Mike had lived most of his life overweight. But when he turned 20, he started working out four days a week and eating healthier. Within two years, he had shed more than 80 pounds and gained muscle and confidence. To his surprise, though, when he tried to start dating again, very little changed. He got more matches on dating apps, but things were harder than ever IRL. “When I was overweight and a girl was nice or flirted with me, I was sure that she was interested in who I am. Now I’m unsure about their intentions,” Mike, now 23, tells me.
As unexpected as it may seem, Mike’s experience isn’t an outlier, and for many guys like him, the heightened expectations can be a letdown. “They may struggle with the newfound attention in the changes in their body, which can further aggravate their physical insecurities,” therapist Sam Nabil explains. As the CEO and lead therapist of Naya Clinics, he frequently sees single men who have lost weight struggle to form new relationships. “It’s possible to develop feelings of fear in meeting other people and disgust at the thought of having sex and exposing your body,” he says.
These fears aren’t always as obvious as stretch marks and loose skin either; there are “consequential psychological changes” that come with significant weight loss, Nabil warns. In fact, many mental health professionals recommend waiting a full year to get back out in the dating world afterward, similar to the wait period when someone gets sober.
When I posted about how weight loss affects dating in the subreddit r/AskMen, many of the responses echoed Nabil’s. Men had transformed their bodies, but they found that it only improved their love lives in shallow, meaningless ways (if at all). Some of them were able to get laid more and had increased stamina when they did, but for the most part, their dicks didn’t magically grow — as promised — and romcom-esque meet-cutes were few and far between. “I missed a lot of opportunities because I genuinely couldn’t believe anyone could be attracted to me for a long time,” AtomicMonkeyTheFirst wrote.
If anything, most of the respondents arrived at a similar conclusion — that the fitness of your interior is just as important as the kind of shape your exterior is in, and that dating would be difficult until you, as Cowabunga97 suggested, worked “on yourself personally and intellectually.” “It’s like skipping leg day for many years, one day you will regret it,” he warned.
“I realized that looking good makes it easier to start a relationship with a girl, but it depends on your skills, intellect, charisma and attitude if you can hold it and make something great out of it,” Mike adds.
Unlike women, men don’t tend to anticipate increased objectification after they lose weight, a fact that can be made more difficult by the stereotype that women are forgiving about male bodies, when research shows they’re just as critical about excess weight as men. Case in point: The results of one study revealed that both men and women reported finding potential mates less attractive after finding out they used to be 75 pounds heavier, regardless of the weight loss method, and women were particularly judgmental of men who underwent bariatric surgery.
As such, Nabil recommends cognitive behavioral therapy for anyone going through this kind of physical transformation. If therapy isn’t an option, he suggests seeking support from family and friends, rather than strangers on dating apps, which is exactly what Mike has since done.
“I’m doing great now, not because I can have more dates, but because I have a job that I love and the right people who always supported me, even in my bad times,” he tells me. Which is why he once again reiterates the importance of balancing weight loss and physical activity with “things like school and career.”
After all, in Mike’s case at least, the most transformative thing wasn’t a stronger body, it was a stronger mind.