6 Ways to Help Your Partner Eat Healthier Without Being Pushy

In a world of frozen dinners and takeout, the road to healthy eating can be rocky. Yet, nothing feels better than finding your way onto the precious path. But what happens your partner is on a different route? When they're all about potato chips while you head for the kale chips? Needless to say, it can pave the way for conflict.

First, it's natural to be concerned. Not only do you want the best for them, but their health—and lifespan—directly affect how much time you get to spend together. Their lifestyle choices may impact the eating habits of kids and grandkids, too.

Even your own habits can take a hit. "The simplest way couples influence each other is [by] proximity," observes Sally Chung, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist at Oceanside Psychological Services in Seattle. "[For example], when someone is inhaling chili cheese fries in front of me, it is a lot harder for my salad to be satisfying."

She adds that when your kitchen is stocked with chips and ice cream, temptation is harder to overcome. You may feel bad for even throwing them out because your partner loves eating them.

In fact, the British Journal of Health Psychology states that couples are likely to share health-related behaviors like eating and exercise. The overlap is so significant that a 2010 study in Public Health Nutrition found that couple-based weight loss programs are more effective than individual ones. Clearly, relationships are powerful.

This is where you come in. As your partner's other half, you're in a unique place to pave the way for healthier eating. However, it all depends on a balanced and respectful approach—no matter how much you want to toss those doughnuts in the trash.

Why Does Your Approach Matter?

In psychology, experts use the Interdependence Theory to explain how relationships influence a person's behaviors. A 2013 article in Health Psychology shares that an individual's healthy habits involve three factors: personal characteristics, their partner's behaviors and the interactive nature of the relationship. In other words, it matters how you interact.

Remember, change is not easy. According to Dr. Chung, an encouraging and positive approach keeps the relationship safe enough to make mistakes, start over and think outside the box throughout the weight-loss process. This is especially crucial when your partner hits obstacles, a time when it's easy to feel defeated. With positive tactics like providing information and praise, though, you can remind them of the bigger picture.

A gentle, loving approach sure beats negative tactics like guilt-tripping, policing and scolding. Unsurprisingly, these controlling methods are less likely to change your partner's behaviors, says the British Journal of Health Psychology. Even worse, these tactics are also linked to adverse effects, a strained relationship and no fewer trips through the drive-thru.

6 Ways to Encourage Your Partner to Eat Better

To start, avoid looking at this as a "project." Instead, view it as a journey that you are taking together. Shift your focus away from control and on to love, respect and support, starting with these six expert-approved tips.

1. Express Concern

It might seem like an obvious first step, but your partner can't read your mind. Make it known that you value health, and you'd love for them to come along for the ride. Kindly remind them that you have a future together.

Share that you are willing to work as a team—not take over their decision-making and schedule. "Ask what you can do to be supportive," suggests Dr. Chung. "Your partner may have specific things they do or do not want you to do or say during this process." In turn, you'll make room for personalized, lasting change.

2. Lead by Example

Practice what you preach. Actions speak louder than words, as they say.

Instead of reprimanding your partner's actions, use that energy to show how you benefit from healthy habits. Focus on the perks, whether you are saving cash by prepping breakfast before work or feeling satisfied after eating a meal rich in whole grains and bright veggies.

Not only will this help you become a positive eating companion for your partner, but you will also create a healthy social eating environment, a factor that affects obesity risk.

3. Do It Together

From meal planning to making brunch, aim to be by your partner's side. "Embrace healthy eating together," recommends Lisa R. Young, Ph.D., R.D., a nutritionist, author of "The Portion Teller Plan" and adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University. "Make it fun! Make it a team effort."

Prioritize eating, cooking and grocery shopping together. Not only will this communal tactic create a healthy social eating environment, as stated above, but it doubles as a stellar bonding activity. "Implementing positive habits together can be a great way to normalize the lifestyle change and make it stick more consistently," explains Dr. Chung.

For example, instead of sneaking peas into their burgers, show how easy it is to make delicious veggie patties at home. Spend a lazy Sunday perusing a healthy cookbook to find dinners for the week ahead or collaborating to create a healthy meal. The couple that cooks together, stays together (as they say) so why not make your kitchen a healthy zone?

4. Praise Positive Habits

"A great way [to show support] is pointing out the positive choices and changes," Dr. Chung explains. "It tells your partner that you are paying attention."

If your partner made a rare effort to eat breakfast, mention how energized they will feel for that morning meeting. Nothing beats a simple "I'm proud of you", too.

Take it up a notch and note how their changes positively impact you. Did you just cook a tasty dinner together? Dr. Chung recommends vocalizing how good it made you feel, along with, "I never knew miso salmon was easy to make at home. Let's make that more often."

She also adds that some may feel like others don't notice until a mistake is made. So, instead of scrutinizing how your partner is on a first-name basis with the pizza guy, acknowledge positive choices both big and small. It's a caring way to feed the very habits you want to encourage.

5. Highlight What They Care About

While offering praise and ideas, find opportunities to demonstrate how healthy eating can enhance their quality of life. Emphasize habits that can change what matters to them, whatever that may be. 

Are they battling sluggishness, poor digestion or heartburn? Kindly suggest a positive eating habit that can alleviate their struggles. It's a gentle nudge that offers a nutritional advantage. Something like, "Hey, bananas are an awesome source of energy. Want to freeze some and make 'ice cream'?" could open their eyes to an option they hadn't ever considered.

Don't forget that positivity is the name of the game. Sure, they may "care" about their love handles, but this isn't a chance to dig into those insecurities.

"This can backfire. Being critical or shaming only leads to more distance," warns Dr. Chung. "It makes it hard for you to sound supportive, or for your partner to perceive what you are doing is supportive." As a result, they'll be less likely to turn to you in fear of your judgments.

6. Be Realistic   

When it comes to changing our habits, we're always told to set small goals. Dr. Young reminds us that making smaller changes will also limit or prevent major setbacks. So why should your partner's experience be any different? 

They won't eat five serving of veggies overnight, and you shouldn't expect them to. While it can be a challenge if you've been on the journey to health for a few months or more, it's important to remember what it felt like to be a beginner and acknowledge that healthy habits develop slowly over time. Cheer on the process instead of demanding huge transformations. Otherwise, it will be more difficult for them to make a lasting change when they are anxious about your criticism, says Dr. Chung.

As your partner's biggest cheerleader, your role is priceless. Yet, ultimately, it's up to them to make a change. This is tricky enough when one is watching! Regularly check in with yourself to make sure you're not taking control. Exercise compassion, and create a safe space where your partner can tackle a giant mountain. They are only human, but with your love and support, they can climb it. 
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Member Comments

My husband always wants the gravy, sauce, fried this and canned that. I cook him separate meals. Report
My hubby had a heart attack and had 3 way bypass- 8 years ago. I have always fixed meals from scratch and fix healthy meals and snacks. His problem is he always goes back for seconds. He used to drink a lot of beer. Now he has a glass of red wine each day which he considers healthy. It might be - if he wouldn't go back for seconds on that. He does walk with me and he quit smoking almost 30 years ago.
When we go out to eat he will order meals that is high in fat, salt etc. I try to order first hoping he will get what I ordered. He will order french fries when he has a choice of baked potato, or grilled red potatoes. He orders them because I don't fix them at home and he misses them. He does eat fruit and veggies so maybe I shouldn't worry. I try not to say anything - but it is hard. I can only do so much. Report
thanks Report
Thanks. DH is having a quad bypass done in a couple days and part of the new lifestyle will be better eating habits and exercise. He may be more willing to try now. Report
thanks, good tips Report
Thanks for the tips. I have been changing my habits for the last 5 months. My hubby and children still want all that sugar and junkie. I have gotten to a point that I don't even like them. It is hard but my family is getting there. My children and I do the meal plans and shopping so they know what is good and what is bad. My husband works 60 hours a week so I have started to pack his lunches and snacks for the day and slowly have changed out what he use to pack to healthy stuff. Just the other day he made a comment that he is not as hungry when he gets out of work so no stopping at the gas station or McDonalds. Report
I tried these with my husband but he is too set in his ways to change. It took his doctor telling him this would be his last year if he didn't lose weight and get his cholesterol down. He has worked at the cholesterol, but now drives truck several hours a day and thinks walking across the trucking yard is enough exercise! I managed to get him drinking more water, fresh fruit and veggies everyday at least. I pack his lunch for him. Yes, he eats bread with peanut butter and something almost everyday as it's his favourite and I add a sweet so he doesn't feel deprived. At least the lunches he eats in his truck are healthy. Just getting him to have food instead of two cigarettes for breakfast.....he won't listen to me and I've tried every approach. Report
Everyone needs a hand to hold on to, SparkFriends. Report
None of that helped with my husband and I tried it all. It took a heart aren't followed by diabetes and copd for him to try better eating. Report
I appreciate the suggestions in this article, I’m ultimately a lead by example kind of girl. It makes a difference, yet it cannot change someone who isn’t ready/willing to change. This is one of life’s really slippery slopes. Proceed with caution, humor, annnnnnnd options. Something beats nothing, every little bit does help. It matters. Delicious is hard to refuse. Spending time finding new, healthier recipes has helped expand my culinary arsenal...and my hubs willingness to try something new. Having a sense of humor and an understanding of what’s realistic surpasses judgement and frustration any day. Sincere praise is appreciated. Me realizing the importance of saying nothing when I REALLY want to has made a world of difference. Neither of us eat like we used to, amen to that. Report
Thanks. Report
Great, thanks! Report
A healthy lifestyle has put a wedge between hubs and I for sure. I'm all eat right and exercise, he's all empty calories and TV. It's very hard, he is skinny but has constant heart burn, joint aches, and tummy problems. No matter what I try he shows no sign of change, although he is very supportive of me doing what I do Report
Good ideas - I will try to ease into them. Report
I do all the cooking, so my spouse eats what I make. When I was doing a specific diet I did make separate meals, but when he saw what I was eating thought it was very good. Even made a comment about was I sure what I was making and eating was diet food. So no more separate meals Report


About The Author

Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez
Kirsten Nunez is a health and lifestyle writer, editor and author. She has a Master of Science in Nutrition and is currently based in New York. Kirsten spends her days writing articles and dreaming up healthy recipes.