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Food and drink play a significant role in our family, social, and romantic relationships. Sharing meals can enhance social bonds and facilitate the expression of care and affection. At times, eating healthily with others can be challenging. However, a healthy diet can help to strengthen relationships by promoting support and mutual respect. In this post, we present seven strategies for healthy eating in relationships and provide practical tips and advice to help achieve your goals.
Over time, family members, close friends, and romantic partners often develop similar health behaviors. We tend to be influenced by those close to us in both positive and negative ways. For example, having an obese spouse doubles our own risk of becoming obese. Food and drink can facilitate social and romantic connections when dating, meeting friends, or enjoying family meals. How we choose to enjoy food in our relationships can have a significant impact on our health. For example, increasing numbers of people enjoy sharing a meal whilst watching TV. Research has found that watching television during dinner increases the amount we eat. Dining out also plays a notable role in dating, resulting in many couples experiencing significant weight gain in the first year of a relationship, based on research by OnePoll on behalf of Jenny Craig.
Below, we present seven strategies to provide C.L.A.R.I.T.Y. when aiming to eat healthily in a relationship.
C – Communicate your health goals and motivations. The first order of business is to clearly communicate your health goals and preferences to your nearest and dearest. Explain why you want to eat healthily, what foods you want to encourage or avoid, and how you plan to achieve your goals. Be honest and respectful, and listen to feedback or concerns. Remember that eating healthily is a personal choice, and you should not force others to follow you on your health journey.
L – Listen and learn from each other. All parties in a relationship can provide experience and expertise when it comes to diet and nutrition. One partner may have extensive knowledge about cooking and meal planning, while the other may be skilled in finding healthy dining options for eating out. By sharing knowledge and learning from each other, people can expand their culinary horizons and discover new and exciting ways to enjoy nutritious food. Taking turns to prepare meals with friends, family, and partners is an enjoyable way to encourage and educate one another about different approaches to eating healthily.
A – Accountability. Getting your partner on board with your mission for healthy eating has obvious advantages. However, it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for your health goals, or for your relationship. It’s important to promote your own self-efficacy in managing your own health and to respect and encourage your partner to do the same. A useful way to stay on track is to share your progress with someone close to you. Being accountable to someone who has your best interests at heart can steer you to make healthier choices. This can require balancing the right level of “tough love” and encouragement necessary for you to reach your goals.
R – Respect. It’s important to recognize that everyone has a different approach when aiming to eat healthily. Some may be interested in losing weight, while others may be focused on improving their overall health. People also differ in their response to hunger, and have different physical needs and work demands, which can all affect the appropriateness of different approaches to eating healthily. If you choose to follow a strict diet, but your partner wants to be more flexible, try to avoid criticizing their habits. Instead, aim to understand their perspective and find common ground. Recent research has found that when those in romantic relationships support the autonomy of their partners, their partners engage in healthier eating behaviors.
I – Inspire. Inspiring each other to make healthy choices can be a powerful tool for achieving shared goals. It is essential to approach attempts to inspire in a positive and supportive way, rather than being critical or judgmental. Celebrate each other’s successes and offer support during setbacks. Focussing on your own health and diligently working towards your goals provides much stronger motivation to others than nagging or pestering. By inspiring each other in a positive way, people can build each other up and achieve their goals together.
T – Temptation. When partners try to tempt or entice each other to breach their dietary goals, it can lead to unhealthy habits and strained relationships. For example, one partner may try to persuade the other to indulge in an unhealthy treat, simply to justify their own desire to temporarily abandon their diet. This behavior can create resentment and a lack of trust between partners, making it difficult to maintain a healthy and supportive relationship. Instead, we should aim to negotiate when we feel the need/desire to share a “treat,” whilst still respecting each other’s goals and boundaries.
Y – Say “Yes.” One of the keys to maintaining a healthy lifestyle in any relationship is to remain open to novel experiences and to say “yes” to trying new foods and activities together. It’s easy to fall into a routine of eating the same foods or doing the same activities, but this can quickly become monotonous and boring. By saying “yes” to new foods, recipes, and opportunities to be healthy, we can develop a deeper appreciation for each other and create more fulfilling and healthy relationships.
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