats? Or is it perhaps an allergy? Gland malfunction? ... – Fildor Oct 13 '17 at 15:32
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    @Fildor As it seems to have been going on for years, it might be best to focus on the Occam's Razor solution of restricting calories, rather than going for the unlikely situation of a glandular or allergy problem. Better to be able to go to the doctor with, "I ate X calories for Y months and saw no change, can I get tested?" than to just ask for the tests without at least trying the simplest solution. – Marisa Oct 13 '17 at 16:41
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    @Fildor If someone is overeating and gaining weight, looking for any other solution isn't that great of an idea. If someone around you just had the cold, and you are getting the sniffles, don't assume you are dying of cancer. – Shane Oct 13 '17 at 21:33
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    @Shane that is nonsense. – Fildor Oct 14 '17 at 8:20
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    @Marisa neither of us knows enough about her to exclude anything. Just assuming it is the calorie intake is a common mistake. – Fildor Oct 14 '17 at 8:23
39

Even when I could point out some irregularity in her diet, I just can't say it without sounding rude. ...All in all, my goal is to help her in the long run, because it has gone too far.

Decide what is more important to you, having her as a partner here and now, and enjoying that partnership, or making her unhappy, or ending the relationship. It seems to me that those are your real choices.

Now, I need to talk about this with her seriously, without being rude... she dismisses easily everything I tell her because "she knows best"...but doesn't apply her own advice.

You have your answer there: everything you say will be met in a way that doesn't help her.

People have vices. They don't tend to give up those vices unless the stakes are very high to their thinking or they want to change.

My mother was a 1 ppd smoker for all of her (shortish) life. All through my time at medical school, I tried to get her to stop smoking. When she asked me what I wanted for graduation from Med School, I answered that I wanted her to stop smoking. She said, "No."

I don't know why it took me so long, but I realized then that no matter how scary the stories I told her were, and no matter how long I wanted her to live, I was only succeeding in scaring her, making her unhappy, and making my visits with her unpleasant.

I stopped bugging her about it then and there, and never mentioned it again. She died of cancer three years later. I am glad I didn't cause any further upset in the short time she had left.

As a medical student, we are taught to be proactive, to prevent disease. But once out in the real world, one soon learns that most (not all) people don't want to prevent disease if it means doing something they don't want to do; they want a doctor to fix the problems that arise from their vices. This bothered me at first, but in due course, I came to understand it as human nature. We all have vices; they all affect our lives somehow, and unless we want to give them up, there's little we can do to force someone to comply with our wished when they are not truly their wishes. I recommend, I present the risks and benefits, the patient decides. It is their life.

So, you need to make a decision to either live with it (and her), caring about her happiness more than her well-being (which you can't change) or walk away, deciding it's too painful to watch.

Edited to add: You can talk to her about her weight, just not in the way you ask (seriously, without being rude). If it is only her health you care about, the talk is more likely to be less offensive than if you talk about her losing weight for any other reason. But you can't control how she interprets your words, either.

  • 15
    This is an extremely insightful, even transcendental reflection on not only this specific question, but also the more abstract subject of dealing with family and friends that may suffer from addiction or have various psychological/personality struggles capable of destroying relationships. I applaud you for recognizing how pushing her affected your relationship with your mom and choosing to just make the best of it. I'm sure training yourself to let it go wasn't easy, but it improved the quality of your relationship, and possibly insured your last interaction with her didn't end in a fight. – elrobis Oct 13 '17 at 17:33
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    There's really nothing between 'do nothing' and 'don't let the door hit you on the way out'? Nothing at all between the two most extreme positions? I find that hard to believe. – Shane Oct 13 '17 at 21:38
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    @Shane - The OP asked for the impossible: a way to make her feel strongly enough about her eating habits to lose weight, yet that won't be rude. "I need to talk about this with her seriously, without being rude because that's not my goal. Problem is: she dismisses easily everything I tell her because "she knows best". Which is true on some level, she knows exactly what to eat or not to, but doesn't apply her own advice." If she does not want to lose weight, and you think of a middle road, please help us with an answer. – anongoodnurse Oct 13 '17 at 23:44
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    @Doddy People can be (and often are) psychologically addicted to food. "but those who won't change for the sake of their loved ones are selfish." No more so than those who want to change someone they love to suit their own needs. Two sides to every coin, and more to every story. – anongoodnurse Oct 14 '17 at 12:44
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    @TOOGAM - I am a Christian, and because of that, I stuck it out in a bad marriage for 30 years (which was 29 years too long), and he (the much more devout Christian) divorced me when I got breast cancer. The marriage hurt me and it hurt my children. You bet your tuchas I think divorce is an option. I would not divorce in this case, but to pretend that the 50% of married couples who get divorced are all deeply mistaken is very arrogant. If I sound bitter, that's the lack of tone and body language in the written word. I'm actually grateful. I'm happier and healthier than I've been in many years. – anongoodnurse Oct 15 '17 at 17:12
27

When I married my husband, he was overweight. Over the following few years I watched him gain 20+ kg.

Needless to say it worried me. I had nightmares of him becoming morbidly obese, of him dying early and not seeing any future children we had grow up. He didn't show any signs of noticing.

I decided to focus on our health. I needed to lose a bit of weight too. So I chose to start eating healthier and excercising more. I said things like "I'm concerned about our health, I want to be healthier. I want to hike more". These things I chose to live by. But ultimately he needed to choose to change. Marriage is for the long haul, and I recognized that I needed to wait for him, and love him in the meantime.

So I realized 3 things:
- This is about health. Focus on that.
- Be an example by being healthy and focus on excercising more with your partner.
- I can only change me. They ultimately need to choose to change themselves. Be patient

This was my strategy during the first 5 years of marriage. And then, one day he woke up and said to me: "I'm tired of being fat". And I mentally threw a party but hid it and said "we can excercise more and eat healthy".

After that, when he was motivated, he lost 15kg and we are both on the way to being the same weight we were when we got married. We celebrated our 8 years anniversary in June this year.

And I added another realisation:
- They know they are fat. They see it in the mirror every day.

I don't know why your partner isn't motivated. One day the penny just dropped with my husband, and I still don't know why. All I can suggest is to be patient, focus on health, encourage her, and love her for who she is in the meantime.

9

This article addresses exactly this problem. Since self-acceptance and fear of rejection are big parts of the problem of communicating about weight loss, it suggests to begin conveying the message that these people aren't wrong and are not being judged for being overweight.

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.

It goes further suggesting some actions to take.

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."

When it comes to losing weight, doing sport can be as important as eating healthy food. What's more, realizing that her weight limits her in something (as in running, walking long distances, climbing or whatever) can give her a more effective motivation to lose weight than just improving her health in the abstract future.

About the last suggestion of signing her up in a gym, it can or cannot be effective according to your spouse's character. (I could get annoyed, for instance.) Instead, doing sports together could be more effective and it would show her how supportive and participating you are. I think this would definitely overcome the possibility of a bad reaction from her, since it brings the two of you "on the same side" of facing the problem.

8

Buy her a gift!

Seriously though, I'm currently losing weight myself. From what I get out of your question, your spouse is willing to work on her weight, but doesn't like you pointing out her food choices. So, working from the premise that she's willing to work on her weight, and you're just having a communication problem going on here:

First step: get a medical professional involved, a doctor may check things like whether your thyroid is malfunctioning (which may cause weight gain) and your eating habits.

If the doctor gives your spouse the all clear (so no medical troubles that prevent her from losing weight), she has to do it herself. She also has to learn for herself that what goes in, must go out (don't eat more energy than you use).

If it is a simple case of your spouse eating more than she uses, gift her with a FitBit. Maybe start wearing one yourself as well, as a sign of supportiveness (We're in this together). And be honest in keeping the eating diary, registering your weight and activities. Pay special head to portion sizes: A lot of good food is still 'bad' if you eat thrice the recommended daily amount!

That way, you don't have to point out her 'wrong choices' to her, she'll have to point them out to herself. It is a great way to get an insight into all those times that you think 'I'll sin a little' and how those little sins add up.

In my opinion, communication like 'gently pointing out her mistakes without her getting offended' isn't going to work here. She has to come to her own realization that what she's doing is bad. No amount of communication from your side is going to get her to that point, so get her the FitBit and let her confront herself with her own bad choices.


One last thing: You state that while your spouse is with you, she's careful about what she eats, but that she basically goes all out when you're not there. Might it be that you're being a little bit too overbearing on this? Maybe she feels embarrassed eating anything other than very healthy food in front of you because she's afraid you will start criticizing her choices. And then, when you're not there, she feels free to all out and thinks she deserves to do so... because she hasn't had anything 'nice' for ages because you're always around.

This actually was a problem for me. When studying, I had housemates that were criticizing me for eating a portion of crisps when I had been out in the field digging all day (I was studying archaeology at the time). I can assure you I had burned the calories during the day, and the salt on them was a welcome addition to my diet on hot summer days. But, because they were so overbearing, I took to buying bags and eating on the way home from the grocery store, I started bringing candy to work because I couldn't eat a lollipop in peace... That was the point my eating habits escalated and I gained a lot of weight, and all because I couldn't enjoy a well-deserved sin in peace! I also started eating larger and larger portions, because I couldn't enjoy a snack in peace and I didn't want to risk feeling hungry.

I am currently working on getting my snacking and portion sizes back under control, and the FitBit is a miracle in achieving this.

  • 3
    "Buy her a gift!" - +1 I was about to shake my head, roll eyes and say "women ..." but that might actually work. One thing about your last paragraphs: are you somewhat suspicious it could be OP's view on his wife is a little bit skewed? To make things a little more objective I asked for numbers in a comment to question. – Fildor Oct 13 '17 at 13:08
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    I'm not worried or suspicious about how the OP views his wife.... If there is somebody there that mentions 'oh that's unhealthy' every time you take a bite of something... you might take your eating elsewhere, and then take a little extra because 'who knows when the next opportunity arrives'. Now that I'm back in a 'regular' environment, I know I can enjoy some crisps on Saturday evening without risking getting comments. So I don't feel a 'need' to eat them during the week as well... – Tinkeringbell Oct 13 '17 at 13:19
3

It sounds like you have a good relationship and communication, so be clear about the intention, and don't "box them in". This is what I would be guided by and how I'd approach it, but you know your spouse best, so change whatever works for you.

  • Don't spring surprises. You want a serious chat not "we talked anyhow last week and I gotta go". And when you start, ask "is it okay'" again. You want their open agreement .

    "Ive got something on my mind that needs a careful chat. Nothing bad or worrying, just some 'us' stuff thats been on my mind a bit. It could take a while. When do you reckon's a good time?"

  • Acknowledge where your spouse is at, and that this isn't new, when you broach it. Be clear its your spouses body not yours, and while you feel a need to talk, you do know it can only be their choice. But you need them to know what you feel, and to discuss and reach agreement, so you don't nag in future. Also so if it isn't important to them, they can say that honestly and agree what's best going forward, and if it is, they can say that honestly, too.

    "I know we've talked about this a lot, and I know its ultimately your decision not mine. But its on my mind a lot and I need to know where we are, so I don't worry or nag unnecessarily and so if you want any kind of help from me, you can know it'll be there. Mainly I don't want to be torn between worry that I can't say, and worry that one day I'll find I should have said it, and it'll be too late, or find we have a subject neither of us feel able to talk about when we need to."

    "I have no idea if I've been pushy on this or okay with it, so this isn't about being pushy. Its about saying, I love you and I worry, and I don't know what's right to do or what you really want and feel about it. I don't want to be living with that worry all the time, or wondering if it'll cost us and how many years together it might cost us in the end, if its avoidable. So I figured perhaps its worth really discussing it, so I can know what's what and do whatever's right."

2

You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.

As a person who has lost 35 kg (77lbs) In the last year-and-a-half I can tell you before a person has any chance to lose ANY and I do mean ANY weight he/she must first seek emotional counselling to get to the root of your overeating compulsion

You say you both enjoy eating well, this sounds to me like you're and/or your partner have some sort of emotional connection with food. Maybe you see food as an escape from something bad or a reminder of something good. Just like a person cannot drink to forget their troubles, a person cannot eat to forget either.

Now that you see that you have a problem how do we fix it?

You say that your partner being overweight never bothered you, I suspect it would be closer to the truth that it has bothered you, you where just willing to suffer it in silence for a period of time.

If really does not bother you, then I think it should, the problems of being overweight is not solely based on what is on the exterior, it has a far-reaching effect than just that.

I myself have basically ruined my body through the years of obesity I put it through, some winter's mornings I wake up and my back is so stiff that I start wondering if this is the day my back is finally going to crack.

My knees are shot, my ankles are constantly in a state of pain. No one should live like this. I came to the realisation that I would very much like a wife and a family one day, but the fact remains that if I continued down the track of self-destructiveness I was on I was going to die at age 40.

I did not want that, and clearly, you don't want it for your partner either. So in a very caring and loving manner, you will have to raise your concerns with your partner

Your partner has to realise that both of you are in this life together, his health issues do not just affect him, it affects the both of you. He has a responsibility to not just himself but to you as well, he cannot have such a cavalier attitude towards his health when he shares his life with other people.

Remember what the 12 step program says, the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, if your partner is not able to do this then there is, unfortunately, going to be very little you can do for him.

2

For me it was like this. I like my wife to be healthy skinny. I told her when we had a good conversation about each other. This at first made her feel very bad about her weight and I had to spend a lot of effort in making her know she was loved not dependend on any weight. (She got pregnant and gained more).

I myself used the be chubby as a teenager but gaining self confidence and learning that I control my weight made me able to lose my weight.

Other people have great detailed answers let me sum up my broad advice:

  • Eating might be a an subconscious stress reducer (stressing this person out about weight will thus have opposite effect). = Person needs to deal with stress first
  • Person needs really know and believe that they control their weight and they can change it but eating and sporting. (It will help when they see it works they get even more motivated)
  • Person needs motivation: eg it can be you. But the strongest motivation ultimately will be internal: she will feel better after losing weight.
  • Reduce distractions (have no candy in the house etc)
  • Professional help is great solution if the above and other answers don't work out
2

I'm going to take a leap of faith here and assume the following:

  • That she knows she's overweight.

  • That she wants to lose weight.

  • That she has tried to lose weight and failed.

Weight loss is a grail that many people chase but few catch. Wanting to is not enough. Dieting often doesn't work. Even if you lose the first 40 lbs/18 kgs, going farther is difficult, if not impossible.

With so many people wanting to lose weight, why aren't more people doing it? Maybe just pointing out the need to lose weight doesn't do it.

I was quite alarmed when my weight crept up in the 1990's. I wasn't stuffing myself or starving myself, yet every year I would add a few pounds.

So I had weight-loss surgery. That was the only thing that did the trick. I won't say it's been without difficulties, but the excess weight came off in a year -- without "willpower" or other tricks.

  • What's your suggestion to OP? – user510 Oct 16 '17 at 15:36
  • I'm not sure what to suggest to him. This whole topic is a minefield. But I did give an overweight someone a book called Slim Through Surgery. I made sure to tell her, over and over, that I had that surgery, so I wouldn't come across as too critical. My main point is that you have to go with what works. – Jennifer 442 Oct 16 '17 at 18:40
1

Perhaps, she feels overwhelmed or demotivated by the problem. It is tough to restrain yourself all the time. It also draws attention to the very thing you are trying to get away from. And requires a lot of commitment over an extended period of time.

So, my suggestion would be to change the tactic.

  1. Can you lead by example? Is there something that’s been on your to do list for eternity and you never had the discipline to actually do it? It doesn’t have to be weight or even exercising related. Perhaps you’ve always talked about learning a new language. Or picking up programming. Whatever. Something that would require comparable dedication from you. Start that. Stop talking about her eating. You don’t even necessarily need to explicitly draw the parallel for her. Just let her see. It may be just the inspiration she needs.

  2. Can you change how you are doing the things currently? For example, stop eating fine food. Both of you. It’s tough, of course, but dieting and fine food rarely go hand in hand and you need consistency for this to be successful. Can you get a personal trainer? This can make the gym feel more exciting and fun.

The reason I am recommending the above strategies is that I had a somewhat similar experience with sports. I’ve never been overweight, but until a few years ago exercised way less than I should have (which in the end resulted in me having back problems etc). Anyway, growing up, I was always told I should exercise, and my parents even enrolled me in all sorts of sport clubs regularly. However, I always sucked in sports and they themselves never exercised, so I hated the whole pursuit from the bottom of my heart. That continued until I met my husband. He never said anything to me about exercising, but he loves sports and does it all the time. So seeing someone actually enjoy it and do it consistently gave me a huge boost of motivation. Then later I decided to try a personal trainer, and that’s when I fell in love with working out. Turns out my fundamental problem is that I don’t get movements by seeing them - I need someone to explain the logic behind and I need constant challenge/upgrade in routines - neither of which is available in regular group exercising sessions and hard to achieve on your own as a novice.

1

Don't make her give up things, find replacements, and do it with her.
This is based on the idea what she agrees on loosing weight, of course. But once that is settled, you can help her best by doing things with her.
I lost quiet a bit of weight, and am working on on the last pounds that annoy me, and what helped most was:
Don't start out by making yourself go hungry. Instead, find replacements. Finder lower-calorie versions of things you like, and I do NOT mean "diet"-labelled foods.
I replaced bought fruit-yoghurt with plain yoghurt with fresh, frozen or dried fruit.
I replaced chocolate-pudding with bananas purreed with plain cocoa-powder. I choose whole wheat bread over white, and even started baking my own.

Those worked for ME, because they replaced things I craved with more healthy versions, without making me go hungry. Don't approach this with a "I will deny her something"-mindset. Approach it with "We will find something BETTER!".
For me, that was the key. I replaced bad foods with better foods; I did not DENY myself something.
Try to work out together how you can go that way: See how you add something good, NOT on the things you removed. I hope this will help on how to approach this WITH her, not AGAINST her. If this works MOST of the time, that really should be enough. We all sin occasionally :).

1

I dont' think you request will come off as rude if you are genuinely concerned about her health and if you make your concern the focus of your request. But it has to be a genuine request, so be prepared to get "no" as an answer (or else it will be a demand, not a request). Also, focus on the issue that you are having with her health and diet, don't make it about an alleged problem of hers. Something along these lines:

I know, we've talked about this before, but listen. I'm really scared that your weight is going to make you sick or even kill you sooner or later. You know I love you, and I love you no matter what your weight is. I just can't stand the thought of losing you. Do you think we can talk about some ways for you (us) to lose some weight?

0

Here's an idea: Don't.

It's not your body, it's hers. Women tend to gain weight and keep it more easily than men, especially as they get into their 30's, 40's and 50's. If she wants to work out more, eat better, and lose weight, support her in that decision by working with her to plan healthier meals and going with her to the gym, and if she doesn't, that's up to her.

This isn't your call, spouse or not. Her body is hers.

  • 9
    Yes, but the OP is looking for suggestions on how to approach the topic for discussion. Even if it is her body, his concern is for health, and that is legitimate to discuss. – JohnP Oct 13 '17 at 20:00

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