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What happens if one person needs to diet and the other one doesn’t? This week, I’ll look at how couples can support each other throughout a lifestyle change.
Do you remember the old nursery rhyme about Jack Sprat who ate no fat, while his wife could eat no lean? As the tale goes, things with Jack and his wife worked out pretty nicely: he ate his foods, she ate hers and between them they “licked the platter clean.” But what happens in real life? How do couples work it out when one person needs to lose weight and the other one doesn’t?
Let’s say you’re the one who’s got to watch your calories. You’re determined, you’ve got a plan and you really need your partner to support you in your efforts. In order to do that, it helps to have a good understanding of how your partner might be affected, and also how to reasonably ask for support.
When one half of a couple decides to diet, it impacts both parties. When you announce that you’re going on a diet, your partner might be thinking, “I didn’t sign up for this!” There are probably a lot of things you do together that revolve around food. So, your partner is certainly going to wonder what’s going to give. What will they have to give up? Meals out? Socializing with friends? After all, it’s not just your life that’s changing—theirs is, too.
When you say you’re going on a diet, it suggests that it’s something you’re ‘on’ for the moment and will probably be ‘off’ later on. Instead, focus on simply making better food choices and getting healthier. Adopting a drastic meal plan isn’t something you’ll be able to sustain, anyway, and you shouldn’t expect your partner to go along for the ride. On the other hand, adopting a healthier diet overall is good for everyone.
Asking for your partner’s support isn’t the same thing as asking them to ‘go on a diet’ with you. You want your partner to respect your efforts and to be willing to do what they can to help. Often times, your partner wants to be helpful but just doesn’t know what to do, so be specific. Planning to go to the gym a few nights a week? Then ask for help with meal preparation or child care. If your partner is going to still keep goodies in the house, ask if they can stash them away—and not offer you ‘just a bite.’
You don’t want to suddenly announce that “Things are gonna change around here.” If you negotiate ahead of time, it will be easier for you to figure out how to meet in the middle. Maybe eating out is problematic for you, but the solution isn’t to tell your partner restaurants are off limits. You might determine which restaurants offer the best choices for you, or ask if your partner would be willing to share an entrée with you.
For one thing, what you eat is your responsibility, and it’s unfair to place the burden on the other person. And if you do cheat, you’re likely to shift the blame to your partner. It’s a bad dynamic, so do your best to avoid it.
Be respectful of your partner’s lifestyle, and think about how they might be affected when you make a request. You might envision your partner going to the gym with you in the evenings, but it’s probably not going to happen if she likes to run outdoors in the mornings.
…just because they might be lucky enough to be able to eat what they want without gaining. And feeling sorry for yourself isn’t productive, either.
You don’t need a heavy, calorie-laden meal to enjoy a night out. For couples, focus instead on how much you enjoy and appreciate the time you’re spending with your partner. The person you’re with is more than just an eating buddy—and you have plenty of other things you can share besides a large pepperoni pizza.
Susan is the Sr. Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife, where she is responsible for the development of nutrition education and training materials, and is one of the primary authors of the Herbalife-sponsored blog, www.discovergoodnutrition.com. She is a Registered Dietitian and holds two Board Certifications from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics, and a Certified Specialist in Obesity and Weight Management. Susan is also a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Susan graduated with distinction in biology from the University of Colorado, and received her master’s degree in Food Science and Nutrition from Colorado State University. She then completed her dietetic internship at the University of Kansas. Susan has taught extensively and developed educational programs targeted to individuals, groups and industry in her areas of expertise, including health promotion, weight management and sports nutrition.
Prior to her role at Herbalife, she was the assistant director of the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition, and has held appointments as adjunct professor in nutrition at Pepperdine University and as lecturer in nutrition in the Department of Food Science and Nutrition at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
Susan was a consultant to the (then) Los Angeles Raiders for six seasons, and was a contributing columnist for the Los Angeles Times Health Section for two years. She is a co-author of 23 research papers, 14 book chapters, and was a co-author of two books for the public: “What Color is Your Diet?” and “The L.A. Shape Diet” by Dr. David Heber, published by Harper Collins in 2001 and 2004, respectively.