I was raised in a family where keeping your weight under control was important. When Helen and I got married, she worked hard to keep her weight down. But that changed after she had our third child. Helen, only 5'2", had gotten heavy and had developed Type 2 diabetes. She had a habit of eating when she felt stressed.
"Why can't you lose weight?" I asked (many times).
"I try. Why don't you accept me the way I am?" she pleaded.
Helen knew she should lose weight. She tried various diets but found it difficult to control what she ate.
I wanted her to be like she was before we got married, when she was petite. But my arguments about the health risks, lowered self-esteem, and reduced physical appeal had no effect. The more I pressured her, the more she resisted.
"You make me feel so bad!" Helen would cry. "If I'm so awful, why should I even bother? Food gives me comfort."
"But you'd look and feel better if you lost weight," I'd argue. My "logic" only caused more tension. So I tried not to talk about it. But I continued to focus on the physical and began to pressure her again, albeit nonverbally—with looks, grunts, and physical withdrawal.
Finally, one night, after I'd hurt Helen once again, I felt God tell me to be quiet about Helen's weight and instead focus on her inner beauty. I saw that Helen has a quiet and gentle spirit, and I vowed to stop complaining about her size.
Several years later, I went for my annual checkup and was stunned to hear that I was overweight!
When I returned home Helen asked how the appointment went. I didn't want to tell her the truth, but knew I had to admit it.
"My physician told me to lose weight and get my cholesterol down," I said.
"You've always bugged me about losing weight," Helen said. "Now it's your turn. Why don't you go on a diet?"
"You'll have to help since you fix the meals," I said to Helen, who agreed.
But it didn't work. She used the exchange diet program for her diabetes; I used the counting calorie approach. Besides, my diet contained a large amount of sugar and carbohydrates. Keeping track of my calories tempted her to go off her diet.
A short time later, while reading my Bible, I read the passage that says a husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the church (Ephesians 5:25). I realized I was to look out for Helen's needs and sacrifice my desires for hers. The passage goes on to say that the husband is to love his wife like he loves his own body (5:28). I knew I hadn't been doing that. I asked God to forgive me for how I'd treated Helen. And God gave me an idea: How better to show my love for my wife and my body than by helping both of us stick to our diets? But how could I do this and support Helen in her struggle to stay on her diabetic diet and exercise program? The answer was simple: Stop dieting independently and go on her diet and exercise program.
Armed with my plan, I went to Helen and apologized for how I'd treated her, then I shared the dieting idea with her. And she agreed. I didn't have to worry about counting calories and constantly asking her the amount of calories every time I sat down to eat. And she didn't have to fix two different meals. Besides, she'd no longer be tempted to eat food that wasn't on her diet when she was cooking my meals. We made the following agreement:
- We'd consult our physician about our idea.
- Helen would plan our meals based on her low-fat diabetic diet.
- We'd grocery shop together and encourage each other to stick to our meal plans.
- When we ate out, we'd be sensitive to each other's diet and pick menus that help each other to eat healthy.
- We'd exercise together at least three times a week.
Now, nine months later, we've succeeded! At the end of each day, we feel as if we've accomplished something wonderful—as a team we've stuck to our diets and exercise program. Helen's lost 20 pounds and has been able to reduce her diabetic medication; I've lost 18 pounds and dropped my cholesterol level from 231 to 201 (and my "bad" cholesterol from 159 to 131). Our sex life has improved and our relationship is stronger.
When I was forced to "walk in Helen's shoes," God taught me how not to nag or criticize, but to be more sympathetic to my wife's fight to keep her weight under control. And I discovered that we truly can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13)—even dieting and exercising.
Barry W. Kennedy, CEO of Kennedy Consulting Solutions and freelance author, lives in Oregon. Visit Barry at www.barrykennedy.com.
The Buddy System
Studies have shown that couples who diet and exercise together are more successful—both with their lifestyle and their marriage. Here's how you can work together for a healthier you.
Listen to each other's problems without trying to solve them. Practice reassuring each other. For example, when Helen has difficulty with her diet, I listen and say, "We can do this together."
Praise each other. Feeling good about your weight loss progress is essential to keeping on track. Look for opportunities to praise each other in private and public. I recently bragged on how great Helen looked in her new dress. She beamed and said, "You look great, too." That makes us want to keep healthy.
Pray separately and together for each other. Ask God for ways to support each other's diets so you can enjoy health.
Exercise together regularly. Helen and I go to the YMCA three times each week.
Share your meals when you dine out. Restaurants usually serve too much food so we split our meals or take home leftovers. It not only helps us eat less but also saves money.
Encourage your spouse to stick to the diet even when he or she fails. Whenever I eat something I shouldn't, Helen says, "You can make up for it next time."
Empathize by eating the same healthy food your spouse is supposed to eat. Since Helen has diabetes, I eat as though I have diabetes. I try to avoid high fat food that will tempt Helen and cause my cholesterol to increase. But what about different diet needs? While your diet is dependent on your age, gender, size, and metabolism, you can look for common areas in your diets. You'll be surprised to find you and your spouse can eat many of the same things.
2002 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.