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In Thickness And In Health

Last year, I married my girlfriend of many years. She's my soul mate, but she gained a lot of weight this year. I'm extremely active, and believe it's essential to stay healthy. I always thought my wife believed that too, yet she now eats terribly and doesn't exercise. I've tried to get her to bike, ski, or come to the gym, but she shows little interest. I've even gone on diets with her, without success. Yesterday, she said she had Subway for lunch, but I found wrappers and a dated receipt in her car from McDonald's instead. Maybe she thinks how she looks doesn't matter anymore. If she continues to get fatter, will I still want to have sex with her? No...though I will since we're married. I'm at a loss. Am I being unreasonable?

--Weighted Down

People getting married never ask what they really need to know: "You aren't planning on dealing drugs out of the garage, going on a toenail clipping strike, or porking out immediately after we tie the knot...are you?" What are you supposed to do to protect yourself, staple a 25-page rider to your wedding vows? "I pledge to love, honor, cherish, and...article 226, section B, not take my coffee breaks armed with a box of chocolate cake and a shovel."

What you're left with is a wife who's forgotten that she's supposed to be living for two, not eating for two; a soul mate fast becoming a soul team. As much as you want to want her, you simply have no control over what turns you on. So, after unsuccessfully dangling bikes and ski trips before her eyes, you've degenerated into a sort of junk-food Sherlock Holmes, sniffing for Twinkie breath and combing her car for evidence of unapproved saturated fat. If only you could meet this straight on, like you would if this were about illicit love instead of illicit lunch.

The truth is, if she keeps bulking up, you might feel compelled to "thin the herd." But, telling a woman she's fat -- "Cottage cheese belongs on a plate, with a slice of peach, not on your thighs!" -- breeds resentment, not diets. Even if she does drop some poundage, she's sure to retain saddlebags of contempt. Be ready for accusations that you're no longer attracted to her, given the current size of her hull. Deny, deny, deny! You hate bony women! The last thing you want is for her to waste away until she looks like some swizzle stick in shoes!

Make it clear that it's what's in her heart that counts -- or, rather, what could be: blockage from a bad diet if she keeps up the fast-food crawls. Sit her down and tell her you're terrified of losing her to diabetes or heart disease. Talk to her to see if she's depressed and using food as a psychological muumuu. Make her promise to get checked out by an M.D. and a shrink. Keep suggesting activities; maybe salsa dancing, which sounds more like fun than exercise. As a form of daily guilt-i-vation, lay it on thick about loving her and wanting her to stick around; for example, "If you cared about me, you'd pry that cruller out of your jaws and join me for a walk!"

Ironically, according to Diets Don't Work by Bob Schwartz, it might be dieting that's largely responsible for making your wife fat. "Diets do work -- in reverse!" Schwartz writes, crushing your metabolism as you alternately starve yourself and Hoover up huge portions of food. Neurophysiologist Will Clower, Ph.D., who compares our way of eating to that of the French in his book "The Fat Fallacy," says it's our "our ballistic avoidance of fats" that keeps us running for the refrigerator.

The Fat Fallacy isn't so much a diet book as a clinically based explanation of why I can go to Paris for a month, bury my head in plates of brie and cream sauce, then, upon my return, drive directly from the airport to the tailor to get all my clothes taken in. In a nutshell, it's small portions, unprocessed food, enough fat to feel full, little snacking, plenty of exercise, and none of our "fat-free" food that's really food-free food. Yet, despite American diet dogma that fat'll get you in the end, studies show that the French, even with all their cheeses, sauces, and smoking, are three times less likely to keel over from a heart attack than us Americans.

Get these books, which make pretty good airplane reading, and kick-start your wife's metabolism by spending 10 days running around Paris with her. This might be the perfect time to do the old renewing of the vows, reminding both of you that it's "till death do us part," not "till she gets so huge that you can't get your arms around her."


Copyright ©2004, Amy Alkon, from her syndicated column, "The Advice Goddess," which appears in over 100 papers across the U.S. and Canada. All rights reserved.