'I diet so that my partner will also diet; how can I stop?'

Starting to lift means eating more food, but what if it also means... more than that?

'I diet so that my partner will also diet; how can I stop?'
Photo by Farhad Ibrahimzade on Unsplash

ASK A SWOLE WOMAN

This is the paid Sunday Ask A Swole Woman edition of She’s a Beast, a newsletter about being strong mentally/emotionally/physically.

The Question

Hi Casey! Your writing has gotten me super-excited about the prospect of trying strength training, but there’s one thing I’m not sure how to address. For a long time, my husband and I have worked together on managing our diets. He has struggled with it, and with his weight, a lot more than I ever have. I say this without judgment, but he does have health issues that have already cropped up, and they are helped by watching what he eats. The problem is that if we aren’t both dieting, it’s super-hard to align what we are eating, and we’ve found that if we are on the same diet, he has a much easier time sticking with it. Right now we both do sort of an OMAD [one meal a day]-light; we snack a little throughout the day, and then our one meal a day is dinner.

That brings me to—I want to try strength training! But it would involve changing what and when and how much I eat. My husband isn’t much of an exerciser, and has done a lot more lifting than me earlier in his life, and it’s not really his thing. But I’m worried I won’t be able to change what I eat without affecting him for the worse; I understand that I need to eat quite a lot in order get the gains from my workouts, but I think this will lead to him eating more too.

I don’t want to sabotage all of his hard work and progress!! I feel like the go-to solution for any couple problem is “you guys should talk about it,” but… I don’t want to make him sound bad, but I think we don’t see his/our dieting the same way. If I stopped dieting, I feel sure he would too (it’s happened many, many times in the past), but he doesn’t seem to realize that that’s what happens, and if I bring it up, he denies that that’s what’s happening and gets really sensitive about it. It’s almost as if HE diets because he believes I’M the one who needs to diet and that HE is the one supporting ME, and believes that if I stop, there’s no need for him to diet. But there is! I’m really torn on what to do or how to deal. —PJ

The Answer

Oh man, I’m sorry you are facing this rat’s nest. There are so many layers here it’s hard to know even where to begin!

First, I want to be clear that eating for lifting is mostly a matter of proportions. It’s not like doing keto or being vegan, where wide swaths of foods are off-limits. You need more protein, and probably more food in general than you have been eating. You also need to feed yourself consistently, so one meal a day isn’t going to cut it. But if the only other person in the house is doing a diet that also has to do with proportions, this should be very workable; you’d just make more of certain foods for yourself and eat more often.

But then there is… everything else going on here. For simplicity’s sake, to begin with, I’m going take you at your word, which is that your partner’s health is actually, significantly affected by not minding enough what he eats. I’m also going to take at face value that maybe you get along fantastically in a virtually unlimited number of ways, and this is the only area where you don’t see eye to eye. (I sort of doubt it, though.)[^1]

So: Plenty of people never imagine they will have to do anything to actively manage their health, period, because aging is not really an intuitive concept. Even more to the point, they don’t imagine that they might do it at the behest of another person, in their shared interest of having a (longish) life together. But alcoholics get treatment and give up drinking; angry or depressed people go to therapy. It might not be common, but it happens. (I feel like someone out there is going to get mad about connecting these things to eating, but we express issues through how we feed ourselves all the time. I did!) “Personal growth in the interest of your shared life” is not so wild of a thing to want or expect from your partner. But! But!!!: You can’t convince anyone to change, not with the right combination of feelings or words or even just enough patience, or, crucially, using your own behavior to try to manipulate them.

No, it isn’t too late
Not me coming to terms with the fade of my first blush of youth, as the kids say