Research shows that the people we associate with can easily influence our food habits. If your spouse, significant other, or friends are overweight, chances are you may be overweight too. Your risk for obesity increases 37% if your spouse becomes obese; similar risks are seen within other relationships too.
Couples and friends can influence each other to make poor food choices and engage in sedentary activities, but they can also motivate each other to make healthful food choices and to be active. Think about it. If the people you spend the most time with like to watch a lot of TV and eat fast food, it’s more likely you will engage in these activities too. Conversely, hanging out with people that like to spend their time biking, practicing yoga, and perfecting kale chips—it’s more likely you will engage in these activities too. Surrounding yourself with people that make healthful lifestyle choices will encourage and support you to do the same.
It’s easier— and definitely more fun— to make lifestyle changes as a team rather than in isolation. Let’s say your goal is to stop drinking pop, however your partner still purchases pop and brings it home. It makes it harder to quit the pop habit since temptations still linger in the household. Now imagine if both you and your partner decide to quit the pop habit together. Both people can hold each other accountable for not drinking pop. They can decide to not bring pop at home at all— and they can help each other to make better drink choices out side of the house too. Couples can reinforce each other’s positive health behaviors.
If you can’t get your partner on board to make lifestyle changes, be patient. Start by modeling healthy behaviors yourself, and allow your partner to see positive changes in you. Nagging your partner to make changes usually doesn’t work in the long run. Rather find fun and less painful ways to motivate and nudge your partner towards new, healthy lifestyle habits.
Here are a few simple tips that you can try:
1. Be the food shopper. If you want to make healthy changes in the household, take on the role of purchasing the food. This is one way to take control of the foods coming into the home. If you don’t buy it, you can’t drink it or eat it. Opt to purchase health-promoting foods, and find healthy alternatives for unhealthful foods commonly purchased. For example, buy an air-pop popcorn machine and seeds rather than movie theater style popcorn.
2. Make healthy foods accessible and available. No one is going to eat the carrots if they are tucked away in the back of the fridge, unwashed, and uncut. Purchase pre-cut carrots or cut them right away when you get home. Put them in accessible places in the fridge and have a healthy dip on hand, such as hummus or baba ganoush for an easy, tasty snack option. Try this with other foods too, such as fruits and vegetables. Place unhealthy food items, such as candy, chips, and cookies, in hard to reach places, such as in the back of the cupboards. Put roasted chickpeas, nuts/ seeds, and dried fruit in eyesight.
3. Prepare healthy, enticing meals. Our brains are attracted to variety and visually appealing meals. Use a similar tactic that food industry often uses by making healthy foods novel and fun. Buy an assortment of colorful vegetables, such as red peppers, purple potatoes, green broccoli, white onions, and multi-colored carrots and prepare them in new ways— such as roasting or grilling. Find alternative preparations for beans rather than just opening a can and tossing them onto dinner plates. Try mashing them for a base of a sandwich rather than using cold cut meats; prepare beans into veggie burgers or meatless meatballs; or add them to soups and salads with other vegetables and flavors. Increasing the novelty and variety in the way healthful foods are prepared definitely makes them more enticing.
4. Find healthy alternatives or modifications to dishes you both love. There are plenty of ways to make unhealthy foods more healthful. Take cookies for example, you can make substitutions to use dates or date sugar rather than white table sugar and to use whole grain flour rather than white flour. For recipes that call for meat, you can find plant-based alternatives to many of these recipes or cutback on the amount of meat being used by adding in more vegetables and beans.
5. Plan active bonding time. Find ways to make bonding time, active time. Whether it’s just you and your partner or the whole family, there are plenty of activities that can get everybody moving. Playing ball in the park, biking or walking around the lakes, or trying a new activity or fitness class. Exercise can be fun! And you may even find it more enjoyable when it’s done with the people you love!
6. Don’t be discouraged, keep trying. Most people don’t change overnight. Sometimes changes are gradual and take time. If your partner complains about healthy meals or rejects your offers to be active, don’t be discouraged. Keep engaging in these activities for yourself. Keep buying and preparing healthy foods, and offering your partner to join you. Don’t nag or threaten them, but rather find ways to stay positive, supportive, and encouraging. If you notice subtle changes in the way you feel about your health from making positive changes, share these. Allow your partner to still be a part of your progress. Healthy habits are created out of a loving and supportive environment rather than an environment of hostility and threats. If you want your partner to live better, be the example and create a safe space for them to open up to these changes.
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