Talk about a subject I know very little about.
But has my complete ignorance ever stopped my from blogging about a topic before? Of course not!
As I have a same-sex spouse, I'd been only vaguely aware of the impact that having a boyfriend or husband could have on a woman's efforts to meet her health and fitness goals.
However, I recently got a chance to peruse a book by Jenna Bergen, called: "Your Big Fat Boyfriend: How to Stay Thin When Dating a Diet Disaster." It's a cute little volume, sort of gifty-sized, combining humor with practical tips for how to stick to your own goals while dating a guy with a terrible diet. (And if you click on the link above, it comes complete with a blog.)
How clueless am I? It never occurred to me that heterosexual dating and relationships could pose such a health hazard! Or at least, according to the book, a dieting hazard. But I tend to mentally translate words like "diet" or "weight loss" into my own goals: "eating healthy" and "getting exercise," since they involve similar challenges.
So while I have a few general thoughts, I thought I'd take the issue to the smart readers of Cranky Fitness, many of whom are real live heterosexuals with actual experience in these matters. Are guys a Help or a Hazard when it comes to women's health and fitness goals?
But first, who is Jenna Bergen? Well, she's a fitness fiend and a writer whose articles have appeared in lots of great magazines. Including an article in Women's Health that mentioned Cranky Fitness--so we like Jenna 'round these parts.
She's got lots of practical tips for dealing with the phenomena that many women apparently experience: they fall for guys who are "diet disasters." (Her boyfriend, for example, went blithely through his adult life thinking that number of recommended calories a day was 20,000.) One of the fundamental messages of the book: if you are a woman, "you can't eat like a man and still fit in your pants."
Having any kind of romantic partner, male or female, can be a strong influence on behavior. (I bet there are studies, and I could look 'em up, but really, does anyone dispute this?)
This influence can be quite positive! I went from a cheeseburger-scarfing meat hog to a near-vegetarian in my early twenties, because my girlfriend at the time was a vegetarian. I learned to enjoy tofu and bean sprouts and kefir and all kinds of "exotic" (for back then) food that I never would have even tried if I'd been with someone more like myself.
And, even now, I can't stand not working out if the Lobster is heading off to the gym, even if I'd already given myself the day off. It just doesn't feel right to be slothful while someone else is sweating. So that's good, right?
But, on the negative side, I also find it extremely difficult to pass up an ice cream cone if the Lobster is having one. Suddenly, I feel entitled to that cone, even if ice cream had been the furthest thing from my mind. (Note: this is just an expression! There is never a time when Delicious Food is the furthest thing from my mind. What about quantum physics, or pre-cambrian flying insects, or Scandinavian love poetry? There is always something further from my mind than food.)
Ever fritter away some time people-watching at an airport or a mall, and notice how frequently couples end up roughly the same size? Do people choose partners who look like them, or do they influence each other into gaining or not gaining weight together? A bit of both, I suspect.
However, I do wonder whether the whole boy/girl thing does complicate matters for women.
I can kind of see how it might be a challenge dating or marrying one of those XY types who can eat an entire extra large pizza in one sitting. Or who can, if motivated, can get slim and buffed in a fraction of the time it takes an XX due to the wonders of testosterone. Or who, if not motivated, doesn't really give a damn what he looks like in a bathing suit.
And is it just a stereotype that women are generally more interested in preventive health than men? It sure seems like one gender is more likely to scrutinize food labels and make appointments for checkups than the other.
My own intuitive guess is that I'd have a harder time sticking to my healthy-eating goals if I were with a guy than with a gal. If he could have a double cheeseburger, I'd want one too.
But wait! Here's a curious fact: Compared to straight women, lesbians are more than twice as likely to be obese. So while being with a guy may seem like a challenge to healthy eating, maybe his guyness is not really the issue?
This brings up the question: why do lesbians get fat? This study said for the same reasons straight women do, which wasn't much help.
Personally, I think on average, lesbians care far less about looking like the current cultural and media ideal--ultra feminine and super skinny. (In the age of The L-Word, I know it may be shocking to hear that many of us gay gals are still old-school and have entirely different standards of attractiveness than straight folks do!) But in rejecting these images as irrelevant, many lesbians also lose the powerful weight-loss motivation that comes with appearance-based goals.
So now I'm more confused than ever. It sure seems like being with a guy could present some healthy-eating challenges--what do you folks find? And if you have one of those exotic opposite-sex partners, what accommodations do you make to stay healthy?