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Want Your Spouse to Change His Diet? Here's How to Help, Not Hinder

08/10/2014 11:50 EDT | Updated 10/10/2014 05:59 EDT
Joe Raedle via Getty Images
MIAMI - MAY 17: Glazed Krispy Kreme doughnuts are seen May 17, 2004 in Miami, Florida. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts Inc. last week said that the low-carb diet trend has hurt sales and they now face shareholder lawsuits alleging it misled investors about the direction its business was headed. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

When you marry or otherwise become a couple with someone, you take them with all their good and bad habits. Sometimes, one of those habits involves eating a ton of junk and becoming a bit unhealthy. It happens; people get complacent. When you first met, you would make sure you were dressed in something presentable and actually make an effort to cook dinner together. Fast-forward to seven years later, you've worked a 10-hour day, and you're both wearing sweatpants and eating Cheetos for dinner. I don't have to tell you the sort of toll this takes on your body.

A lot of people I know find it difficult to hold their fire when they think their partner needs to make some dietary changes, and this inability to not harass the poor guy actually seems to worsen the situation. No one likes to be nagged -- remember when your mom nagged you to pick up your socks and do the dishes? Right.

But you want to help, so based on real-life situations I've seen at my practice, here are some straightforward tips for all you women and men out there who find themselves in the support role.

Don't nag.

He knows he's got an issue, but he has to be ready in order to make meaningful, lasting change. This readiness is not about you and you're not likely to impact it, so stop trying. You are only going to irritate him and yourself if you continue to push him to do something he's not ready to do. Changing your diet and lifestyle takes time, and it takes motivation and hard work. Back off and give him the time he needs to get where he needs to be. Remember, we want to encourage self-management of the issue, and this means that it's up to him, not you, to manage the situation.

Understand that some things might need to change -- for both of you.

Some things in your life that you enjoy may have to change either temporarily until you figure out a new, healthier way of doing them, or for the long term if the habit isn't good. Weekend brunch may change from going out every week to once a month, or choosing something to cook together at home. Nights spent drinking beers and ordering Chinese food at 2 a.m. will probably need to move to the 'never again' category. But that's good for everybody, right?

When he slips up, don't give him the stinkeye.

He probably feels bad already after eating two pieces of cake, and the truth is, he shouldn't. Everyone makes choices like that every once in a while. Making him feel guilty or criticizing him for his choice is brutal. What are you, a drill sergeant? If it's a once in a while thing, let it go. He'll just start eating junk food in private if he continually gets a negative reaction from you every time he makes an unhealthy choice.

If he's starting to slip on a more frequent basis, sit down with him and ask him how you can support him. And be realistic -- how often do you eat something unhealthy? Are you holding him to a standard that even you couldn't meet?

Don't bring home treats and foods you know he can't eat.

I see this a lot, actually. I don't care if you're not the one with the nutrition issue, if you want Oreos, buy them and eat them out of the house. Bringing unhealthy food into your home under the guise of 'it's for the kids' or, 'I should be able to eat what I want, I'm not the one who wants to lose weight' is lame, especially when deep inside you know that your partner isn't going to be able to resist whatever you're bringing home. Maybe this is about you resisting change in your partner for whatever reason, which is something you should probably explore.

Junk isn't good for anyone, anyways. Why not be supportive to your partner and encourage better eating habits for everyone in the family by limiting the unhealthy food you bring into the house.

Do explore different ways of cooking, eating, and being active together.

Making healthy changes often changing how you cook, schedule meals, and add activity into your life. Think of how your can use this opportunity to implement change for the whole family, and the positive effect that it will have in the long term. Explore new types of fresh, whole food and different ways to cook them. Think of creative, fun ways to be active together. Everyone in the family will share the benefits of healthy living, and you can all support each other on the journey.

Do encourage him and strategize when you know he's going to face a difficult eating situation.

One of the difficult things about making changes to your nutrition is when you have an event to attend where you know there will be rich food, and lots of drinks. This can be a source of concern for people who are trying to integrate healthy eating into their life. Maybe it's a weekend at the cottage, a holiday party, or a potluck. Whatever it is, support your partner by strategizing on how to get through this situation without feeling major anxiety. Maybe bring healthy options to the potluck or party, or pack your workout gear when heading to the cottage to get a little activity in together to offset some of the treats you'll invariably have.

Do figure out which hills to die on. Some things you may never see him change, like his nightly beer, or daily coffee with cream and sugar. Let it go. No one's perfect.

Some things aren't worth stressing about, and this is important to remember. He may never change a particular habit, and as long as it's not doing major damage -- how bad can one coffee with cream and sugar do to a mostly good diet, anyways? Get off his case. He'll thank you for it.

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