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I'm 30 and due to being very sedentary, especially with COVID-19, due to being on a medicine that affects hunger, I'm slightly overweight. I'm taking this very seriously as I've never been overweight before and it affects me very negatively toward my personal self-image.

I have projects to do exercise again beginning in September, but this is a difficult step to me and I'm already having complexes about socializing with sportive people while being overweight. Which is why, I started about a month ago a fight against calories, especially eliminating fat and sugar out of my diet. It's worth noting that my significant other is also overweight and has complexes about that.

I tried to progressively change our eating habits, but so far this have been largely unsuccessful. Despite the fact that I cook so I have a say on our menus, my significant other takes every single opportunity to propose things that are unhealthy. Nothing in the fridge? Burgers on Uber Eats. Hot day? Let’s buy ice cream. Also here is your surprise on-the-bed breakfast with pastry I just bought, etc., etc. I believe he is addicted to that kind of food and in denial that this lifestyle is just unhealthy.

I often ask him what he likes often and what he'd like to eat, but this is kind of hard to reach agreement these days. Previously our way to plan menus is by proposing and discussing what we would both agree to eat. Sometimes we also just take what we know was previously agreed upon.

Today we went on the groceries. We don't usually plan menus until then. When he put fries in our trolley I said nothing, but eventually on our way back I did I was sightly upset because it was not good for the diet I want to make. He got angry at me and clammed up. I felt like I've been clumsy, but I've been softly suggesting healthy things since very long and he didn't take the hint.

Note that this comes at the wrong moment, and he is a bit depressed due to being unemployed and tend to let things slide a lot these days.

How should I negotiate with him that I seriously want to follow a strict diet, provided I'm not ready to cook two different meals every day, and provided he might get upset by a direct approach?


How it actually went

This question drew some attention so I figured I would give an update about what happened next. The fries "incident" came with the realization that dieting was important to me, so I took this as a chance to skip having a conversation with him about dieting because I just didn't know what to ask for there. What I would ask for, being able to diet, would be trivially granted, but the devil is in details and details are not worth great discussions. So, the following days, I focused on controlling my diet and being inflexible about the little sides I was proposed, and tried to offer alternatives for him to eat otherwise.

I came back home from work with a salad I intended to eat while proposing to cook for my significant other. I also asked not to propose me food anymore.

Both things weren't too well received at first because of points raised by some of the replies here : to my SO, sharing a treat with me is important, and this was probably a bit harsh to realize I was rejecting what he thought was nice attentions. I realize that, previously, I bent my diet mostly because I already knew that. But this was not as difficult as anticipated, because I believe my stance was clear.

Another day, he trivially rejected my offer to cook a meal for him when I was having something low calories "You are not going to cook two different meals" and he just made efforts to join me on the diet, without me to insist on that, at least partly. Most of the time, we went on healthy stuff and/or went in the few restaurants that had options for me.

Next trip to groceries, I planned the menus on my own for me, allowing me to plan ahead for diet to keep going. We planned to eat mostly the same.

So, so far so good, I got to diet without cooking two different meals, I can have been very sightly upsetting him at times but I avoided any implication he could have had taken wrong.

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    Have you tried planning meals before shopping? Is that something your SO would consider? – DaveG Aug 13 at 1:49
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    Have you actually ever talked openly with your partner about wanting to change your eating habits? You only mention subtle modifications, but you never describe actually sitting down to talk about your (and their) changed diet. – Erik Aug 13 at 6:31
  • @Erik well yes and no, I did before but since I have mood swings it could have been perceived as not being very serious, so I think it needs upating. But the decision about what it means for us is quite unclear. Do we separate meals ? Do we both change, do we both compromise ? Do I just ask him not to provide me any food ? – Arthur Hv Aug 13 at 7:12
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I've been on both sides of this at different times: the partner whose diet was strained by constant offers of junk food, and the spouse unwillingly thrust into a lifestyle change I wasn't mentally or emotionally ready for and didn't really want. They are both uncomfortable places to be.

I think there are two issues at play: your desire to follow a healthy diet yourself and not have him sabotage it (like with a breakfast in bed where you will not only be tempted but feel rude or ungrateful if you refuse), and your desire to change HIS eating habits without his actual agreement/desire to do that.

The first part is entirely reasonable. You can use simple, calm discussion and "I" statements to request that he respect your choices in the matter of what food goes into your body, and that includes not tempting you or putting you in uncomfortable positions where you must break your diet plan or hurt his feelings. You can thank him for being so kind to spoil you with a breakfast in bed, but also ask him that if he gets the impulse again a cup of tea in bed (or whatever you prefer) will do just as much to show his love and consideration. You can request that he choose an uber eats place that has at least one healthy option for you available.

As for the second part, I feel that it is not reasonable to expect that he give up all unhealthy foods he likes and conform to your eating plan, if that's not something he wants to do. I don't think he's missed your soft hints, but has in fact heard them and chosen not to take them. He has a right to choose his own food/diet, just as you do. That doesn't mean that you are required to cook a second meal of whatever he feels like eating every day, but it's also not really reasonable to unilaterally ban anything that isn't in your diet from the home you share.

"Husband eats only what you want him to and deals with it because his way is unhealthy" isn't a solution that is likely to be accepted without strife and hard feelings, but there are a variety of ways to make living with a person with different dietary needs or preferences work. You can put his serving of fries (or whatever) in the oven along with whatever you are making, and just not eat them when they are ready, or negotiate something more complex like taking turns to cook with the understanding that if the other spouse isn't willing to eat what was made they will fix themselves something. Meal prep, having leftovers available, batch cooking, etc. Involve him in finding a compromise that gives him some say in his meals but doesn't create a major burden of extra cooking for you.

I think with the understanding that he's not unreasonable for wanting a say in what he eats, you can take a pretty direct approach as long as you're kind about it. Pick a time when you're both calm and in a good mood, not tired or about to rush off somewhere, and not already hungry and trying to figure out an immediate meal decision, and ask him to have a conversation about your joint cooking and shopping plans going forward.

Let him know how you feel about how it's been going, by starting statements with "I.." Maybe something like, "I feel disrespected when you keep suggesting I eat things I am trying to avoid" or "I feel like you don't understand why this diet is important to me. It means a lot to me because..." Whatever the truth is. Focus on you: your goals, your feelings, your needs. Don't focus on his habits, his health, or make guesses or assumptions about his motivations or reasons for doing/eating certain things. Let him talk, too, and try to really listen to where he's coming from. Ask him to support you (by going to get ice cream alone, by compromising on meals, whatever your need) and ask what he needs and how you can support him.

Try to a plan together where each of you get your needs met and choices respected as much as possible. Expect to compromise on something better than the current situation but somewhat less than your ideal.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Em C Aug 15 at 21:53
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For many people, eating together is an essential part of a personal relationship. The 'who' is usually most important, but the 'where' and 'what' can matter as well. My spouse likes going out to eat much more than I do. I would prefer to eat at home for health and financial reasons. For my spouse, eating out is only partly about the actual food. The time together is the most important part. You and your SO may feel that eating together is important for your relationship - and it probably is. That makes it difficult if you don't always agree on what to eat. But I don't think eating separately is a reasonable solution.

It may sound silly to some, but having a 'treat' together can also be important. Sharing happy moments is part of relationship building and enjoying good food or something sweet together can be a bonding experience. Your SO may feel that way and you may not. Understanding the 'why' behind someone else's actions helps us know how to talk about it. If we do understand, we don't assign the wrong motivation to their actions.

Of course, your SO needs to understand why this diet is so important to you and unless you lay everything out and are completely clear, that won't happen. If you trust each other, you should be able to be completely candid and firm about your own needs, while acknowledging the needs and desires of your SO. After you both completely understand one another, you may still not want to follow the same diet. That's OK. I believe you can create a meal plan that will accommodate your diet, but allow your SO to eat more freely, if desired.

Consider this practical example. Your SO suggests Italian food for dinner. The menu is green salad, lasagna, bread and gelato for dessert. This looks like a diet killer, but you can manage. You start with a full plate of salad. This will represent 75% of your dinner. Your SO may want a smaller portion. Once you've finished your salad, you take small portions of lasagna and bread. Your SO may want larger portions. When it comes time for dessert, just take a taste. You can get all of the benefits of dessert with a bite or two if you savor each one. Your SO may take a scoop or two.

In this case, you had a positive social experience together, your SO chose dinner and you stuck to your diet. It's a win for everyone. In each meal, you just have to have options that work. Usually, it's easy enough to find combinations of food that will allow each of you to be satisfied. You'll have to communicate and plan ahead, but you can do it!

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What I'm going to say is based on my experience overcoming an atypical eating disorder, and I needed to do some serious analysis and hard work.

I believe he is addicted to that kind of food and in denial that this lifestyle is just unhealthy.

I would agree. But here is how I understand this sort of thing:

  1. Your emotional centre is in a vicious cycle [trigger -> eat -> reinforce]
  2. Your emotional centre manipulates you into believing that you "need" to solve problems with food
  3. Since this is a "need", when you feels it is threatened you reacts emotionally, typically feeding back into part 1.

The vicious cycle varies between people. Sometimes it is triggered by sadness, stress, or body image. Sometimes it's triggered by withdrawal from earlier eating. Sometimes it's triggered by a desire to please others. Sometimes it's triggered by reactive hypoglycæmia. Or just laziness. And there could be various reasons that eating "teaches" the brain that particular food choices bring relief.

But this happens at an emotional level and we often rationalise it as something else, and can get very protective of that thing. If he feels it would take away a big part of enjoying time with you... that's rationalising, it's not the real problem.

One option is to stop taking him shopping, and be strict. Put food in front of him that you know he's fine with. He'll act out. Put up with it and don't give in. He may buy his own junk food, but it'll be less appealing without you; this might be enough to break the cycle. Once the cycle is broken it will be a lot easier to have rational discussions about where to go from there.

If you want to get him voluntarily on board, it will not work unless he realises that he is using junk food to solve problems. Improving your diet is not about cutting down on pleasure for health reasons. It's about standing up to your subconscious (because it is not acting in your interests.)

To avoid confrontation, my suggestion is to make statements about yourself to seed ideas in his head. If he puts fries in the trolley, say "look, I've been using junk food to make myself feel better and I don't want to anymore." When the fridge is empty, say "I've been using this as an excuse to get burgers, I'm going to pop out and buy some groceries." Ice cream: "you know, I don't really want one, but you get one, I'll get some water and we can sit down somewhere." Show him (and yourself) that you can enjoy a moment together without both having junk food.

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Take responsibility for your own diet, OP - let your SO decide for himself what he eats. It's not your job to make sure he eats healthy when he clearly has no interest in doing so, and understandably resents your attempts to do so, especially when you present it from the perspective of him not supporting you in your diet.

Make sure he understands your food plan, and gently refuse his suggestions for meals that violate that plan. Be firm about it. "Man a hamburger sounds really good right now but I've already had too many calories today - do you wanna just split one with me?" "Ice cream sounds great - I think I can only have a couple bites 'cause of my diet, but I'd love it if you fixed me up a small bowl." "Nah, I think I'll skip the beer for now, but I wouldn't say no to a can of bubbly water."

Eventually he'll get used to it - or he won't. Eventually he might decide to make his own healthy choices about eating - or he won't! Regardless, you will make progress, OP, and if you don't enjoy the additional stress and drama of trying to cajole him into doing what you want him to do... I would recommend sticking to worrying about yourself.

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