I'm an avid distance runner, personal trainer and I've helped couples get in shape together, guiding them through the many obstacles that can occur in physically mismatched relationships.
I was once asked for help by a couple where the woman was an accomplished half-marathon runner and her husband had neglected his body for close to two decades. He was 30 pounds above anything resembling normal weight and 50 pounds heavier than a runner of his age would be.
His wife was light, even for a runner. She was 5 ft 1 inch and 106 lbs. Her husband was 5 ft 10 inches and 225 lbs. She ran at least eight miles, six days a week. Once a year, she attended a one-week running camp in New Mexico along with other competitive runners of all ages. She had detailed control over her food and fluid intake, eating no junk food and drinking no soda. Alcohol was a complete no-no.
The husband, in contrast, loved barbecue, burgers, French fries, relish and dressing, beer, red wine, and liquor. He was also a smoker. The closest he came to physical activity was watching football on Sundays.
On the positive side, he was aware of how big he had become. He wanted to quit smoking and was ready to reduce his alcohol intake because it was making him tired in the evenings, giving him hangovers in the morning, and it was adversely affecting his sex life.
Cutting out the smoking and reducing the alcohol was relatively easy to do because he was motivated to do it. Improving his diet proved more difficult because he loved fast food and hated salad and vegetables. (He also confided in me that he wanted his wife to be 20 or 30 pounds heavier than her race weight, which wasn't going to happen.)
At first, I asked the couple to train together for 30 minutes a day for two weeks. The woman would use these sessions as a cool-down after her runs. The aim was to get the husband to walk at a brisk, but not uncomfortable, pace for 30 minutes, stopping if he needed to catch his breath (the stops were not part of the 30 minutes, which got him used to using a runner's watch).
The man had not realized how unfit he was. He thought he'd be able to walk a mile in 10 minutes or so but was horrified to find out that in the first week he couldn't walk for more than 10 minutes without stopping.
Gradually he improved so that he could not only walk the mile without stopping but he enjoyed doing so. I then got him to jog slowly for as long as was comfortable for him. I told him to recover by walking, not stopping.
Once he had recovered, he would jog again until he had to stop. We worked on this until he was able to jog for a mile, which took him just under 20 minutes the first time he managed it (his jogging pace would be slow walking pace for most runners). To fill his full 30 minutes of daily exercise time, he'd walk.
When he could comfortably run a mile, we extended his running time by five minutes, slowly building up to the point where he could jog for 30 minutes without stopping. The pounds were tumbling off him and he could report definite improvements in his breathing, recovery, stamina, and sexual enjoyment (which his wife seconded).
Over the next few months, he worked with his wife and alone building to the stage where he could run (not jog) for three miles or 5k. He was still pretty slow, not ready for a race. He found the distance a little too long to be enjoyable, but he did it every other day. He had one rest day a week and jogged and walked for a total of 45 minutes each time the other days.
After a year of training, he entered his first 5k race. He stuck faithfully to the strategy I gave him of running comfortably for the first two miles, not worrying about people passing him. He would then pick up the pace in the final 1.1 miles, picking off people as he did so.
He finished in the top 20 of his age group, beating many men half his age. From the look on his face crossing the finish line, you would have thought he'd just won the Boston Marathon.
That's when his serious training kicked in. He switched from being a jogger to a runner. He was still overweight but not obese. He was losing weight rapidly. His chest was no longer bouncy and flabby, and his arms lost pounds of fat. He still had a significant gut but it was nowhere near the ugly barrel of a year ago.
It took him two years to lose 50 lbs. Today, he runs five days a week, reaching a total mileage of 40 miles. He has given up smoking, drinks no liquor or beer, but enjoys a glass of red wine now and again. He can complete a 5k in just under 21 minutes, which is pretty good for a 53 year old.
If he ever feels the urge to take days off or join his buddies for a few beers, he looks at old photos of himself, beer gut hanging over his belt, two wobbly chins, and chest in need of a "man bra". Or he looks at his colleagues who have continued down the path of too much drink and junk food and he tells himself, "Never again". His wife is very happy. "I no longer feel dwarfed by him," she says. "I'm not terrified anymore of being squashed in bed."
Marcia posted this on the My Fat Spouse Forum