You got your exercise in for the day and are spending your afternoon chopping vegetables and whipping up homemade hummus for the week ahead. You’re feeling pretty pumped about the changes you’re making to your lifestyle.
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Then your partner strolls into the kitchen and declares, “I’m hungry. Let’s order a pizza.”
Things can get tricky when you’re trying to get healthy but your dearly beloved isn’t on the same path — especially if you share a home and a kitchen.
“Because we spend so much time with our partners, their diet and exercise habits can have a profound impact on ours,” says registered dietitian Anna Kippen, MS, RDN, LD. “When our partners are bringing around calorie-rich indulgences, it can be a challenge to choose nutrient-dense foods over these items.”
So how can you stay on track while keeping your relationship free of food fights? It starts with some honesty, boundaries and compromise.
Step one: You do you
Getting your partner on board with your healthy eating mission has obvious advantages: You can keep each other accountable when one of you feels the urge to stress-eat fast food or wants to skip the Saturday hike you planned.
But it’s not necessarily a make-or-break thing.
“While some studies show that couples are far more likely to be successful when changing lifestyle patterns together, other studies show the opposite,” Kippen says. “This may be because one partner is likely to influence the other one if they decide to stop the healthy habits.”
So go ahead and invite your partner to join you in making some changes for the better, but do so without expectations.
“Have an honest talk with your partner where you ask about their health goals and motivations, and why they do or do not feel ready to make changes,” Kippen advises.
Even if you think your partner could stand to benefit from a diet overhaul, if they’re not ready, they’re not ready. And pushing them too hard could create friction between the two of you. “It’s important to factor in who you both are when making this decision,” she says.
Plus, you never know — your new habits might eventually start to rub off on your reluctant partner.
“Ultimately, creating a health environment and forming new positive associations with healthy food will be beneficial to you and your entire family,” Kippen says.
Set those boundaries
Establishing some healthy boundaries can help you stick to your well-laid plans when you’re going it solo.
Maybe you designate a certain area of the house — say, one drawer or a refrigerator in the garage — where your partner can stash the items that are off-limits for you. If cookies and chips are out of sight and out of mind, you may feel less tempted by them.
“Establish a plan that these foods only go into that location and an understanding that you do not know what’s in the drawer or visit it or supply it,” Kippen suggests.
It can also be helpful to establish expectations around grocery shopping and cooking. Will you each be cooking for yourself? Or will your partner have the same meal as you when you’re eating together? Being on the same page about this can help keep conflict at bay.
5 more tips for making it work
- Get your partner involved. Just because your partner isn’t going to adhere to your way of eating doesn’t mean they can’t still be supportive. Explain to your partner what your goals are and discuss next steps, which can help temper their expectations and also help you gauge their support level. “It also allows you the opportunity to ask them for support,” Kippen adds. “They may appreciate the request and be happy to help.”
- Own your own behavior. “While you may not always be able to control your surroundings, you are ultimately in control of what items you choose to eat,” she says. Some people find it easiest to set hard and fast rules for themselves, like having zero sweets whatsoever. Others do well with a “one piece” rule that allows them to have one piece or serving of something they really want. “It’s important to spend time learning about yourself and finding what works for you as an individual,” Kippen says.
- Speak up. Sometimes, your partner may not realize they’re doing things that are affecting you negatively. For example, a well-meaning partner may say, “You’re perfect just the way you are. You don’t need to lose any weight. Let’s go grab ice cream tonight.” You know they mean well, but you also know that going for ice cream isn’t going to help you reach your goals. “Don’t be afraid to communicate to your spouse that their behaviors are impacting you,” Kippen explains. “They may not even realize it, thinking that they are just expressing their love!”
- Find new ways to enjoy your time together. If you and your honey spend most of your time together going out to dinner and watching TV with snacks, that’s not going to be conducive to you reaching your goals. Kippen suggests finding new things you can enjoy together that will take the pressure off the food situation. Maybe that’s going for a bike ride, reading a book together, or doing an art or home improvement project.
- Lead by example. Just as you can be affected by your loved one’s unhealthy habits, Kippen notes that it can also go the other way: “By having healthy items available and choosing to eat them, you may influence your partner to move in the right direction with you.”