When I met my husband, we bonded instantly. We had similar taste in music, having grown up on pop-rock icons like David Bowie and Prince in the decade when MTV first debuted. We both set up our first email accounts in the '90s and built some of the earliest online communities (bulletin board systems) when thousands — and not billions — were on the web. We were connected, quite literally, to each other very early on.
We also bonded because we were fat and generally unhealthy. In our earliest conversations, we discovered our shared issues with enjoying too much food and too little exercise. Growing up as chubby kids in the '80s and '90s, we lived through an era when the entire world was devoted to conquering obesity and obliterating fat. Unfortunately, the nature of the times made our body sizes the center of most conversations.
Our family and friends felt it was their duty — and, perhaps, their right — to criticize our weight, judge the food we put in our mouths, and offer up all the ways to get smaller and healthier as soon as possible. Strangers joined in, as if it were their obligation to bully us into submission; teens teased us with harsh words and adults often gave us tacit eye rolls when we piled too much pasta on our plates at the buffet-style restaurants of the time.
Even though we were young individuals with vibrant personalities and many accomplishments, those parts of us didn't always resonate with folks. We remained overweight, and strangers often only saw big bodies. Sure, our bodies were big, and that was a problem, but after decades of unwanted attention and oft-neglected advice, we eventually believed that's all we were: little more than our size, big people with big problems for everyone else and us.
After years of body shaming, I found and instantly connected with someone who deeply understood me and, gosh, that felt like the greatest reward. But after a childhood already filled with dieting, my husband and I continued the dieting through almost every year of our marriage.
Why Dieting with My Husband Just Never Worked
Together, we've been on every kind of diet. We ate piles of bacon during the Atkins days; counted points and weighed in during the Weight Watchers days; and restricted every kind of food together for a long, long time. You know what we had to show for it all? Even larger frames, further distorted views of our bodies, and odd, contrived responsibilities for the other's health issues.
For the first few months of any diet plan, we were quite disciplined, sticking to whatever we could eat whether it be fresh grapefruit, crispy bacon, anything that was one point or less — you get me. But eventually, one of us would lose more weight than the other (him!) and one of us would feel a little demotivated (probably me!). And while I know it's biologically proven that men lose weight faster than women, I still felt demotivated. I'm allowed to feel demotivated.
Inevitably, one of us would feel shame for failing and gaining again; the other would feel guilty for allowing them to fail. After all, we were in this together, right? Yeah, no. It took several rounds of this to realize that duo dieting just wasn't working for us.
After decades of trying to get healthy and lose weight with my husband, I remained a fat girl, full of shame for my own inadequacies and now enormous guilt for my partner's health, too. Finding my way to wellness with my husband has not worked for me. It kept me way too focused on the number on the scale. It kept me tallying up the calories and restricting all the foods. It kept me turned toward how my body related to his and not how great it was all on its own.
And, perhaps most importantly, it never let me focus on the heavy feelings that had taken up residency in my heart over decades of being a fat girl. I needed to focus on my feelings, and not worry about his feelings. I needed to understand why I put all the foods in my mouth, and not take responsibility for why he put all the foods in his mouth. I had to give up on the idea of losing weight together and make the next effort 100% focused on me.
This time around, on what I envisioned was my last-ditch effort, I kept my overall concern to my body and not our bodies.
How I Finally Focused on Me, Instead of Us
One day, I reached the very bottom of the largest wine glass of my life, the sort you stare into on significant holidays, wondering how to repair my sad, fat life. In that moment, I decided to try to get healthy one final time with an elimination diet and help from an online health coach. I decided to do this one last time alone.
During the winter holidays leading up to that big decision, I thought hard about why I needed to try to lose weight and get healthier without my husband. I was in some real pain. My body ached when I got in and out of chairs; my knees and ankles burned when I tried to walk down the street, let alone do a half mile of exercise; and my fingers and toes tingled in a way that left my doctors perplexed. I needed to do something now to try to relieve the pain.
This time around, I only asked two questions of my husband when I started my elimination diet. One, I wanted to know if he felt okay if I gave it a try on my own. (The answer was "Of course.") Two, I asked whether he minded if we ate the way I was eating for the meals we enjoyed together, mainly dinner, so I didn't have to cook two meals each evening. (The answer was "Sure, I'll give it a go.") That was it.
Now, my husband did opt to eat my way much of the time. And I did listen to his take on the foods we ate and changed up the dishes I made because I totally respect the fact that he's not into, say, lentils. But in general, I didn't involve him too much in the intricacies of my process. Sometimes I shared my successes and any confusing moments, always trying to be super mindful of how my journey may affect him. But in general, I relied on heavy journaling and my online health coach, and moved ahead on my own.
And, this time around, it worked. It worked because I was getting healthy for me and with me. Even though he means the world to me, my husband wasn't part of my process because tying our successes and failures together wasn't going to help me understand my issues. I already had the weight of my world on my shoulders and I just couldn't carry his, too.
5 Tips for Losing Weight Without Your Partner
Sometimes my new way of eating was a fit for my husband and sometimes it just didn't vibe with his life at a given time. That's okay. After losing nearly 70 pounds, I can say wholeheartedly that it worked very well for me. But to make sure we stayed connected, I did keep some of the food rituals from before the elimination diet and I believe that has made this solo weight loss path possible, for both of us.
Since we're a couple who is bonded by food and cooking it together (I write cookbooks and he's a great cook), it was important to keep cooking some of our favorite foods during and after my weight loss. Still, navigating weight loss within a couple is hard. Here are my best tips for making it through the ups and downs in a healthy way.
1. Respect your separate wellness paths.
You like each other because you have some similarities and lots of differences, too. The same can be said about your bodies and your relationships with food. Respect that what works for one might not work for the other.
2. Plan your joint meals together.
Don't vow to eat separately simply because you eat differently right now. Plan your joint meals together, whether with a spreadsheet or a quick text to the other. Don't compromise what's important to your health but respect your partner's way of eating, too, and find a way to collaborate.
3. Don't skip date nights.
Even though you're losing weight and perhaps don't eat certain foods any longer, it's important to maintain date nights. Let these crucial moments of connection morph to suit your new tastes. Instead of making a date revolve around food, try a coffee talk date, a walk in the woods, or just a drive to someplace new.
4. Adopt a "no partner left behind" mentality.
It's natural that one or both of you may feel like you're in a way different spot from the other, even if just for a minute. Don't tolerate that distant feeling for too long. Share how it feels to be eating differently and listen to your partner's feelings, too. Listening builds understanding and gives you a chance to dispel any potential jealousy or resentment.
5. Rediscover all the reasons you love each other.
Since food and body size were such a focus for us, reducing and revising our food connection felt uncomfortable at first. But our relationship is about way more than food. Once the excess food stopped, we reclaimed all the other reasons we were together, and that kept us more in sync (and more in love).
My tenderhearted self definitely believed that something like love would save me — every squidgy, puffy part of me. But I was so glad to finally get super honest with myself (and, gosh, now honest with all of you). Fairytale love is fine, but the only love that really saves us is the patient and unconditional love we have (or have to find) for ourselves.
About Maggie Battista
Maggie Battista is a food writer, author of Food Gift Love, and a pop-up shop maker opening a permanent food market in Boston. Roost Books will publish her second cookbook, A New Way to Food, in 2019.