He’s really not very fat at all. On the scale of fatness, I am a fatter for a woman than he is for a man. But (thank the heavens) he is outweighs me, he’s much taller, and has a very large build. He has huge shoulders, thick bones, an easy muscularity he hasn’t worked to obtain. He’s a quiet, gentle, laid-back nerd that has been asked all his life if he plays football, and then, why in the world not?
He also has an enviable metabolism. He’s fluctuated about 80 lbs in the last couple years– right now he’s about smack-dab in the middle, 40ish lbs shy of his highest weight ever. To get to his 80-lb-loss low, he confined himself to two microwaved portioned meals (think Stouffer’s) and two cans of regular Coke a day, plus an hour’s walk, until he felt skinny enough (a couple months) and then he stopped. He’s incredibly good at pushing back his plate when he’s had enough, even though the man can put away an astonishing– and I mean astonishing— quantity of food when he tries. I’ve always admired his self-restraint at the table. He’s also not a huge snacker. I mean, he’ll snack occasionally out of boredom but when he’s busy, he goes seven hours from lunch to dinner with nothing in between with no complaint.
But, in the last six or eight months or so, he’s put on some weight. I can’t say for sure how much because he doesn’t weigh himself with any regularity. And, well, I also don’t care. But, he’s had to go 4 inches up in his pants, and a size up in his boxers and T-shirts. And he’s frustrated.
There are really good reasons for the gain, namely that his work is unpredictable and the last six months have had him sitting at home a lot. Its stressful for him because his pay is tied directly to the amount of work he does, also. I think he is eating out of boredom, frustration, and simply to comfort himself. He also does tend to spend more time on his butt in front of the video games when he’s home and work really hard when he’s away, so that is a contributing factor too.
He has voiced his frustration to me and I have nothing but complete empathy for his feelings. I tell him he looks awesome (he does!), that the weight means nothing to me (it doesn’t!) and that I think maybe he is rolling all his “bad” feelings into one ball and calling that ball “I’m fatter!” and maybe he should try unrolling the ball. There are at least these things in there: He feels more attractive when he’s slender. He hates buying new clothes simply because he’s outgrown the others. He feels like he’s “failing” at keeping those 80 lbs off. He is frustrated at his work schedule lately, because he likes his job and wants to go be useful. He is frustated he’s not bringing home as much bacon as he wants to. He’s feeling out of shape and like he can’t keep up with me. He sees his father (350 to 400 lbs), with terrible knee and heart problems, hobbling around, in pain with every step, and fears for his own health.
I love my husband, so I tell him: don’t worry about the job or the money. You can’t control it unless you want to quit, and you don’t, so just let it go. We’re doing fine at this level of income (and we are). I tell him: the feeling out of shape is something we can work on, that will make you feel better. Let’s go ride bikes and hike and extend the daily doggie-walks. I tell him: your father’s health problems are not your own, and you can’t claim them as your destiny. Realize what genetic risks you have and minimize them: exercise, eat the foods that are good for your body (I’m not saying, eat those foods exclusively, but get in your fruits and veggies and healthy fats and vitamins), go to the doctor etc. Stop calling the belly fat the problem! An overweight, athletically active person with a diet full of nutritional goodness is doing the important stuff.
I don’t see the point in measuring his health (or encouraging him to measure his own health) by an arbitrary number on an arbitrary scale. I know that feeling good, bounding up a set of stairs with nary a wheeze, feeling the power of my muscles and organs working in concert on a hike or run or bike ride, and checking in with my doctor and passing with flying colors are much better indicators of health than weight is. My sister is severely underweight at just under 100 lbs. Her diet consists mostly of regular Coca-Cola, those plastic-wrapped snack cakes, and cigarettes. She can’t bound up a set of stairs with the same kind of exuberance and speed I can, at more than twice her weight. She can’t walk a blockat a brisk pace without breathing hard. Being slender does not equal being healthy. Being healthy is not about achieving a certain weight. It simply isn’t; I have personally seen entirely too much evidence to the contrary to believe this anymore. I am not going to let my husband think he can measure his health on the scale, now that I know that to be the case. I tell him to look at the things we know indicate health, and leave the belly-hating behind.
Basically, if you can’t tell, those are the things I am supposed to be telling myself. And goddamn if they don’t fly out of my mouth like Gospel truth when I say them to him, even when I’ve struggled to convince myself that those things apply to me, too. But it helps me to say them, and I think it helps him. Its funny, we’ve only been married two months, but every day of marriage is a new revelation to me about what it is and what it means. It means treating both members of the team as good– better, even!– than you’d treat yourself. Its loving both bodies and minds and souls. I loved reading, “Contempt has no place in a marriage.” Its so true. I’ve marvelled at the simplicity and completeness of that sentence. I can’t think of a situation in which contempt for a spouse’s anything would result in a positive effect on the marriage.
I love my spouse. I treat him and his body and his mind and soul better than I treat my own. And I hope that in doing so, I learn to love my body and my mind and my soul better. Because its my job now to protect and nurture and care for both of these bodies and minds and souls.