Dear Harlan: I’ve been in a relationship for a year with a man I love and could see marrying in the future. I’ve had a lot of personal issues with my family last year and started a new job after a lot of problems at work. The past six months have been the most difficult of my life. When I get stressed I overeat, and sleep, and gain weight. I used to be overweight with very little self-esteem as a teenager. I lost over 60 pounds, but it’s still something that is a part of me. Over the past six months, I’ve put on 20 pounds or more (I haven’t weighed myself lately). I’m a short woman, so there aren’t a lot of places for the weight to go. I’ve noticed that my boyfriend looks at me differently. I know he’d never say anything to me about my weight, but I have this feeling he’s not as attracted to me. He is not as interested in being physical. I’m left with this fear that he is going to leave me. We have talked about weight in the past and both made it clear that being overweight is not attractive. I’m scared he’s going to leave me. I don’t know how to talk about this.
Dear Scared: I don’t see your weight as the problem. It’s why you’ve gained the weight and the function the weight serves. People gain weight all the time. And people stay in love with people who gain weight. Your stress and history with weight is where I’d focus all of your energy. Get some help. Work with a nutritionist and a therapist. The nutritionist can help you adjust your diet. The therapist will help you pinpoint why you are using food to cope with all the stress. It can be depression, anxiety or a long list of other reasons. You might have so little control in your life that gaining weight gives you something you can control. It’s familiar stress you can create and think about to distract you from the uncontrollable stress. It’s strangely comfortable. Avoid catastrophizing. Don’t make this about your boyfriend. Focus on you. Tell him you’ve put on some weight, but you’re getting help to find more balance and get in control of your body. Then tell him how much you love and appreciate him.