Changing your lifestyle is hard work. Changing your lifestyle when you are in a committed relationship is even more difficult. But does it have to be? My answer is "No." If your partner accepts, loves, and supports you (assuming you wouldn't be with anyone who doesn't) then they should be willing to do whatever they can to make the process EASIER for you, not more difficult. That's what partners do: accept, love, and support.
But how do you support your partner when they decide they want to change their diet. Likewise, how do you ask for support from your partner when you've made that decision. Based on my personal experience (my story follows below) and what I've learned from working with other couples, this is how you get it done:
- HONESTY You have to be honest with yourself about where you are and how you feel about you first. Are you happy with your life? Are you happy with your body? Do you feel beautiful, energetic, sexy, and lovable? Do you feel good about the way you eat and your activity level? Do you feel strong and capable? Be real with yourself. Then, be honest about how you feel about your partner. Do you worry about their physical state? Are they under a lot of pressure or dealing with a lot of stress? Do they have bad dietary habits that you know can have devastating effects on their health? This is all internal processing, as you get ready for the next step.
- COMMUNICATION No one can ever know how you feel unless you tell them. Period. You have to tell your partner where you're at and why you want to change. Be clear that you are not asking for sympathy, you are making a statement about the actions you have decided to take. Be firm about it, this is your life! Don't bring up anything about them personally until you feel they understand where you're coming from. Then, allow them time to speak on what you've told them. Ask them how they feel about themselves, their heath, their goals, their life. Then, you can let them know how you feel about that.
- You eat like shit, and it makes me eat like shit or You have to stop eating the way you do, it's bad!
- You're fat or You're getting fat.
- This is what's happening and you're either in or you're out.
- We can't __________ anymore because it's not part of my plan.
- We have to _____________ now.
- Your food choices have a big impact on me and make it more difficult for me to stick to my plan.
- I am concerned about your health and our future together. It's important to me to have a partner whom I can grow old and happy with.
- These are the changes I am making for myself and it would be great if we could talk about ways that you can be a part of this. It's important to me for you to be included and I know we both have positive changes we can make. What do you think about us doing it together?
- There are certain activities or occasions that are extra difficult for me and I was hoping we could compromise by coming up with some alternatives.
- One thing that would be extremely helpful and I believe beneficial to us both would be if we would __________.
- STRUCTURE You wouldn't start driving somewhere you're not sure how to get to without a map so how can you take action without a plan? You can't. You MUST have a game plan before you start making significant lifestyle changes. This is the number 1 reason why folks are unsuccessful with weight loss or diet goals...because they didn't have a plan! Set a few big goals for yourself and then break them down into smaller goals that can be accomplished on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. It'll keep you motivated! Make sure your partner knows your plan and is included somehow in it. Whether that's monthly hiking adventures, cooking dinner together once per week, or checking in at the end of the day for pillow talk.
- PRIORITIES Now that you both know what's going on, you must have clear cut priorities. This will make or break you. It's easy to say "I want to be healthier" but until you make it a priority, you will find it to be the most difficult and frustrating process of your life. Your partner should understand your priorities as well and have the utmost respect for them. Don't do anything because you think your partner would want you to, do it for YOU. And don't sacrifice your goals for them either. Sounds a bit harsh, I know but let's be real. You have to be a little selfish if you want to live the life of your dreams. That's just how it goes. Your partner may not like it at first. Maybe you're cooking two different dinners or separating your pantry items from theirs. So what? Does that mean you don't love and respect your partner? No. It means you're doing what you have to do to stay focused. If you stick to it, eventually, they'll come around. That's what happened with Miki and I.
This photo of my partner, Miki, and I was taken in 2010, one year after we met. Before Miki, I had been doing very well kicking old habits and accepting a new, healthier lifestyle. It was a sensitive time for me because I had lost over 100 lb but was still not completely happy with how I looked or felt. Miki was the opposite. She was livin' up her bad habits and thoroughly enjoyed smoking cigarettes, chugging Coke, eating Cheetos, and drinking alcohol to excess. It was a HUGE issue for me. I fell in deep and soon I was drinking more frequently than I ever had in my life, making horrible food choices at home, and dining out multiple times per week. I knew it was wrong, but I didn't care because I was in love. It didn't take long for me to start feeling like shit. I gained back 20+ lb of weight and I was devastated about that. But, instead of open the lines of communication in a productive, loving way...I bashed her over and over again for her smoking and drinking and blamed her for the state we were in. It was ugly.
This photo was taken in early 2011. After 2 years, I had decided enough was enough and I vowed to never again lose sight of my personal goals and let my health slip from the number 1 spot on my priorities list. Never again. Miki, on the other had, was still reluctant. Later this same year she would quit smoking which was a HUGE change for her. But the diet and exercise portion remained relatively unchanged until later in the year as well. I dropped the 20+ lb I had gained over the first two years of our relationship and continued diving head first into the health and fitness industry and my own journey towards optimum health. I was working as a personal trainer and started to become increasingly interested in nutrition as well. The changes I was making had a big impact on Miki because I was the one who did the grocery shopping and cooking. I wouldn't say I FORCED her to change her diet but I definitely got her wheels spinning when I would cook new foods for her to try like cauliflower rice instead of white rice (she's Costa Rican and rice and beans were a HUGE part of her diet) and fresh vegetable juice in place of soda. I also stopped buying white foods and sugary or saltly processed foods (bread, pasta, rice, cereal, chips) and replaced them with quinoa, whole grain and gluten free pastas and granolas. I started cooking steel cut oats, loads of veggies, and reduced our portion sizes down so we were eating smaller, more frequent meals. Miki started to fall in love with the changes she was seeing and the way she felt.
Here we are in 2012. This is the year we decided to try a 30-Day Paleo challenge...together. It was the best thing we could have ever done. Both of us were thrilled with our results and by the end of the challenge we were both in better shape than when we had met...an unheard of occurrence for most couples. We were so happy and newly in love. With an increase in confidence and an active, healthy lifestyle, we found each other irresistible all over again.
And here we are in the present day, newly engaged and both in the best shape of our lives. We got to this point together, but completely at our own pace. We learned how to communicate about our bodies, our health, our goals, and how we can be supportive of each other without being demanding, inconsiderate, or resentful. I would be lying if I said it wasn't difficult and at times exhausting. But the outcome is well worth it as our relationship has strengthened tremendously as a result. We support and encourage each other in a positive and loving way now, and we both thrive as a result.