I recently received a question about this from a reader, and I decided to re-post his question and my response on the blog.
Before we get to that, a few words of caution…this is an incredibly sensitive, yet important topic.
Sensitive because most women, whether they are truly overweight or not, feel terribly self-conscious about their weight. If you mention weight to a woman, you run the risk of being the catalyst for anything on a spectrum of hurt feelings to severe eating disorders.
Important because most people wouldn’t dare tell a truly overweight woman that she is overweight, because, let’s face it, telling a woman she needs to lose a few pounds is about as socially offensive as stabbing a baby seal in the eye.
While it’s true that most of the starved and airbrushed models make “regular” women feel bad about their bodies, there is a counter culture of “loving your fatness” that, in my opinion, is just as dis-empowering for us ladies.
A woman is most empowered, sexy, and beautiful when she is at her healthiest! And as her man, if you can encourage her on a path towards health, you and she will be better for it.
Here is the original email and response:
I love your blog, it is very insightful and awesome. I have an issue: my girlfriend is overweight and unhealthy. I fear for her health. How can I get my girlfriend to lose weight? I know I can’t control people but what are some specific things you think I can do to get her to lose weight?
First of all, you are right that you can’t control other people. Ultimately it will have to be up to her to lose weight. She must be motivated to do it for herself (not just for you) for it to really work and have lasting success.
That said, you can help get her inspired to make a change towards better health!
I suggest you have an open, honest conversation with her about this. Hinting or making subtle suggestions will either go unnoticed, or she will probably get the wrong idea (ie. she will assume you don’t find her attractive anymore and feel bad).
I’ve actually had a similar conversation with a boyfriend about his health habits, so I can tell you right now that it takes courage! You run the risk of hurting your partner’s feelings. However, in the long run, it will strengthen the partnership if you can handle it well.
As the yang (masculine) partner, you have great power to lead your woman to grow herself for the better. Most men can’t handle doing this, though, because they don’t know the difference between something in her that needs to change and something in her that pisses him off because HE needs to change. You need to prepare yourself mentally and emotionally before talking with her so that you can stay strong in your yang leadership.
Before having an honest conversation with her, you need to have a very honest conversation with yourself about WHY you want her to lose weight. You mentioned that you fear for her health. I’m going to assume (and forgive me if this is not accurate) that you also want her body to look better because then she would look sexier. If there is even an ounce of truth to this, then you need to get congruent about it before talking with her. Otherwise, if you only mention health, but have other motives too, she will sense the ulterior motives and feel betrayed.
Also, you must be in touch with your love and compassion for her. If she senses that you are judging her or you no longer fully accept who she is as a person, then she will not be open to the conversation. One of the communication principles from NLP is “Accept the person, change the behavior.” She has unhealthy behaviors, but she as a person is beautiful. Stay congruent with your total acceptance of her person–even if she gets upset and doesn’t believe that you fully accept her. Keep telling yourself that she is beautiful, no matter how upset she gets.
When you have the conversation, make sure you are both open and receptive, and in a place where you can talk privately and give each other your full attention. Start with a preframe like, “Can I talk to you about something that’s on my mind? Will you be open to hearing it? It’s something that I worry you might not want to hear.” Only proceed if she says yes. Now she will be open.
Next, share vulnerably, openly, and honestly. I know this might sound crazy, but it is better to bare your honest thoughts about her body than to try to make it “sound good.” Again, I’m only assuming here, but I know that when this issue came up for me in the past, I used to say, “I only fear for your health.”
Then one day I said, “This is making it more difficult for me to feel attraction for you, and that’s hurting the relationship.” Don’t get me wrong, this was one of the most difficult conversations I’ve ever had with a partner, but it didn’t turn into a fight the way the other ones did when I was trying to cover up my true feelings. Your girlfriend will appreciate your honesty even if it hurts in the moment.
Now remember, it’s practically an offense punishable by death for a man to tell a woman that she’s fat. She might react at first with shock that you are even saying this to her because most men wouldn’t dare. She might not, but it’s worth the warning just in case. Stay strong and don’t get defensive. Let her react and get upset as much as she needs to; just keep telling her that you think she’s beautiful and don’t get caught up in her drama.
When she calms down, she will likely express her own desire to lose weight. Listen to her because she might need to vent and share about her struggles. Fat is often a cushion that stores repressed emotions. Stay congruent in your belief that she is beautiful and that you accept her completely as you listen.
Then, offer your support. Tell her that the two of you can make dates to go to the gym together; plan nights out at restaurants with healthy options. It’s also a good idea to own up to any “enabling” behaviors. For example, I had to stop asking my partner to get us donuts for breakfast when he was trying to eat healthy. Offer her your congruent and full support by changing any unhealthy habits you need to change as well.
And then, of course, you need to stick to your new, supportive actions!
There is a chance she might not want to change, in which case, again, you can’t change her. However, it’s my belief that most people want to be their healthiest and best looking.
Being healthy includes emotional and mental health. This is why it’s so important that you stay strong, open, and compassionate with her. You are calling her to a higher level of health in all areas, not just in her physical body. This is a great gift you can give her as her partner; just make sure you are ready for it. If you can support her through the process, you will both be better for it on the other side.