You’re doing your weekly grocery shopping and meal prep, kicking ass in the kitchen making delicious, balanced meals. You’re also living with bae, and bae is not getting on board with your new healthy lifestyle. You try talking them into it, explaining the benefits, why it’ll be good for them, and nothing seems to be registering. Eventually, disagreements and arguments ensue.
Being in a relationship can have a strong impact on food choices. This is especially true if you live with your partner. You’re probably spending a lot of time together, maybe cooking and going out to eat, and food is something we all tend to bond over. So what happens when someone wants to change the way they eat but their partner isn’t on board? Things like going out for ice cream, Netflixing and ordering in, making dinner reservations for a special night…yeah, it all just got a little more complicated. I can’t tell you how many times nutrition clients have met with me about how to get their partners on board with eating healthier. They’re usually pumped about the lifestyle changes they’ve made, and want their partners to get on board, too.
Things tend to go left shortly after. The person trying to eat healthier either gets too pushy or even (sometimes inadvertently) starts guilt-tripping their partner into eating differently, sometimes not even noticing the challenges their partner is dealing with. I’ve had couples literally get into screaming matches in my office about this topic.
Every relationship is different, and it’s really up to you and your partner to decide what approach will work best for the both of you. However, the trick to dealing with these food-related conflicts isn’t that different from dealing with other relationship stuff—communication, compassion, and understanding go a long way. Here are some strategies I’ve used in my nutrition practice to help address this particular situation.
Boundaries: make them, agree to them, respect them
I want to start here, because I’ve seen boundaries crossed time and time again in relationships when the topic of food comes up. We are separate from our partners. No matter how close you are with the person you’re dating, you’ll always be individuals with your own likes, dislikes, needs, goals, and desires. Oftentimes you get so close with the person you’re dating that you sort of start to act like you’re an extension of your partner and that they’re an extension of you. When you forget that your partner has their own thing going on, you might not realize that it’s actually a big ask to expect your partner to do things that they may not necessarily be ready (or want) to do, just because you’re doing it or because you think it’s good for them. Sure, your partner may do something to please you, but this type of motivation is usually short-lived. Autonomy within a relationship is important, and that goes for food autonomy, too. If a diet change is not something your partner is interested in doing, then you should respect that. Pressuring or shaming your partner into healthy eating is—and I can’t stress this enough—not a good long-term approach. And it’s also not one that will be good for your relationship.
Honestly, always keep doing you
I understand that life can be easier when you and your partner are aligned with the way you eat. I totally get that it’s less of a headache in the kitchen and when going out to eat. However, if that’s not happening for whatever reason, continue to do you. Eat the foods that make you happy and help you feel your best. It might seem easier to fall in line with the way your partner wants to eat, but I promise that that’s not a prescription for long-term happiness.
Look at it as a time to invest in the choices you’re making and deepen your understanding of the way you’d like to eat. Take this time to be mindful of what foods bring you a balance of satisfaction and nutrition. Assess how your mind and body feels when you eat a variety of foods. Doing this will help you develop a deeper understanding of what healthy eating looks like for you vs. other people.
Lean into community
We put so much pressure on one person to fulfill all of our needs. Partner not interested or not ready to make changes? Okay, let’s talk about all of the other people you have in your life who are. Think about co-workers, family, friends, or people in your neighborhood, who you can cook or go out to eat with. If you’re not able to meet up in person, text or video chat works really well, too! You can share the goals you’ve created with your person, and talk about what practical steps you’re taking to get there. When you’re doing this with someone who has a level of motivation similar to yours, it can be affirming to hear what challenges are coming up and how to tackle them.
Create opportunities for food-related bonding that you’re both into
Go food shopping together, and ask for input on what they’re interested in eating for the week. Keep in mind that eating does not have to look the same for both of you. Perhaps you want sweet potatoes and your partner wants white rice. This is totally okay! You can still create the opportunity to bond over food in ways that satisfy both of your cravings. And while we’re on the topic, try to find ways to prepare meals together. Not only is it a great way to bond over food, but it also helps to foster an appreciation for the cooking process. If your partner is open to it, pick one day out of the week where you both cook something you enjoy together. If you both enjoy going out to eat, take turns picking a place that has options you’re both satisfied with. Browse through the menu beforehand, and if you’re unsure, consider sending them a couple of dining options to choose from. Just because you’re in different places with the way you eat, it doesn’t mean you can’t find any ways at all to enjoy and bond over food together.
Ultimately, changing up the way you eat is not easy (even though Instagram makes it seem like it is). There’s an infinite amount of reasons why someone may not be down to change their food choices, and it’s important to acknowledge what those are, including any structural barriers and where they’re coming from. Look at this way: Exploring food issues together with curiosity can be a great way to build connection and understanding.
As a registered dietitian/nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, Wendy is passionate about educating communities on plant-based eating in ways that are accessible and culturally relevant. She is the coauthor of 28-Day Plant-Powered Health Reboot, the cohost of the Food Heaven Podcast, and the cofounder of Food Heaven Made Easy, an online platform that provides resources on living a healthy, balanced life. She regularly partners with national brands like Quaker, Sunsweet, Blue Diamond Almonds, and the Blueberry Council to create delicious recipes and curated multimedia content. When not working on creative projects, Wendy also provides nutritional counseling and diabetes management to clients in a clinical setting. She uses an integrative and individualized approach towards nutrition, health, and well-being. Follow Food Heaven on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.