Reader Question: How Can I Motivate my Spouse to Get Healthy?

A few weeks ago I received an email from a reader who asked me how he could motivate his spouse to workout. He had read about my 50 pound weight loss and wanted to see what it was that motivated me to get in shape, in hopes he may help his wife do the same. An abbreviated version of his email is below.

She is morbidly obese and keeps putting off her weight loss goals. I ask her sometimes to workout with me, I've tried to get her to walk and jog at the park, go to cycling classes with her on the weekends, I paid for lymphatic massages and helped modify her diet countless times. But nothing works. She'll do it for a month or so and then stop for 3 or 4 months and goes back to binge eating. And she makes fun of people and sometimes me for being an "over achiever" because I workout regularly. All of her friends are the same. They binge eat and don't exercise, but she's bigger than all of them. I've tried talking to her about it but she get angry and fights with me. But when I say forget it and I don't want to help her anymore, she says she's going to get it together and the cycle repeats. What can I do? What do you suggest at this point?

When I received the email I was nursing on the couch next to my Mom and I started talking to her about it. Immediately we both agreed that it's impossible to get someone to make healthy changes. They have to want it themselves. Even then, just wanting to make a change doesn't mean they will be motivated enough to work toward instituting those changes.

At my heaviest I was depressed. Not clinically so, but I was generally unhappy. I wasn't happy with my living situation, my routine of going out binge drinking most nights of the week, my job/s, and especially the way I looked. It wasn't until I started dating someone who made me feel good about myself, that I started valuing myself enough to think "hey, I love myself enough to start taking better care of myself."

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Hatred isn't a good motivator to workout. Eating right and exercising shouldn't come from a place of negativity. It shouldn't be viewed as a punishment. I think the first step in getting fit physically, is getting healthy mentally.

To the reader who emailed me I would suggest that you talk to your wife about counseling. The binge eating is indicative of stress and anxiety issues (in my experience) so the source of her weight problems is very likely emotional.

Next, I would stop all attempts at getting her to workout with you. When I was fat the last thing I wanted was for the person I was dating to see me all sweaty and gross, jumping up and down trying to workout. It's nothing personal, and I applaud you for doing everything you can to get her to workout, but I can virtually guarantee she is embarrassed to do so around you.

The way you describe her circle of friends makes me think she needs to make some new friends. Not to replace the one's she has. There's nothing wrong with their lifestyles if that's what makes them happy. I think looking into something like Weight Watchers would be beneficial as it would help her get on track with her diet, and introduce her to a new group of people who are all on the same page with getting healthy. I'd also strongly recommend getting her the book Intuitive Eating.

Finally, and this is the hardest (I'm guilty of it myself), stop talking to her about her weight. Not another word. Don't give her a second look when she reaches for a brownie or orders dessert out. Don't ask her if she wants to workout with you. The moment she feels like she is being judged by you any attempts she was going to make to eat healthier or workout will be thwarted. Just offer your final suggestions (maybe counseling, weight watchers, etc.) and let it go for a few months. You may be surprised when one day she approaches you to suggest going on a walk, or asks for your help finding new healthy recipes to try.

What advice would you give to someone in this situation?