My Boyfriend Is In Amazing Shape — Here's Why That's Hard For Me

Photographed by Natalia Mantini.
My boyfriend is currently following the training program that they recommend Navy Seal hopefuls complete before admission. He is definitely not trying to become a Navy Seal — yet he runs, swims, lifts, hops, skips, and jumps according to this program. We have very conflicting definitions of the word “fun.”

While my boyfriend attains a level of strength typically only reached by those pursuing armed-forces careers, I’ve gone down a different physical path. The transition from college into the working world was harder on my body than I expected it to be. Growing up, I was a competitive athlete, and in college, I made time to maintain my exercise regimen. But graduating meant losing my free access to the gym, and my motivation to exercise has been spiraling downward since.

The working world took a toll, too; I grew stressed from my job search and stopped prioritizing running. Once I landed a full-time job, I didn’t like it very much, and my solution to the entry-level plight was dipping Milanos in Nutella (or anything in Nutella, really). It’s been nearly three years since I graduated college, and my conditioning has continued to slip because of my apparent inability to juggle a full-time job, a life where I remember to do my taxes, and working out.

My transition couldn’t have been more different from that of my boyfriend, who started graduate school and quickly made sure his eating habits were as organized as his homework routine. Every morning before 8 a.m., he makes a protein shake: a concoction that consists of banana, protein powder, almond milk, kale, berries, and peanut butter. I’ve tried to stomach the sludgy smoothies, but they never seem as appetizing as Eggo waffles, which are delicious and have the added bonus of not requiring post-breakfast blender cleanup. It's not that I can't get behind smoothies, but I much prefer that they include frozen yogurt or closely resemble a mango slushie.

Our exercise and eating habits did not always diverge this sharply. When we previously dated, about five years ago, our roles were completely reversed. He was about 35 pounds heavier than he is now, and his collegiate diet revolved around wings, beer, and Wendy's spicy chicken nuggets. At the time, I didn't drink very much, and my fervor for buffalo sauce had yet to kick in. So I was the one who worked out, ate healthily, and exercised portion control. And he was the one who was ordering massive amounts of fried food at 2 a.m.

As much as I hate to admit it, maybe I liked being the "healthier one." It wasn’t because I felt superior or wanted to be the better-looking one. I just preferred feeling like my physical shape was desirable, instead of like it was slipping. It makes me feel behind in our relationship when my boyfriend is improving his body — partially for my benefit — and I’m doing nothing of the sort. I have never needed help staying in shape, and I used to relish encouraging him to work out. It’s hard not to resent the fact that it’s now him doing that for me. To go from encouraging him to go easy on the wings and beer to asking him to help me change my habits hasn’t been an easy transition. It hasn’t been smooth sailing for my confidence, either. I haven't gained a noticeable amount of weight, but my once-toned stomach and calf muscles are gone, and my clothes fit tighter than they used to. I will never feel like I need to hide my body from my boyfriend, but at the same time, I don’t always feel proud to expose it, and that upsets me.

As much as I hate to admit it, maybe I liked being the 'healthier one.'

Then there’s the self-imposed but somewhat unavoidable guilt. When your significant other is in better shape than you are, you notice the eating and exercise disparity in the smallest moments. The healthier alternative that I could’ve picked but decided against is always sitting right across from me; the lean protein and salad on his plate when I order fish and chips, or the guy getting out of bed to go for a run as I choose to roll over and go back to sleep because it’s Saturday and I would really prefer to not move. It’s not that I begrudge the person who chooses granola over eggs benedict, but it isn’t fun to dive into hollandaise and home fries across the table from fresh fruit.

I’ve sort of adopted a “if you can’t fight it, join it” attitude to my boyfriend’s healthy habits, but on my own terms. Because honestly, I don’t think it matters that my boyfriend has a six-pack and I don’t. I don’t need to be Fitness Barbie to my boyfriend’s Navy Seal-in-training, and he would never expect me to be. There should never be pressure in a relationship for one person to lose weight or exercise more. However, I’ve mentioned to my boyfriend that I wish I worked out more and had the discipline to eat better. I asked for his help, but stressed that what I needed was gentle encouragement — not a significant other who demands I run four times a week.

And it’s working. With my boyfriend’s support, I’ve tried to start running one mile as many times a week as I can. It isn’t as much as he runs (or as much as I used to run), but it’s something to get me back into the habit of exercising. Look: Just because your S.O. is in better physical shape than you are doesn’t mean your intentions or habits have to change. You need to set your own attainable goals and realize they have nothing to do with the goals of your partner — and they don’t have to be equivalent. It's the same with eating; I honestly think that being as health-conscious as my boyfriend would not be much fun. That said, I’m proud to report I’ve learned to make a few salads that don’t suck. And, Navy Seal lifestyle be damned, my boyfriend will still — occasionally — reach for a buffalo wing. Thank goodness for that.

It's your body. It's your summer. Enjoy them both. Check out more #TakeBackTheBeach here.

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