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.
What you do affects the other person, too
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.
Seven tips for getting the support you want:
Couple support tip 1 – Don’t think of what you’re doing as ‘a diet’
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 too-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.
Couple support tip 2 - Learn how to ask for support
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’.
Couple support tip 3 - Talk it over ahead of time
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.
Couple support tip 4 - Don’t ask your partner to police you or to berate you if you cheat
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.
Couple support tip 5 - Be reasonable in your requests
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.
Couple support tip 6 - Don’t get angry and frustrated with the other person…
…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.
Couple support tip 7 - Take the focus off the food
You don’t need a heavy, calorie-laden meal to enjoy a night out. 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.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.