Help! Is My Partner Making Me Fat?

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You and your partner are compatible in so many ways: you have great conversations, enjoy the same activities, and hold the same political beliefs but there’s one kind of compatibility you never considered and it’s killing your waistline – food compatibility.

You like quinoa and he loves pizza. You embrace the wonders of kale and he worships at the alter of the potato chip.

The problem is that his diet of sugary, fatty foods creates a constant temptation that has you eating a bowl of ice cream instead of a bowl of cherries.  I know what you’re thinking. He needs to eat like you (not only would it keep you on track, it would also save his arteries from becoming a traffic jam of cholesterol.) But getting him to join your healthy lifestyle may actually backfire according to recent research.

Pressure Just Adds To The Waistline

A study published in the American Journal of Health Promotion surveyed nearly 1,300 dating or married adults in the US, ages 20 to 31. They found that pressuring your partner to go on a diet actually makes him or her more likely to binge eat. Yes, by trying to force your partner to eat a black bean burger instead of beef burgers, you could be making your partner fatter. The study found that the effects were worse for men than for women. Men who were pressured to diet (vs. those who weren’t) were three times more likely to binge eat  (4% vs. 14%). Women who were pressured to diet (vs. those who weren’t) were twice as likely to engage in the destructive behavior (14% vs. 25%).

The key factor could be how people try to change their partners’ behavior. The study’s lead author, Marla Eisenberg associate professor of adolescent health and medicine at the University of Minnesota, speculates that pressuring your partner to diet leads to making critical and belittling comments like, “Don’t you know what that’s doing to your health?” and “If you just stopped eating junk food, you could fit into those pants.” The temptation is probably even greater for couples whose eating habits are farther apart. A person who has made a full transition to healthy eating and exercise may become even more frustrated with a partner who thinks that an unopened bag of potato chips counts as a whole food.

Who’s the more likely partner to pressure, men or women? According to a recent study, women are more likely to obsess about and criticize their partner’s weight (men also did this but to a lesser extent). Regardless of sex, criticizers tended to have heavier partners and to be more dissatisfied with their partners’ appearance. Bottom line is that such criticism isn’t borne out of love but out of frustration.

But what do you do if you are genuinely concerned about your partner’s health and his eating habits aren’t helping you? The answer isn’t to pressure your partner but to open the door and provide opportunities to eat healthy. Try to cook healthy meals that include something your partner might be willing to try. There are many fantastic vegan recipes that can satisfy the palate of even the most diehard carnivore. Get creative, channel your inner Julia Child.

How To Work With Your Partner To Be Healthier

  1. Establish eating boundaries. There’s no question that having access to junk food makes it a greater temptation. If your partner isn’t willing to eat healthy, negotiate a plan to deal with snacks and junk food at home. Some examples are waiting to eat desserts after you have left the dinner table, putting snacks in a designated area out of the main pantry, limiting certain kinds of desserts in the home, buying a healthier version of a snack.
  2. Eat at home more. Many of the meals in restaurants often contain large amounts of unhealthy ingredients, like butter and salt. If your partner is opposed to eating differently, offer to make him a favorite dish at home. Even if you’re not a professional chef, it’s easy to make a much healthier version of just about anything, e.g., buying lean ground beef instead of the high fat stuff used in restaurants.
  3. Try to incorporate simple changes into your routine. Maybe your partner doesn’t want to run but he or she is open to taking a walk instead or to trying some salad with their burger instead of fries. It’s easier to get someone to try a side of honey glazed carrots than an entire meal of tofu.

Losing Weight Is Easier With Support

Yes, it would be ideal if your partner were to join your diet or exercise program (and that can happen) but if he doesn’t, you still have alternatives – friends and family. Let’s be honest, unlike your partner (who will probably feel pressure to join your new lifestyle), friends and family can voluntarily join your efforts or give you a guilt-free “no” without hurting your relationship.

There’s good reason to look outside our romantic relationship for support. A well-known study compared the benefits of social support vs. doing it alone when trying to lose weight. In the study, some participants were told to find 3 friends or family members to support their weight loss efforts; other participants were told to try to lose weight on their own. Ten months later, 66% of those who found social support maintained their weight loss compared to only 24% of those who did it alone. That’s more than 2.5 times more people in the social support condition who kept the weight off!

The Many Types of Social Support

One of the reasons social support is so effective is that there are many varieties of it. It could come in the form of a diet or exercise partner, but don’t limit yourself to support from people who want to jump on your bandwagon. Support can just mean being encouraging and interested in how you’re doing with your health goals. It could mean refraining from eating a tempting dessert in front of you or giving you a healthy recipe. It doesn’t include pressuring or guilting you about what you eat or how much you exercise.

Take The Support Quiz?

If you answer “yes” to at least 3 of the following questions, then you have good support. If not, then consider what you can do to bolster it.

  1. I have at least three people who will offer me encouragement to reach my health goals.
  2. Others will encourage me to stick to my diet if they see me giving in to temptation.
  3. In general, people close to me will not bring me or encourage me to eat foods that I am trying to avoid.
  4. People in my life are generally willing to refrain from eating tempting foods in front of me.
  5. Overall, I feel that people want me to succeed at getting healthier.

Where Do You Find Social Support?

  1. Share your goals with friends and family: number of kilos, timeline for weight loss, types of diet or exercise program, biggest temptations, ways that they can encourage you, things they shouldn’t do.
  2. Get social support. According to a Mayo Clinic article, there are many types of support. Consider reaching out for these types to enhance your chances of being successful.
  • Emotional: A shoulder to lean on when you’re feeling discouraged.
  • Practical: Someone to watch the kids while you exercise.
  • Inspiring: An exercise partner who encourages you to get out and move on those days when your favorite TV show seems like a better option.
  1. Find an accountability partner. It could be your partner, but it could be anyone willing to put the time and energy into health improvement: family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, or neighbors.
  2. Find support online or through a program. If you’re not getting the support you need in person, try to find an online support group on Facebook, a forum, or hire a wellness coach. There are millions of people wanting to get healthier; it’s just a matter of reaching out.

Conclusion

Being healthy doesn’t mean your partner has to be healthy as well. That would be great, but sometimes we love people for reasons other than their willingness to eat farrow eggplant casserole. You can invite your partner to be healthier but don’t pressure or guilt him – leave that to his mum. Besides, there are plenty of allies in friends and family, so even if he’s not onboard you’ll find plenty of support. Remember, you don’t have to do it alone. And if you don’t, you’re more likely to be successful.

Jason Drwal Bio

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