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Diet Detective: 11 marriage and healthy-eating problems, and how to fix them

10/14/2013 12:00 AM

10/14/2013 8:48 AM

You just got married — what should you expect from your partner in terms of food? Well, food is one of the most important aspects of one’s life, right up there with shelter and water.

And when you take a vow to marry someone, not only are the two of you going to live together, you’ll also be eating together much of the time for the rest of your life.

The reality is that marriage alters much of our lives, including when, how much and what we eat. I’ve come up with some of the common issues and problems that can typically occur when you get married — and some thoughts about the best ways to fix them.

1. Gene envy

Problem: My partner/spouse eats “anything” and “everything” simply because he or she is thin.

Fix: Being thin doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re eating healthy. Don’t envy your partner if he or she is thin but has an unhealthy diet. Being thin doesn’t make you a role model; it just means you’ve been blessed with good genetics. It’s important not to be caught off guard by a partner who can eat anything.

Try taking the food lead — meaning you do the shopping and cooking. “If it can’t be healthy, make it healthier. If there is an unhealthy dish that one spouse really enjoys but is not congruent with the other spouse’s dietary preferences, find ways of making the meal healthier. Replace saturated fats with healthier oils like olive or canola, mix in pureed vegetables, or use lower-fat dairy products,” says Lauren Dinour, assistant professor of nutrition at Montclair State University.

2. The waiting game

Problem: You sit around watching TV, talking on the phone or doing work while waiting for your spouse to get home for dinner. You’re hungry, and you nibble while you wait.

Fix: Eat a real meal when you get home and you’re hungry, but save part of it to eat when your partner gets home. Also, try to use that time to do something other than eating. Perhaps go to the gym, take a walk, call friends and family, but don’t sit and eat.

3. Food and love

Problem: Your partner brings you “seductive” food gifts.

Fix: Try telling him or her that you will not accept any food gifts, and also create a list of gifts that are not food-related, such as a massage, a music gift certificate, flowers, or theater or movie tickets. Also, lead by example and get your partner one of these non-food gifts. Or, if he or she insists on buying food gifts, ask for a fruit basket.

4. Unhealthy foods invading

Problem: Your partner is constantly bringing unhealthy foods home.

Fix: You need to keep all unhealthy foods out of the house. But don’t wait until your partner brings the unhealthy food home to say something — that will only create a problem.

5. Visiting relatives

Problem: Does visiting either set of parents throw you off your eating behavior?

Fix: Prepare in advance and try to eat before you go. Also, learn resistance skills — practice saying “No, thank you.” Call your parents or in-laws in advance and explain that you’re trying to eat healthier and you would like to bring some of your own foods.

6. Afraid of change

Problem: You’re worried about how your partner will react to your healthy behaviors.

Fix: Communicate. “Learning about your spouse’s food likes and dislikes, the reasons behind certain food behaviors (such as avoiding animal products or following a gluten-free diet), and a willingness to try new foods are the first steps toward understanding your partner’s food habits and potential areas for compromise,” says Dinour.

Try having a reasonable, rational discussion about why it’s critical for you to eat healthy. Explain that your partner doesn’t have to modify his or her way of life, but should at least support your objective.

7. Healthy-eating sabotage

Problem: One of the most common challenges to weight control in marriage is sabotage. This occurs when one of the pair is threatened by the healthy-eating efforts of the other.

Fix: It’s easy for one partner to feel threatened by the other’s decision to eat healthier. Many of our major activities involve food — romantic dinners, popcorn at the movies, socializing at restaurants — so a partner can feel threatened and fear that family fun will be thwarted. This builds a lot of resentment, making it an emotional issue.

Again, you need to speak up before it gets out of control. Make certain to address your partner’s concerns about your healthy eating and be sure it’s clear that this will be better for the relationship. For instance, you will be less tired, feel sexier, be less cranky and be more willing to be social (obviously these objectives will vary depending on what is important to your spouse).

8. Dauting diet goals

Problem: You don’t feel comfortable losing weight on your own and need support from your entire family.

Fix: Take control of the food in your home at the very least. If you’re not a great cook, try taking healthy-cooking classes. You don’t necessarily have to make an announcement to your family that everyone is now on a diet.

Try making it fun, cooking low-calorie meals, shopping for tasty low-calorie foods and taking long, romantic walks for physical activity. Healthy living can be contagious. If you have a competitive relationship, try challenging each other — maybe competing to see who can adopt the healthiest behaviors (not just weight loss).

9. Uninterested party

Problem: You try to get your partner to eat healthier, but he or she is just not interested.

Fix: Create food projects you can do together. “Make a date of food purchasing, preparation and consumption. By participating in these activities together, each spouse can have a say in what foods are available in the home and served on the table,” says Dinour.

Also, try to look at what is influencing your “foodwork.” For instance, does one partner enjoy cooking more than the other? Are there extensive job responsibilities that make it difficult for one partner to contribute to committing to healthier choices? Once you know the answers to these questions, you can divide up responsibilities and plan accordingly.

10. Shared meals

Problem: Your partner wants the two of you to eat together but not eat healthy.

Fix: Food individualism can be the answer. You don’t always have to eat the same foods as your partner, meal after meal. Try to cook separately. For instance, you could both have chicken, one grilled and the other fried. When getting takeout, there is no rule that says you have to order from the same place. And finally, when it comes to dining out, you could take turns choosing the restaurant.

11. If all else fails

Problem: Your spouse/partner will not participate in healthy eating behaviors and consistently tries to thwart your efforts.

Fix: If your spouse is a “poor eater” and won’t exercise, be prepared. Think about your meals in advance; prepare for social occasions such as eating at parties or restaurants.

Come up with strategies to help you stay in control — like keeping low-calorie fudge pops in the freezer for when your spouse is enjoying bowl after bowl of ice cream.

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