Eating healthy when my partner doesn't

Originally Published: December 2, 2011
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Dear Alice,

I am very interested in nutrition and enjoy eating a well-balanced diet because it makes me feel healthier, happier and more energized. I also have a terrible sweet tooth, which I combat by simply not buying junk food when I shop for groceries (although I will indulge on rare occasions). This strategy has worked for me very well — up until now.

I am living with my boyfriend who, despite even his doctor's warnings, has a rather unhealthy diet. In an effort to nudge him in a better direction, I have offered to cook most of our meals at home myself, but with little success. He's a picky eater and often declines the meals I prepare in favor of pizza or Chinese take-out instead. I would just give up and let him clog his arteries, but his unhealthy habits are starting to affect me. When he brings home tacos, or especially bags of candy, I inevitably eat them also. I am a decent cook, but a greasy pizza always tastes better. If I can't change his habits, how do I at least keep him from changing mine?

Sincerely,

Nancy Nutrition

Dear Nancy Nutrition,

Props to you for your commitment to good health! And for your attempts to spread the wisdom to your boyfriend. You're right; trying to change another's habits will generally only frustrate both of you. So, you're trying to do your own thing, but find your attempts to avoid junk food foiled by temptation. What to do?

A good first step may be to clearly communicate your healthy eating goals to your boyfriend. From your question, it's not immediately clear if you've already done this. If you haven't, tell him why eating a healthy and balanced diet is so important to you. Let him know how it makes you feel, but also share with him how much you'd value his support. Have you told him how his eating habits are affecting you? He may not realize how much of an impact he is having on you.

There are a number of ways in which he could support you. Perhaps he could agree to bring home less tempting snacks, or stash them somewhere out of sight as a simple first step in being an ally to you around your health goals. Around a mouthful of pizza, could he perhaps offer verbal encouragement for your healthier eating? Does he "peer pressure" you into eating the way he does? If so, he could agree not to do this. And could he commit to eating one of your delicious home-cooked meals at least once a week?

Some other things you may be able to do while living with someone who doesn't share your same eating goals:

  • Have plenty of healthy snack items on hand to substitute for cookies when you have the cravings.
  • Set up at least one shelf in the pantry and one shelf in the fridge that is only for your healthy food choices.
  • Make sure there are rooms in the house that do not contain unhealthy snacks.
  • When you do decide to indulge, try not to snack directly from the bag or container. If you portion out how much you want to eat, you'll likely consume less.

While you certainly can make healthy choices without your boyfriend being on board, you are more likely to stick to your healthy goals if your boyfriend is making some similar healthy choices, as well. Consider getting his help in small ways at first, and if he's comfortable with it, he can make some larger changes to his lifestyle as well.

For example:

  • Perhaps both of you can exercise together or go for a walk after meals.
  • Try cooking meals together and cleaning up after together; make it a date
  • Perhaps when you decide to indulge in take-out food with him, you could choose healthier options than pizza or Chinese take–out. Avoid fast food altogether if you can.
  • Bring healthy snacks when you go out.
  • If you are out together and you get hungry and you don't have snacks, if he insists on heading to the nearest fast food place, pick a healthier option for yourself and ask him to meet you there with his food.

In a world of tempting and unhealthy food choices, you have managed to establish a healthy diet for yourself. This is quite an achievement! Keep it up. See related Q&A's below for some healthy eating options.

Take care,

Alice