Navigating love, life, and relationships

Tough Love

Tough Love: I’m Married to a Serial Dieter

Outside's love guide is here—and answering your most pressing questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Today we discuss the marital pains of canned sardines, camp-friendly alternatives to engagement rings, and dating in a van.

Love is like a box of chocolates...or tomatoes. (Leah Woodruff)

Outside's love guide is here—and answering your most pressing questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Today we discuss the marital pains of canned sardines, camp-friendly alternatives to engagement rings, and dating in a van.

Welcome to Tough Love. Every other week, we’re answering your questions about dating, breakups, and everything in between. Our advice giver is Blair Braverman, dogsled racer and author of Welcome to the Goddamn Ice Cube. Have a question of your own? Write to us at toughlove@outsidemag.com.

Q: I love my husband, and we’ve built a great relationship on our obsessions with biking and climbing, but he’s become a serial performance dieter. In the past that meant counting calories, going gluten-free, going vegan, cutting out sugar for a month—all with accompanying mood swings, annoying dinner-party requests, and me having to cook like a single person because I certainly don’t want to share his meals. For the past few months, he’s stuck to a ketogenic diet, and I feel like it embodies everything I hate about diets: The weird oil in the coffee! The sardines! The bastardized low-carb versions of perfectly good pizzas! I’ve talked to him about this before—I want him to be happy, and he clearly thinks experimenting with this stuff will make him faster and stronger. But so much of it seems like fad chasing. And I want to share a meal with him every once in a while, dammit! Am I overreacting?

—In Sickness and in Health Fads

Of course you want to share meals with your husband, and of course you should. But sharing a meal doesn’t mean eating the exact same dishes in exactly the same amounts. The thing about restrictive diets (well, most of them) is that food, after all, is still food. And rules feel far less oppressive once you get over the shock of all that you can’t eat and concentrate on the things you can. With a ketogenic diet, you and your husband can both eat grilled salmon and a salad, and you can add a baked potato on the side. If he’s vegan at the moment, you can make a veggie stir-fry and each add your protein of choice. Think of your plates as a Venn diagram and focus on the overlap. 

You should also sit down and talk to your husband about what his goals are—in part so that when he cracks open yet another can of sardines, you can take a deep breath (through your mouth) and remind yourself of what he's trying to achieve. You say he wants to become “stronger and faster,” but those words, like “healthy,” are abstract to the point of near meaninglessness; they’re the kind of shorthand used to end a conversation, not open one up. The real question is: Why? It may be that, as he’s getting older, he’s fighting to keep the fitness level that he once maintained more easily. Are there other stresses in his life that dieting might give him a feeling of control over? Does he have health issues—pain, inflammation, fatigue—that he’s hoping to soothe? What does he want to gain by being faster and stronger? What is he afraid of losing?

Committing to a long-term partner means supporting them as they tend to their health, something that requires a certain degree of experimentation, whether that means finding the right doctor, hitting upon the right diet, whatever. But you can help your husband be aware of the stress and impatience and chemical changes that come with that experimentation—how it affects his emotions and, in turn, your relationship. A lot of this comes down to basic boundary issues: if he wants to go to that dinner party, it’s his job to call the host and make requests. It’s your job to let go of the idea that his dietary choices reflect on you.

Eat together, hon. Sit down and have a long dinner. Don’t worry about the food.


Q: I am a woman, and I want to propose to my male partner of six-plus years. We’ve discussed getting married and our future together, and we’re both ready. But I can’t imagine getting him an engagement ring, plus I don’t know how I would inconspicuously measure his finger. So I am thinking about commissioning a friend to make him a custom camping knife in place of a ring. Is this a good idea? Any suggestions for size specifications or special features?

—(An Everyday Carry) to Have and to Hold 

Mazel tov! That’s so exciting, and the knife is a great idea. I’m partial to Sami-style knives from northern Scandinavia. (Fixed blade, carved antler sheath, hand-forged carbon-steel blade? Be still my heart.) When I was a teenager in Norway, the cool thing was to have as big a knife as possible, but then I got one for my husband and he said that huge blades suggest bravado and insecurity. So in my highly technical opinion, you can’t go wrong with medium-sized. If it was for me, though, I’d want a big one. Bravado, shbravado.

One thing to keep in mind, though: after he says yes, and you spend the next few days in a state of thrilled and astonished bliss (seriously, clear your calendar—nothing else is half as important), you should have a talk about rings. Because engagement and wedding rings are not actually jewelry. They’re social signifiers with a ton of assumptions and codes tied up around them, and they’re also physical reminders of your commitment. Maybe you’ll decide that neither of you wants one, but you’ve got to work that out together. Maybe you want one but your guy doesn’t. Or maybe he always imagined that his fiancée would wear one, but it creeps you out to be the only partner with an embodied symbol of commitment. Or maybe you want to defy convention and leave your hands bare. (The better for camping, right?) Or maybe the two of you will come up with something specific that is more meaningful to you. To ring or not to ring isn’t necessarily a hard decision, but it should be an intentional one—and it’s a chance to learn more about each other’s feelings with regard to tradition as you move toward happily ever after.


Q: I started dating someone who lives in a van. At what point do I go in the van?

When you want to be within two feet of the bed. 

Your turn—ask away at toughlove@outsidemag.com.

Filed To: Dating / Relationships / Culture
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