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Be the Expert: What do you say to a partner to help them lose weight?

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All right, today we’re doing a VERY challenging “Be the Expert.” This is the series where you try to take my material, apply it in the real world, and usually end up miserably failing. Then I shake my head and clean house.

Here’s the scenario:

You’ve been dating your partner for 3.5 years. Man, woman, straight, gay, doesn’t matter. Your partner has gained 35lbs. You’ve noticed their energy lagging and you’re concerned about their health. You start to notice that you’re becoming less attracted to them.

Your goal is for your partner to start taking better care of themselves and lose weight. How do you do it?

Important notes:

  • You didn’t mind 5, 10, 20lbs. But at some point, you want to say something. In this scenario, that point is now.
  • You have not gained much weight since beginning the relationship with your partner.

Objections that will not be accepted: “Ramit how could you? This is simple heteronormative fat-shaming” or “Ramit, you imbecile…you can’t change anyone until they’re ready to change themselves.” Um…please leave this site. This is a hypothetical scenario. You can choose to participate because you’re concerned about your partner’s health, or becoming unattracted to them, or even for another reason. Or you can simply not participate. What you can’t do is use hackneyed excuses to shut down a hypothetical learning environment. However, if you have ideas for future Be The Experts, email me directly — I’m always open to new ideas.

How would you do it?


  • Don’t just say, “I would encourage them to go to the gym together with me!” (Silence as 100,000 people groan, their only strategy now swept away from them.) Play it out: What happens if they say no? Or they go once, then stop going? Really map out the likely scenarios. If A, then B. If C, then D. Take it to the logical conclusion.
  • Use EXACT words. When you say, “I would just tell them to ___” you are glossing over the critical part, the words you use to communicate. Use the actual words, not a glossed-over version.
  • Be sensitive. This is an incredibly sensitive topic, so if you say, “YOU JUST NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT” not only will you be mercilessly mocked on this site, I feel sorry for your partner. Hint: You may want to read this and this first.

Leave your comments below.

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  1. If he has gained 15 kg I would assume that
    1. He knows he has gained weight and that this might not be great, (for his heath, for physical attraction etc.), because that’s already an amount you can really see and feel (clothes etc.)
    2. He knows what he should do in theory to lose weight (because most of us do)

    Therefore there is no need to tell him what I have observed or what I feel he should do. Instead I would first try to find out, why he has gained the weight.

    Is it the environment that I can change (eating out, evenings on the couch, my delicious baked goods.. 😉 )? In this case I would start to change these issues and start to encourage him to do something else: Hey darling, I would really love to go to the zoo and take some pictures together with you this afternoon (if he loves to take pictures) / Or: Darling, you would make me really happy if we could go for a walk in the park this evening and play together with the small model boat (if he is fond of those boats) / Just find out what he really loves and try to combine it with an activity. Keep the focus on myself – most people would like to make their partner happy. I could also make healthier desserts/meals etc. If he would not like to do something together with me and watch TV instead I would try to focus on a compromise: Ok, I understand that you love those TV shows. But let’s try to make one evening exactly what you like an another one exactly what I like to do. Like this we can still spend a lot of time together.

    In the end – if he does not want to spend time together with me, the weight is not our main problem.

    It is more difficult if he has gained weight because he is eating a lot at work / snacking at work / beer with friends – simply things in an environment that I can’t change directly. In this case I would still try to change our home/evening environment. Slowly, don’t force him to replace chips directly with cucumbers. And the more active and healthy he is in his spare time with me (especially with activities he loves and healthy food that is so good he is just not able to resist) the more active he will also become during the rest of the time – because he will start to enjoy this kind of lifestyle.

    A second option would be to make a challenge out of it: “Hey darling, I know that you love challenges. I bet you would not be able to run more km than I in a week” – especially if he loves challenges and I am not extremely more fit than him.

    • Ariana, I love your whole response, especially this bit:

      “In the end — if he does not want to spend time together with me, the weight is not our main problem.”

      Excellent insight. There may be much more going on underneath the surface than just a few pounds.

    • Excellent reflection.
      What if his weight is related to a lack of self esteem? Then eating better or going out to do activities might not work. You have to want to feel better to actually do.
      You ask an excellent question, why is it a problem. I just feel we need to go deeper than tactics to help him. Find out the issues that makes him want to feel worse than better (this is of course assuming that statement is accurate) and work on changing that. Once a person works on his/her issues, and wants to feel better, then the tactics would work wonders.

  2. I send my wife pictures of cross-fit chicks from Tumblr and remind her to plank everyday. She’s ripped city.

    • Well. Isn’t your wife lucky.

    • awesome … works?

    • Wow I bet she’s super excited that you’re hoping she looks like all these other “hot” women, I bet her self esteem rocks… – classy (hoping you are getting the incredibly sarcastic vibe I’m sending)

    • That’s spousal abuse.

    • I don’t know why everyone is so quick to judge. You don’t know their relationship. Just because that may be condescending in yours does not mean it is in theirs.

    • I’m seconding Marc here. My wife actually prefers I tell her she’s getting fat and likes when I send her photos of ripped chicks.

      I know because she specifically asked me to tell her when she is getting fat and not “sugar coat” it.

      Marc, spot on. You don’t know the relationship, so don’t hate.

      When I gained 15 lbs. my wife looked at me and looked at herself and said. We need to diet.
      Brutal, yes, honest, yes. Guess who’s kicking ass and happier for it? Both of us.

      Don’t hate on honesty. It will get you farther than you can imagine….we could all use more of it. With ourselves and others.

  3. I know for a fact that simply cooking healthier meals for the other partner won’t necessarily work, depending on the person. A friend of mine was roommates with a couple where the woman was desperately trying to get her husband to eat healthy by only buying healthy food and preparing healthy lunches and dinners for him everyday. He would proceed to eat all the premade food in the mornings before work (while she was gone) and eat out (presumably crap food) for lunch and dinner. She bought him a treadmill, he never used it… or pretended to use it.

    The biggest thing I notice in getting other people to do something is to let them think it was their idea. No, you can’t totally change people’s behavior if they don’t want to. But you can gradually push or guide them in a certain direction (probably does not work for everything, but definitely certain, habitual things) … and letting them think it was 100% their idea all along. The more they think you are pressuring, nagging, or trying to change them, the more they resist and think “you aren’t accepting them for who they are.”

    My solution would be a mix of peer pressure and positive reinforcement. I would focus on changing my behavior and getting more fit myself (even if I am already in good shape). I would bring healthier food and prepare only healthy food. It is my SO’s choice to eat it or not, but if he wants to eat something else it’s on him. I would join a fitness class or a running group 3-4 times a week, and make that my main social group. I would then ask my SO “Are you interested in joining me today?” each time I go. If they refused I wouldn’t keep pushing it, I would just ask once each time or so. However, my hope would be that after a few months, my friends and I are in better shape than before and he will see that. I know that for many people peer pressure is enough to get them moving. Everytime they *did* do something positive towards weight loss, I would dish out the praise, react more positively towards their improvements, etc. If they continued to do nothing, they wouldn’t get anything out of it. Think Pavlov’s dog. This probably isn’t 100% complete, but that’s the general pattern I would take.

    I realize that all of the above is not fail-proof or it may take a while to actually work. For one thing, if I can’t even change my own behavior enough myself, then all of that breaks down because I’m being hypocritical and he knows it. Secondly, if I do manage to implement better habits and our lives become drastically different because he refuses to change I would either have to just keeping doing what I do and accept it, or move on. Some people just aren’t going to react. I don’t believe constant nagging and direct pressuring works, the best I can do is change the environment and hope he bites.

  4. Specific words? Well, I might have to try different approaches to see what sticks, but to start, perhaps something along the lines of “I’ve been reading up a lot on how high-fructose corn syrup is really bad for us. Can you help me figure out which of our stuff has that and if there is something else (brand/substitute) we can buy instead?” Something small, easy to change and s/he can brainstorm ways to ‘fix’ with you. Finding that first thing, though, is hard.

  5. Well I have been through a similar situation except that the crazy weight gain hasn’t happen just yet but the “couch potato” and crazy junk eating was getting to me. Funny enough I was the one that put on 35lb and reversed it last year 😀
    I have been doing a few things that have helped…First I use his need for convenience to my advantage. I have to pack my lunch so I pack his as well that way he doesn’t go to McDonalds on his lunch break.

    I cook for like 5 people at dinner so there are home-made leftovers and he doesn’t have to take the emergency frozen pizza out.

    I failed at trying to get him to come to the gym or run with me. I realized he is not a fan of exercising for the sake of exercising so I took him with me to pick up a basketball. The fact that he picked the one he bought made him more likely to say yes when I say “let’s go an shoot around a bit.” He likes to play tennis too so I have been able to go do that. The thing is that I have to sort of “plan” it sometimes and say on Tuesday “hey wanna go to play tennis on Friday?” and then on Thursday..”we are still playing tomorrow right?” otherwise he will be “too tired” to go if I bring it up spontaneously.
    My next idea is to have him come with me when I go to the track so he can “time” my sprints…I know if he comes he would like to show off how much faster he is (or thinks he is) or how much higher he can jump, etc…go ahead show off that will be mission accomplished 😉

    Other thing that has helped is that I don’t give him guilt trips for me having to organize the house BUT he has to do the yard work, mopping and vacuuming…he usually doesn’t mind because he doesn’t have to do chores he hates…plus mopping and vacuuming are a physical activity too 🙂

    We only get oreos, sodas and chips once in a while (we use to do it all the time!) and take out is a treat rather than a regular thing. I keep the fridge stocked with vegetables, fruits, healthy snacks, etc for the late night fridge trips.

    I am careful with what I say since he never made me feel like crap when I “chunkinized”..but I have said that the reason why I work out so much now its because as as soon as I hit 30 (in two years) I know muscle mass gets harder to keep and no matter how good your genetics are (his case) is much better to get the habits changed now that when it becomes more complicated to do so..I think he gets the point.

  6. Step 1) Buy a scale, preferably one that measures to the tenth of a pound, so it’s easier to see progress or backsliding.

    Step 2) Track your partner’s weight daily: write it down on a calendar each day. Make sure you do it at the same time each day, perhaps when you wake up in the morning or before bed at night.

    That’s what my boyfriend has done with me–and I’m down 10 pounds after a month. Slow and steady.

    • Hate to say it, but daily weight ins are a really bad thing. Its much too easy to vary your weight, even in the same day (7-10lbs in one day isn’t out of the norm for me during the summer months). I’ve tracked my weight at least weekly for going on 9 years now, and I can see variations even weekly just from differences in what I eat.
      Saltly dinner, yeh expect to “gain” lots of weight the next day.
      Huge workout, expect to “lose” lots of weight.
      Once you know the signs, you can work with them to keep losing weight towards a goal.

      Basically my point is yes use it as a tool, but when the water weight stops coming off, don’t be deterred and stop.

    • Daily weight ins can make it a habit which some people find easier to sustain.

      If you have daily weigh ins you can easily see longer term patterns especially if you plot it or take a moving average.

    • That could be taken as incredibly offensive, plus don’t know about men but ladies can fluxuate up to 4 lbs in a day. Pretty sure I’d slap my BF if he suggested such a thing to me

  7. If my partner simply told me that he’s noticed I gained weight I would just say something like, “yeah, I know. Thanks for pointing it out”. (read sarcasm).

    I’d rather he say something like, “how about we go for a walk after dinner? We can get moving and spend time together at the same time.” My response is more likely to be “I need the exercise anyway and spending time together….sounds like a plan.” Or if he did the cooking he could cook healthier meals for me.

    I guess I prefer the subtler but active approach.

  8. I didn’t say anything. I simply started my own workout plan. I get up in the mornings and work out on my own. I also cook our dinner’s so I can control what we eat for dinner. I also grocery shop so if he wants to eat bad, he has to eat out. My fiancé is a competitive guy. I knew if I could run faster than him, he wouldn’t let that last long as a runner himself. He has started working out again on a pretty regular basis. The only things I talked to him about were how I felt better working out with more energy. Then when he does work out, I make sure to ask him how it went and tell him what a great job he did. He has lost 5 pounds.

    • What a great approach! There is nothing you can say or do that will motivate someone to do something. Motivation is an internal switch and the only one who can turn it on is you.
      Telling people what they already know is like poking an angry bee.
      Showing them pictures of fit and beautiful women is demoralizing. If something like that is working it’s being done out of fear.
      The only way to create change is to change yourself. The only one you have control over is you. That is why I liked this response.
      If, in the long run, the only one who gets fit and healthy is you, then so be it. Then most definitely there needs to be a conversation about “What do you think is the cause of the weight gain?” Even then you can’t make them want to discuss it.
      I can’t tell you how many people want to hire me to coach their: child, spouse, friend or parent to change [fill in the blank]. I tell them to give my contact information to that person they are interested in helping. If they call me, they want to change. If they don’t then nothing they say to their loved one will make a change happen. Having someone ‘held captive’ in a coaching session, instigated by a loved one….doesn’t accomplish anything.

  9. I just compliment her whenever she is in her workout clothes, tell her how much I like her when she is sweaty. I just make her feel good about working out.

  10. I think we need to change the rhetoric that we are using. “Weight loss” sucks. It means diet and pointless exercise. If you go into trying to change yourself with that mindset, it’s nonstop negative reinforcement. You’ll fail big time and then you’ll want to hate-eat a bucket of fried chicken. I’ve been there.

    We focus too much on how our body looks and not what our body can do. That’s the better motivation. How much can I lift? How fast can I run? How long can I swim? How many pushups can I do without stopping? When you have a performance-based focus, you quit “exercising” or “dieting.” You’re TRAINING. Richard Simmons takes the stairs and eats lean cuisine and checks the scale every day. Odin the Viking Warrior bench presses cars and runs 10 miles uphill (presumably). He doesn’t even own a scale. Which would you rather be?

    So first — you need to focus on the lifestyle. Not the weight loss, but being active and eating healthy (real food, not stupid diet food either). If you’re having a healthy lifestyle then your partner will invariably have a certain degree of a healthy lifestyle too, and if they don’t, maybe this is a relationship issue and not a weight loss issue.

    Then, focus on performance. Do 5ks together. Build up to longer races. Set personal records. Spot your partner at the gym. Help them become stronger and faster. TRAIN like a warrior! If you’re lifting more weight and running faster, you’ll inevitably lose weight. You don’t even have to bring up the topic of weight loss at all. And frankly, giving some credit to the argument that body image is a variable quality, man or woman, it doesn’t matter how much you weigh if you can run a 7 minute mile and deadlift until the bar bends. You’re in shape.

    (Speaking from a former fat ass authority here. 2 years ago I couldn’t run a mile without being winded. 20 lbs of white-castle-fat and a lot of hours in the gym later I can squat 2x as much as before and I’m looking to set a PR at my second olympic-distance triathlon this Sunday.)

    • Love this. And this is the only way that has ever worked for me. Struggling for months so as to look *less fat*? Wow, how motivating. Working out every day and feeling more energetic instantly, and exponentially better in short amounts of time? Now we’re talking. Google Neghar Fonooni (recommended by Ramit’s personal trainer friends).