The Humanist Dilemma: Can I Ask My Girlfriend to Lose Weight as a Condition to Getting Married?

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Weighty Conditions: I’ve been dating my girlfriend for more than three years. We love each other, and she is very eager to get married. I am ready to marry her, but she is heavy and, as a physician, I’m really concerned about that for health reasons. She has always been overweight, so clearly that hasn’t been an obstacle to me falling in love with her and wanting to spend my life with her, but it drives me crazy that she always wants to eat, stopping at a bakery minutes after a big restaurant meal when she can’t possibly be hungry and buying goodies to take home as well as munch on along the way.

I would like to get engaged with the condition that she must lose a specific, reasonable amount of weight before the wedding. I’m sure she wouldn’t be offended and she’d accept the challenge and do her best, but I’m not certain this is as brilliant an idea as I think it is. Can you provide a second opinion?

—Less to Love


Dear Less,

Oh my, what a proposal! How does this work in terms of fittings for the wedding gown (elastic waist)? What if, the week before the wedding, it’s clear she will not achieve the goal—do you call the whole thing off? Is there a clause in your contract that in the event she achieves the goal for the big day but then reverses the losses immediately afterwards? What if she says no to your weighty conditions—will you withdraw the marriage proposal? Break up?

I really don’t get the whole thing on any level. And I actually know a couple that made a similar deal, which I likewise never understood. The bride was at her lowest adult weight at the wedding and went right back up happily ever after (and they are still married after more than thirty years). She was very glad to accept the challenge if that was what she had to do to put a ring on it, and she was glorious (and almost unrecognizable) as a slender bride—but I found the whole thing very unsettling.

As a doctor, you must be aware of the overwhelming body of research that shows weight loss is extraordinarily difficult to sustain, so don’t expect more than a transient dip. Evidence suggests the culprit may be genetics or other factors that haven’t been identified, not will power or appetite. In addition, losing weight and then gaining it back repeatedly may be more dangerous than simply staying at the original weight, not only in terms of various health risks from extreme dieting, but also because of a tendency to put back more than was lost. So if your girlfriend’s health is truly your concern, I don’t see how you can advocate this plan. If she is doing fine—happy and healthy—at her natural weight, that may be the right weight for her.

A better proposal might be for the two of you to pursue an energetic, enjoyable sport or work out together regularly, or give her a gift of a gym/spa package—but for all I know, she may already be physically active. Another alternative would be to encourage her to indulge in some therapy to explore why she eats when it seems she can’t possibly be hungry, at least for food. But first please carefully consider why you want to turn your beloved zaftig girlfriend into a thinner bride and perhaps also a thinner wife (your proposal doesn’t cover long-term requirements, at least in your letter). You assert that you love her as she is, but then you come up with a proposition that shouts that you don’t. Perhaps you are not as OK with her weight as you claim.

The more I think about it, the more I think you should abandon any pretext to slim her down. If you love her as she is, focus on literally and figuratively embracing her as she is, not on manipulating her to a target weight by a target date.