When I heard the allegations that billionaire Charles Stevenson Jr, 73, had stipulated that his wife was not to gain any more than five pounds in weight during their marriage, I shared the story with horrified friends. But I didn’t tell them why the story made me feel deeply uncomfortable – I am in a relationship with a man who cares more about my waistline than I do.
When I met David [name has been changed] on a dating app in January, our shared love of running was our first common interest. We talked at length about our fitness ambitions for the coming year – I was training for my third half marathon and wanted to lose some weight, and David was looking to enter weightlifting competitions. It was such a great feeling, working towards fitness goals together, as many of my previous partners were committed couch potatoes.
When David suggested we become friends on My Fitness Pal, an app I use to log my daily food intake (I’ve been on various diets since my teens until now, aged 39, so recording it is second nature), I thought it was sweet. Until I woke up for an early morning run in February to discover a text from David with a screenshot of my previous day’s food intake which said: “WOW, that’s enough pizza to feed three people!” underneath. I started at the screen, shocked he’d even noticed.
I was furious, not sure if he was joking. But rather than responding I used the anger to fuel my run, and managed my quickest 5km in months. When I got home, I replied asking whether I’d need his approval on all of my meals going forward. Almost immediately, my phone rang.
“Have I upset you? I am so sorry. You said you wanted to lose weight and I…”
He trailed off and I realised he was attempting to help – albeit in a cack-handed way. I put the nagging feeling that commenting on my diet wasn’t healthy to the back of my mind.
I became mindful of my food intake now I knew someone cared what I ate. I logged weight losses on the app and received such warm congratulations from my boyfriend that you’d think I’d found the cure for cancer. If I did have a hormonal cake binge I expected a cheeky comment like, “I didn’t know cake could be a breakfast food…” but I grew up with four older brothers, so I’m used to a little teasing.
David is a kind and considerate boyfriend in so many ways. When lockdown was announced and I moved in with an elderly relative who was shielding, he sent me a massive care package of pampering products and checked in with me every day. The separation was hard so early into a relationship but thanks to technology, we were able to connect online as often as we wanted.
Writing work disappeared overnight and my new role as carer took a mental toll, so I turned to comfort eating. At first, I logged everything but fearful of a telling off from David, my food diary became a work of fiction. My clothes tightened and my runs dwindled.
As lockdown eased David booked us a romantic getaway to a hotel. He told me to pack my running gear, but I wasn’t fussed about the exercise; I was just desperate to get my hands on my man after months apart. I hoped he would be so happy to see me he wouldn’t notice the extra padding I was carrying.
I didn’t realise how different I looked until I saw David’s reaction. He picked me up and hugged me, then pinched the flab on my once toned arms and said, “that’s new!”. I struggled to hold back tears.
I told David to go easy with the “jokes” because I was emotionally fragile. I felt repulsed by my own body and didn’t need him to reinforce every negative thought I had about myself.
At dinner, I ignored his raised eyebrows as I ordered a hearty meal and dessert. I’ve become so desensitised to his digs that it only stung a little when I asked him about his weightlifting and he replied: “I think the heaviest thing I’ve lifted this year is you when we hugged earlier.”
I’m unsure if David wants to motivate me or is trying to control me. Rather than inspiring me, his insults are making me turn to food as a source of comfort and act of rebellion. On the second day of our trip, I locked myself in the hotel bathroom to binge on a huge bar of chocolate, just so I wouldn’t be judged for it.
When we got intimate during our break, the spark we had pre-lockdown wasn’t there. I was so self-conscious that I had trouble enjoying myself and kept flashing back to David’s reaction to my new body. He used to call me “gorgeous” all the time but since we started meeting up in person in July, he hasn’t said it once.
I know there are aspects of our relationship that aren’t great, but we’ve spent more time apart than together this year – and are still living separately – so it’s difficult to know if the relationship is viable. In August I banned David from making snide comments about my weight and so far he’s stuck to his word, which I’m taking as a positive sign.
If a friend told me their partner was monitoring their every mouthful I’d probably say: “dump them!” but I’m not very good at taking my own advice. I do know that If I lose weight and get back to my previous levels of fitness it will be for me, not because a man has told me to.
‘My ex-boyfriend’s cruel comments led to an eating disorder I still haven’t been able to shake’
When I first met my ex, a competitive bodybuilder and personal trainer, I couldn’t believe my luck. It took me a while to notice the comments that crept in a month after we started dating. Longer still to realise that my food intake had gradually reduced over our 18-month relationship, after he repeatedly commented on what I ate.
A throwaway comment about my on again off again relationship with the gym turned into a bet that I didn’t have the willpower to stick at it. I was a size 10-12, but for six months I’d get up early five times a week to work out. He would text me daily to ask how my weight loss was progressing – often accompanying it with a comment on how few pounds seemed to be dropping off.
Arguments over food revealed a double standard. We’d often argue that although we paid for food 50:50, I rarely got 50 per cent of it. My anaemic tupperware lunch was perpetually overshadowed by his Goliath-sized meals.
The worst part was that the more he tried to restrict my diet, the less healthy I became. At work, away from him, I’d snack on the things I knew I wasn’t allowed at home. My colleagues would laugh at my seemingly endless snack drawer, not realising that I’d be missing breakfast before work, eating a small packed lunch I hadn’t chosen myself and then feeling guilty for mentioning feeling hungry after a minute dinner. I still remember him catching me out once with an empty bag of milky buttons, which caused a screaming row that saw me forced to apologise for ‘letting us both down’.
After 18 months of this I was struggling with full blown disordered eating, something I haven’t entirely been able to shake even though the relationship is, thankfully, long gone. The effects of his control will take some time to recover from.