Dear Luv Doc,
I love my boyfriend. I am lucky to have him in my life, but in the past few years he has gotten really overweight—so much that I am no longer sexually attracted to him. I know that a big part of the reason is that he isn’t very physically active. He is a programmer and spends almost all of his time at work sitting in front of a monitor. He also doesn’t really do sports. I have bought him several gym memberships, but he never uses them. He always comes up with some excuse. I don’t want to hurt his feelings, but his weight is really getting out of hand. I am not just worried for our relationship but for his health. Should I tell him his body disgusts me? Should I deliver some sort of ultimatum?
—Worried

If it makes you feel any better Worried, you’re in the same position as a lot of women … and men. You started dating one person and now you’re stuck with another. Yes, I know inside he’s the same sweet guy you first met, but on the outside he’s starting to look like Kevin Smith. You’re thinking, “Hold on here! This wasn’t part of the deal! I want that super-svelte (O.K., doughy but somewhat proportionate), good-looking guy! We were supposed to grow old with an average amount of body fat. We were supposed to end up like those leathery blue-haired people in the Cialis commercial who can still fit into separate claw-foot bathtubs on a grassy hillside.”
Surprise! Your Chris Pine turned into Chris Farley. What to do? What to do?

First, you need to start out with an acknowledgement that (at least within the confines of our current legal system) you can’t make your boyfriend lose weight. You can’t, for instance, force him at gunpoint to eat nothing but boiled egg whites and celery and spend two hours a day on an elliptical machine. That—even in a really strong relationship—is illegal. Nor should you shame him into taking action regarding his physique.

Despite all those military movies where the drill sergeant whips new recruits into shape by barking insults at them, people in general don’t respond well to criticism. Instead, they go into defense mode and only further solidify their opposition to change. It’s very likely your boyfriend already feels a certain amount of shame and guilt about his physique. If that hasn’t proved to be motivation enough for him to change, I doubt you piling on will have a positive effect.

Buying a gym membership for your boyfriend is a great idea, but only if he was the genesis of that idea; otherwise any gesture in that regard will only be seen as a subtle form of criticism and the source of further shame and guilt.

At this point I think you should, as compassionately as possible, share your feelings with him about his weight and its affect on your relationship. However, when you do, don’t focus on the negative aspects of his weight gain but rather the potentially positive effects of his weight loss. After all, it is a proven fact that overweight people have more mental and physical health issues. Let him know that you love and care about him and are willing to help in whatever way you can to make sure he makes healthy choices and sets realistic goals. As you probably know, real, meaningful weight loss takes a lot of time and persistence.

As for ultimatums, you’re better off avoiding them altogether. You may need to consider whether your boyfriend’s weight issue is truly a deal killer for your relationship or whether it’s perhaps something you might need to work out psychologically. I know you don’t judge your boyfriend purely on his physicality, but clearly you have issues about his weight. Maybe some of those might be overcome through counseling, or maybe you might discover it’s something you can’t or don’t want to get over. In that case, you already know what you need to do.