Dear Virgie: “My Husband Diets & I Don’t”
I read your article on sexual capital and totally related. My husband and I have been together for many years. While I was pregnant with my first child, my husband started dieting and exercising. He has lost a ton of weight and now has the physique of an athlete. He also really watches what he eats. I am now way bigger than I’ve ever been. This makes me totally insecure. Although I blatantly ask for reassurance, and he gives it to me, it’s hard for me to believe he’s still attracted to me. And he is obsessed with body/weight/muscles/diet. I am also a stay at home mom, and I think deep down all stay at home moms have at least a small fear of their husbands leaving them (since we literally depend on them), but adding this sexual capital issue inflates that, and also just makes me feel worse about myself. I regularly have nightmares about him leaving me for someone thinner.
Let’s take a moment together to take a breath and recognize how haaaaard it is to be around someone who is actively obsessed with body, weight/muscles/diet (even if you looooove that person and they’re pretty great in most other respects!) when you’re trying to de-program from diet culture. I’d like to note that I think it’s really powerful that you see his obsession as an obsession. Most people look at obsessive weight-loss behavior and think it’s just peachy! *barf* I think that the ability to see things for what they are is a sign that you’re coming into your own, and that you’re a smart person. So take a minute to really own (1) that’s it’s hard to be around behavior that is anathema to what you believe (did you like how I threw “anathema” in there?!) and (2) that you’re a smart, introspective lady.
Here’s my advice:
1. Recognize the power of “No”
Even if your hubz is really good at reassuring you, it’s difficult to witness the parts of his life that, in essence, negate your journey. I understand the way his behavior is triggering feelings of insecurity and I think it’s really important to set boundaries. This is where the power of “no” comes in. You might suggest that he ease up on the time he spends talking with YOU about his obsession with diet and weight. If he pushes back, remind him that there are literally MILLIONS of people who’d be totally stoked to talk with him about weight loss, while you have relatively fewer supports in your life with whom you can speak openly about your decision to stop dieting. Maybe sit down with him and tell him you’re cool with the things he feels passionate about, but that you can’t be on board with weight loss talk or weight-loss focused behavior. Teach him that if he wants to, say, go for a hike that if he wants you to do it with him he can’t talk about it as a weight loss pursuit. Feel free to remind him of the boundary as often as you need to until he gets that you’re serious.
2. Foster activities and time that are just for you
I know it’s hard with kids and your likely busy schedule, but take a chunk out of the time you normally spend with your husband and dedicate that time to something that invigorates and excites you. This time is not only about treating yourself, it’s also about decompression and replenishment after having to navigate the tension of your differing world views.
3. I know it’s hard, but practice trusting that he’s telling you the truth
Trust him when he is telling you that he loves you and that you are desirable. Recognize that it’s the part of you that feels unworthy of that love that won’t believe him. I might write down something on a piece of paper or into your phone, like: “My husband loves me. I am worthy of that love. I don’t need to think about the possibility of that love ending. There will always be love for me in this lifetime.”
4. Trusting another person is actually about trusting yourself
What people rarely tell you is that trust is not as much about putting faith in another person as it is about trusting yourself. What I’ve really learned more and more recently is that women are taught that we aren’t strong, that we aren’t smart, that we aren’t resilient, and that should a tough situation arise that it will break us. The truth is that if – and that’s a big if – there’s a challenge headed your way you will be able to handle it. No matter what your relationship has in store for you – amazing things, challenging things – you will navigate them and they will not break you.
5. Stop catastrophizing!
I think this is the most important thing: STOP CATASTROPHIZING. Playing through worst case scenarios in your head is not good for you and it doesn’t help you in any way. Catastrophizing is a thing we learn to do when we are scared – we tell ourselves that if we can think of every possible, worst outcome then we can be prepared for that outcome. It’s a defense mechanism to protect us. I totally get it because I have a tendency to catastrophize myself. When a thought like “my husband is going to leave me” comes up, take a second to recognize that it’s only a thought. It’s not real, and it doesn’t have to take over. In your mind, take a step back from the thought, recognizing that it’s not you who’s thinking it, it’s this catastrophic animal brain.
Tell your catastrophic animal brain: “it’s ok, C.A.B. I understand that you’re scared. It turns out that I’m actually fucking amazing and I’ll be fine. So, I need you to relax, take a seat at the big girl table and if you start spouting off lies again I’m going to have to put you in the corner.”
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.