A scene in the fantastic film Enough Said made meÂ laugh out loud and cringeÂ simultaneously. Julia Louis-Dreyfusâ€™ character tells James Gandolfiniâ€™s character sheâ€™s going to buy him a calorie book, and he flatly responds, â€œPlease donâ€™t.â€ Iâ€™ve witnessed many couples engage in this kind of exchange, and itâ€™s never pretty. It’s also not at all helpful. Becoming a food cop typically wonâ€™t help your partner lose weight, and it may even trigger them to eat more.
When I first met my hubby, he ate most of his veggies fried, drank soda like it was water, and weighed about 50 pounds more than he does now. Because I was already in private practice as a nutritionist, I knew that the best way to help him be healthier was not to bribe, trick, beg, or bully him into changing. But not everyone is in my line of work. So I’ll help you out: Whether youâ€™ve just started a relationship with someone who has unhealthy habits or your long-term partner has packed on a few pounds, these five phrases should never cross your lips. I’ll tell you why, as well as what to say (and do) instead, to help your significant other get healthyâ€”without wrecking your relationship.
â€œYouâ€™ve put on weight.â€
Even if it doesnâ€™t seem like it, I guarantee that your partner is aware that they’ve gained weight. Over the years, Iâ€™ve had many clients tell me that they knowingly wore too-tight clothes (or bought bigger ones), without ever broaching the subject with their spouses, because they just werenâ€™t ready to face the issue. Also, the weight gain may not really be about food. Barring a health issue, like a thyroid problem, an increase in size is often a side effect of emotional eating. So if your partner has put on weight, they may be turning to food to cope with something else thatâ€™s going on. Rather than bringing up the weight, just ask, â€œAre you OK?â€ Many of my clients stopped using food as a crutch once they started to communicate openly with their partners and and got the emotional support they needed, but werenâ€™t able to ask for.
â€œYou shouldnâ€™t be eating that.â€
Even if your mate really didnâ€™t know that chocolate covered pretzels arenâ€™t exactly the healthiest snack, pointing it out implies judgment, which feels awful coming from a romantic partner. Iâ€™ve counseled couples who stopped having sex, then stopped talking to each other, because one began patrolling the otherâ€™s diet, which led to hurt feelings, anger, and resentment. The best way to help is not to point out what your partner is doing wrong, but instead consistently and casually offer healthy options in a non-judgmental fashion. When my hubby and I met, there were many healthy foods heâ€™d never tried, like hummus and roasted Brussels sprouts. But when he liked the items I offered, he began eating them regularly, without me having to push. Even just making healthy foods accessible can help a lot, like placing a fruit bowl on the counter top, or putting ready-to-eat fruits and veggies in clear containers on the top shelf of the fridge.
â€œHavenâ€™t you had enough?â€
Sometimes a client will tell me that theyâ€™ve asked their spouse to help them lose weight by stopping them when theyâ€™re overeating. Other spouses volunteer for that position without being asked. In either case, this tactic typically backfires. Monitoring portions tends to lead to the same anger tied to policing â€œbadâ€ foods, and can often lead to secret binges or purposefully overeating when the bullying partner isnâ€™t around. So even if your partner asks, donâ€™t agree to take on this role. Instead, try practical ways to curb portions, like using smaller plates, breaking up leftovers into single, smaller servings, and reducing portions of starchy foods like whole grain pasta and rice and displacing them with more veggies. These strategies tend to lead to naturally eating less. You can also become the pacesetter when you eat together. Without saying a word, consciously eat more slowly. We tend to mimic the pace of the people we eat with, so if you slow down, chances are your partner will, too, and studies suggest that eating slower can help curb mindless overeating.
â€œItâ€™s easy, all you have to do isâ€¦â€
While some people can manage their weight pretty effortlessly, it’s a real struggle for others. The truth is, weight control is a lot more complicated than calories in, calories out, or eat less, move more. Plus, what works for one person may not work for another. For example, some of my clients love tools that help them track what theyâ€™re eating, while others loathe them. Some do better with repetition, others need variety. And some can treat themselves without triggering a binge, while others canâ€™t. Rather than trying to school your partner in what works for you, try to examine what works for them. You might even ask, â€œIs there anything I can do to support you?â€ When you start to see things through your partnerâ€™s eyes, you may find that the view is very different.
â€œIâ€™m just trying to help.â€
In my experience, food cops really arenâ€™t trying to be bullies. In most cases, policing does come from a caring place. But regardless of your intentions, itâ€™s important to see how your words and actions make your partner feel. At some point in your life, youâ€™ve probably had a teacher, coach, caregiver, or boss who constantly looked over your shoulder. Even if it’s well-intentioned, this kind of scrutiny just doesnâ€™t feel good, especially when weâ€™re adults. So rather than trying to justify being a food cop, learn to let go. Make peace with the fact that your significant other is responsible for their own behavior and that there’s nothing you can do to make them change, even if you think it will save their life. Instead, start directing your energy toward being a healthy role model, and trying out my suggestions above. Your partner is much more likely to respond, and youâ€™ll immediately unburden yourself and your relationship.
Cynthia SassÂ is a registered dietitian with masterâ€™s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen onÂ national TV, sheâ€™s Healthâ€™s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counselsÂ clientsÂ in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller isÂ S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia onÂ Facebook,Â TwitterÂ andÂ Pinterest.