My husband and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary this year. Our love of good food brought us together, but it's also taken a toll on our waistlines. And we're not alone. According to a 2007 study at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, marriage goes hand in hand with weight gain. "In the first five years of marriage, women gained an average of 24 pounds and men gained 30 pounds," says Penny Gordon-Larsen, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition at UNC and author of the study.
So we vowed to be healthier, together. But my efforts to lead us down a path filled with fruits, veggies and running came off as nagging. My husband had a point: telling someone they should do something feels like you're judging them and they want to resist. As a dietitian, I realized I needed him to want to eat healthier. And as a wife I didn't want to nag either-especially about weight, food or exercise (he has to do the laundry sometimes!). The secret: I can't make him do anything but I can change my actions.
Here are five tips that will help you and your spouse eat and live healthier together.
1. Be Part of a Healthy Solution
Figure out if there is anything you are doing or can do to help your spouse eat healthier. For example, if your spouse often eats fast food at lunch and you typically pack your lunch, offer to start packing him or her a healthy lunch too. (If you're at a loss for ideas try these: 25 Quick, Low-Cal Packable Lunches.)
2. Stock Your House with Healthy Foods
Out of sight, out of mind? This may be a good tactic for unhealthy foods. A study led by Brian Wansink, Ph.D., director of Cornell's Food and Brand Lab, found that people wolf down more than twice as many chocolates when they're right in front of them compared to when they're farther away - around 6 feet - and covered. I try to stock healthy options that my husband likes in highly visible places, such as bananas on the counter and yogurt on an eyelevel shelf in the fridge, and keep the sweets tucked away in the cabinets. If temptation still outweighs these extra barriers for your spouse, skip buying foods that trigger cravings and buy them or go out for them only on special occasions.
3. Cook Healthy Meals for Each Other
I love cooking foods that my husband loves. Watching his face light up when I make spaghetti Bolognese makes my day. But unfortunately, I also know how many calories are in my rich dish, so I reserve this heavy cooking for special occasions. Instead, I make healthier options like grilled salmon soft tacos.
Related: Healthy Low-Calorie Dinners for Two
4. Lead by Example
How can I get my husband to eat a healthy breakfast if I don't? I try to live the healthy life I want us both to enjoy by adopting my own healthy habits. Making a batch of Maple-Nut Granola once a week means I have a quick nutritious breakfast or snack always available for me, and my husband now eats it too. Several studies have shown that influence from friends and family on eating and physical activity habits has a strong impact on your own health behaviors. Therefore, if I eat healthy and exercise, my husband is much more likely to follow suit.
5. Foster Healthy "Together" Time Activities
Instead of just eating together, we also try to exercise together. After dinner, instead of plopping down on the couch to watch TV, we take a walk around the neighborhood. It's a small change but during our walk we talk about our days and go further than we would if we were walking alone. Social support can be a big factor in weight loss and maintenance. In a study published this year in the Journal of Obesity, researchers reported that among participants in a 6-month weight-loss program, those who joined with a friend lost significantly more weight (an average of 13 pounds vs. 8 pounds).
How do you encourage your significant other to stay healthy?
By Breana Lai, M.P.H., R.D.
Breana Lai, M.P.H., R.D., is an Associate Food Editor at EatingWell where she splits her time between EatingWell magazine, eatingwell.com, and cooking new healthy recipes in the test kitchen. Breana has a master's degree in Public Health from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu London, a Wine Spirit & Education Trust trained sommelier and is a registered dietitian.
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