To Support or to Sabotage- That is the Question.

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Tell me if you’ve been here:  You’ve just started a new diet. You’ve been at it for a few weeks, are feeling good, slimming down, and happy with your progress! You and your spouse decide to go out to dinner one Friday night to unwind. Hooooooraaaaaay date night! You pick a steakhouse- meat, vegetables, fats- plenty of options that allow you to stick with your low-carb plan. You order your meal, salivating at your choice, thinking, “I love that I’m still able to go out to dinner on this diet.” Then, it happens. You know…IT. Your spouse decides to order your absolute favorite dish in the world: fettuccini alfredo. Naturally, he also orders a large cocktail. Neither of these is remotely allowed on your diet. Not only that, but your partner dives into the breadbasket like a starving cheetah on the hunt. You’re annoyed and disgusted that your spouse doesn’t even consider that it’s hard for you to be around these foods, and all of the sudden your steak with a side of broccoli that you were excited about a few minutes ago looks like a bad TV dinner. You’re now shooting daggers across the table at your evil spouse as he laps up his cocktail like it’s going out of style. The rage. Oh, the rage.

Okay, so I threw the population of husbands under the bus in that example, but who hasn’t been here for one reason or another? Whether your diet is for weight loss, health improvement, or athletic performance, almost everyone has probably been on a restricted diet at one point or another. And as you know, it can be very challenging! As a healthcare provider, one of the most frequent comments I hear is, “Well, I was doing really well on my diet until my wife baked some amazing chocolate chip cookies/my husband brought home a tub of ice cream/my kids had a birthday party and I had just one little piece of cake…and then another…” Am I right?? It’s often a whole heck of a lot more challenging to stick with it when your beloved family members are jacking up your progress! ;) Granted, there is some personal accountability that factors in, but it’s just so darn difficult to walk away from something really tasty when it’s within arm’s length. If you’re currently in this situation, I’d like you to go get your spouse/partner/kids/dog/whoever you feel doesn’t quite get what you’re trying to do, and bring them to the computer. Then, you may walk away- this article is no longer for you.

Hellooooo family of the deprived and hungry! (Just kidding). As someone who has been on more than one restricted diet for one reason or another in the past, I understand the struggle my patients face to stick with a limited food plan. Your family member has decided to try whatever plan they’re trying in an attempt to improve overall health- and that’s good for everyone involved, right? I know you want your wife to live a long healthy life so you can hang out with your grand-kids together or that you want your husband to feel good enough to participate in all of his crazy hobbies for his overall happiness. I know you want to help, but may not necessarily know how. Never fear! I have a few suggestions that might help keep the peace and keep everyone on track:

  • The most obvious type of support would be to try the diet together, if this makes sense for you. Heck, maybe it will improve your health as well! If this isn’t feasible or appropriate, do your best to keep foods that are not on your partner’s plan out of the house. You most likely have plenty of options during your workday for treats and hopefully will be able to avoid bringing those foods home causing derailed progress. If THIS isn’t feasible, the final option I suggest is to hide your now forbidden foods somewhere in the house and don’t eat them in front of the dieter. I only suggest doing this with your partner on board, however, because it’s no fun to think you’re being deceived when you find a Snickers bar in an underwear drawer or something. And not only will your partner feel lied to, but they may also think that it’s a sign from God that they found the candy bar and therefore it must be eaten immediately and without abandon. If this occurs, you’ll find your spouse guiltily covered in bits of Snickers, angry with you. This is no-win.

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Yikes.

  • When going out to restaurants, ask your partner if there are any foods that are very difficult to be around without eating. For myself, the breadbasket does nothing for me, so when I’m dining out with others and they have bread, I don’t care. However, if someone orders a piece of cheesecake or a bowl of ice cream, I’d sacrifice my first child for a tiny bite. These foods are what I call “trigger foods.” You cannot control what others order in a group dinner, but you can absolutely support your partner by showing them that you care enough to not order their trigger foods. Solidarity, man.
  • Expect that when your partner starts a new diet, they may not feel well for a few weeks. Occasionally they can have detox-type symptoms, such as fatigue, mood fluctuations, changes in body odors, and sleep disruption. If you can find some extra patience and a helpful attitude during this time, it would most likely be welcomed. Helping more around the house, running some extra errands, and even just ignoring things that may bother you during this time is incredibly supportive. This one will get you your angel wings and a very thankful partner.
  • Try to cook meals that are diet-friendly together, and keep an open mind when trying foods that may be new to you. You may surprise yourself and really like certain things that you never cared for before (liver, anyone?). Your partner will love having someone to eat with, because being the only one in a household that is eating something different can be isolating. PLUS, having to prepare two meals (or more!) is pretty time-consuming which can increase stress and the chance of cheating on the diet. If you aren’t interested in a new food that was prepared in your household, you don’t have to eat it, but I’d frown upon looking at the food with a disgusted face and stating “Are you going to EAT THAT?” From personal experience, this will not go over well.

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  • Suggest some non food-related activities to do together so quality time isn’t always food-based. Food is a social activity in and of itself, and removing that from one’s life can make one feel quite lonely. Biking, skiing, movies, hiking, checking out a new art exhibit, walking the dogs- it doesn’t matter. Your partner wants to be healthy, not a hermit. Help them remain among the living!
  • Travel smart. Look on Vacation Rentals by Owner or a similar site for digs that have a full kitchen. You can even stay in an extended stay hotel (like these, perhaps), which also has a basic kitchen with cookware to keep one on track. No need for overpriced room service!
  • Just listen. There will be days that are hard and your loved one may just want to gripe a little. Make sure you are occasionally checking in, asking how your spouse is doing and if there is anything you can do to help. Trust me on this one- it’s the most important thing on this list, and I’m incredibly grateful for the people in my life that do this for me.

A few years back, I decided not to drink at a work function due to the diet I was currently on. In front of a room full of about 40 people, the boss pointed out that I was the only one without alcohol and instructed someone to “Get this girl a drink!” When I politely declined, it was met with “C’mon!” and some jeers from others in the room. It takes some guts and chutzpah to stick with your diet when society pressures you to do otherwise, so do your partner/spouse/friend/child a favor and show support for the effort. And to the dieter- own what you’re doing, and take it one meal at a time. You’ve got this.

~Erynn

  • Christina

    In response to Richard J D’Souza’s comment: Of COURSE your eating plan will be more successful if you do it for yourself, but don’t you think it is simple courtesy of a person in your intimate circle to help you by not trotting out behaviors or foods that make your own situation difficult? Would you eat cookies in front of your diabetic child? Maybe you would, but I think most people would and should try to help by avoiding trigger foods in front of a loved one.

    I, like Peggy (another commenter), can “just say no, no, no, NO!” and be relatively ok while not eating whatever it is that someone is having that I cannot have, even those things I looooooove. But I still think it’s bad manners at a minimum for someone who professes to love me, to choose to be unsupportive to that degree.

  • Richard J D’Souza

    It can be a lot more work when couples are eating different diets, but I don’t believe that the non-dieter should compromise their diet plan (or lack of!) I think a diet is most successful when you do it for you, regardless of any peer pressure. Start with those intentions and you’ll go far. “I’ll only eat this if you eat it with me” is a doomed project.

  • Brian Snyder

    Well said Erynn. Some great nuggets of advice in here. Thank you!

    • Erynn Kay

      Thanks, Brian!

  • amelie

    It is nice here. Very informative. Thank you.

  • Peggy Holloway

    Once I realized (about 14 years ago) that a low-carb diet was the only thing that would save my life and health, “Just say no” became my mantra. Never eat anything that would make me fat, sick, diabetic, my partner (a retired physician who did not believe in “diets” because they never worked for his patients; of course he was prescribing the conventional low-calorie, low-fat disasters) was the type who always felt he could eat whatever he wanted and because of his high level of exercise, didn’t worry about his weight. He also has no family history of obesity or Type II Diabetes. So he ate what he wanted and I ate what I wanted and he respected my need to restrict carbs but didn’t do so himself and the presence of his carby food around me didn’t tempt me one bit. But, lo and behold, about 3 years ago, he found himself 40 pounds overweight and hit the wall so badly on a bike trip that I had to go pick him up before the end of the week. He made the decision to go LCHF, lost the weight, and has been amazed at how his athletic performance improved. So, stay the course and you may be the good influence on the others around you!

    • Erynn Kay

      It sounds like you have great will power, Peggy! Not only that, but you were the inspiration for your partner to find health as well. Love stories like this. =)