You’ve finally committed to eating healthier and getting regular exercise. You’re ready to make a change and it feels great! The only problem – your spouse or partner is not ready to make changes of their own. You can keep moving forward anyway, but that can be a real problem when dinnertime rolls around and the question arises of what to eat.
“If one person in a relationship is ready to make a change it can be difficult for the other and bring up their own insecurities about their health or eating habits,” said Bonnie Buckingham, a registered dietitian with Samaritan Weight Management Institute. “When you announce your new plans, your partner might feel anxious about change or worry about how it might impact the relationship.”
Research published in the International Journal of Obesity reports that the weight of married couples changes in a similar way over time. If you’ve gained a few pounds over the years, chances are your spouse has as well. Fortunately, the study found that when one person starts a weight loss plan, their partner also loses weight even if they aren’t actively trying.
Start With a Discussion
“Start by telling your partner that you are doing this for yourself but make sure you are also listening to his or her concerns,” said Buckingham.When you’re excited to implement your healthy lifestyle, it can be easy to immediately overhaul your pantry or tell your partner about all the changes that are going to happen before they’re fully on board.
Take the time to sit down and have an uninterrupted conversation about why you want to make changes and the benefits you’re hoping for. Ask for help and support. Don’t accuse. Try and listen without judgment.
“It can be helpful to use phrases such as ‘I feel ___’ instead of ‘When you do ___’,” said Buckingham. “Talk about the goals you want to reach, the help you might need and what to expect on a day-to-day basis.”
Listen to your partner’s concerns and anxieties about the process. If you are the primary cook, your partner may be worried that favorite foods are going away forever. If you are not the primary cook, your partner may be worried about how to prepare healthy foods for you. Talk about how you can address these issues in ways that make sense for both of you.
Using the word “diet” can trigger negative images of tiny plates of lettuce and constant hunger. Instead, talk about how you want to learn to cook, suggests Buckingham. Take a cooking class for fun. Or when you make meals at home, try something different like a healthy ethnic dish that’s new to you.
A new study published in the journal Families, Systems & Health from the American Psychological Association found that women who had supportive partners had increased motivation and weight loss.
“It is important not to skimp on the discussion with your partner that gets them on board with your new healthy eating plan,” said Buckingham.
Implement Change Thoughtfully
If you are the primary cook at home, start by adding a vegetable side to each meal or swapping vegetable oil with olive oil. Your partner may not even notice these small changes and it will be good for both of you.
If you are not in charge of cooking, this might mark an exciting time when you get to learn or at least help in the process. Taking a healthy cooking class or using a food subscription program like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh can get you started while you learn how to shop and prepare wholesome foods. Who knows, once your partner sees your commitment they may be inspired to join you.
Visiting the farmers’ market together and planning date nights that don’t involve food can also help encourage healthier living as a couple.
Show Them How to Love You
Your partner may want to support you but be unaware that they are actually undermining your healthy choices.
“I often see clients struggling because their partner brings home fast food as a way of showing love,” said Buckingham.
Instead of getting upset, let them know that you appreciate when they help with dinner and then problem solve together which restaurants offer healthy choices that can be picked up on the way home. If your partner likes to give gifts, offer ways they can show love instead of chocolates or specialty desserts: flowers, a new book or a fishing lure.
It may take some trial and error but keep communicating as you work toward your healthy living goals. It will benefit both of you in the long run.
Learn more about the Mediterranean Diet and healthy food preparation at three seminars this May and June.Attend a free seminar and get counseling and support for your weight loss journey with Samaritan Weight Management Institute.