How do you deal when you and your spouse or significant other have different eating habits? I get this question a lot, especially from people living with people who don’t eat “healthy” according to their standards. Indeed, the decisions of your closest inner circle can considerably influence your eating behaviors.
We eat differently when we live with others compared with when we live alone. When I was single (and childless), for instance, there were NO snack foods, sweets or processed foods in my home. Today, there’s always a stash of crackers, chocolate and even ramen in the cupboard. This could easily create conflict if, say, I followed a low-carb diet. In my case, it doesn’t. I even enjoy that ramen from time to time – with veggies of course.
If you’re reading this, you might have a significant other whose eating habits are different than yours. So how do you deal? How do you eat healthy if your significant other doesn’t? Do you compromise, or do you lay down the law?
While I don’t profess to have all the answers, having worked with many couples and families as a healthy living coach, I know it’s totally possible to live and thrive together despite your different eating habits. I’ll tell you just like I’ve told my clients – accept your differences and let it be. Rather than telling your significant other what or what not to eat, just do you.
People have to make decisions about their own lives. Even with the best intentions, you can’t change the way someone else behaves. The trick is to lead by example and give them a reason to want to follow your lead. Here are some tips for doing that and for generally dealing with a significant other who doesn’t eat the way you eat.
Lead and Let It Be
With my plant-based style of cooking and eating, many people ask if my husband (and sons) eat what I eat. The general answer is yes, though they sometimes go astray – and that’s okay. I believe eating is a personal experience for which there should be no rules. I also believe eating should be an enjoyable process. Who am I to judge someone else’s eating choices? Best believe that telling someone what to do is a sure recipe for them not doing it. So just let it be.
My goal is to make healthy eating a pleasurable experience for myself and my family. The foods I prepare are full of flavor, color and variety. Knowing I can’t coerce my husband and sons into eating everything I eat, I simply meet them where they are. While I emphasize the importance of eating certain foods, I always expose them to a lot of different options. Over time, they’ve tried many different plant-based foods – and they love many of them. That’s leading.
Invite Active Participation
One of the best ways to reach a point of compromise with your significant other is to welcome their participation in the process of meal planning and meal prep. This can include anything from choosing recipes and picking out produce, to washing, peeling and/or chopping things up. When people participate in the process, they’ll want to see it through – that means taste-testing the finished product! Participation from both parties also promotes bonding.
Even if you follow a vegan diet and your significant other is a meat-lover through and through, there’s always room for compromise. For instance, you might eat the same side dishes but make your proteins separately. What’s most important is that you’re respecting each other’s different eating habits and styles, and both actively participating in the process. This way you won’t feel as though you’re doing the lion’s share of all the planning and prepping.
I’ve been in the health, nutrition and fitness field for over 20 years. I’m a walking textbook when it comes to healthy eating and living. In the 15 years my husband and I have been married, I’ve never lectured him on how to eat or live. I’ve never shunned his choices. Instead of focusing on his behaviors, I’ve simply concentrated on my own. Over the years, we’ve learned to embrace each other’s differences.
My husband loves ice cream and chocolate. I’m not a sweet eater. I love all types of foods, including vegan proteins like tofu and tempeh. No matter how good I prep them, he just won’t eat them. The beautiful thing is that by embracing our differences and avoiding judgement, we’ve found common ground. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to healthy eating, but there are certain key fundamentals that you can apply regardless of your goals, diet and eating style.
Turns out, we both love salads. So, I treat salad-making like a salad bar. Twice a week, I prep a whole lot of ingredients, store them in the fridge, and over the course of the week we make our own salads. What’s most important is that we’re both regularly eating plant-based foods – even if one of us occasionally enjoys sweets in between. Do you get it?