How to Help a Significant Other, Family Member, or Friend to Get Healthy

Q: My boyfriend doesn’t have the greatest eating habits and it’s hard for me to encourage him to eat healthy or be active without sounding condescending or annoying. It’s definitely a challenge because we’re both very busy, so most of the time, dinner is whatever is quick and easy, which usually includes fast food and a ton of starch. I try to cook sometimes, but he can be picky with what we eat, although sometimes I manage to make us a semi-healthy dinner. I think my boyfriend knows that he should lose some weight, and we tried earlier this year to go to the gym together, but that kind of fell through with our schedules. His family has a long list of genetic health problems, so I really want him to get into good habits now so it’s not an issue down the road. But I don’t want it to seem like I’m acting like a mother, you know?

How can I motivate him to want to eat healthy and be active without forcing it onto him? I’m not the best role model for him because I know I have a body where I can get away with eating unhealthy foods and being a couch potato more often, so I know I need to change some habits as well.

 

A: You are not the only one that feels this way. There are many people who witness their significant other (or friend) eating extremely unhealthy on a daily basis and even gaining weight. It’s a difficult conversation to have, because as you mentioned, you don’t want to offend or upset him/her, nor do you want to start an argument. It’s also more difficult if you have an extremely fast metabolism (like yourself) for someone to understand and not take offense to it. I know how difficult it is to be in a relationship with someone who can eat whatever unhealthy food they want while you stick to a healthy eating plan, but anything is possible. I think it’s a great idea to politely bring up the topic of getting healthy, especially if he/she has a family history of health problems. The most important part is to go about the conversation in an empathetic way and not to make hurtful comments about his/her weight or make him/her feel guilty about eating unhealthy. Here are some tips I thought of to help you have this conversation with your significant other (or friend) to begin a healthy lifestyle.

  1. Sit down and talk with him/her in a calm, understanding tone.
  2. Let him/her know that you are concerned about his/her health, not his/her weight or appearance.
  3. Mention reasons why you want him/her to be healthy. Some of these reasons can include:
    1. Reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke
    2. Improved energy levels
    3. Improved skin quality
    4. Certain natural foods can help protect against various types of cancer
    5. Help to stay feeling fuller longer
    6. Overall, you’ll be feeling and looking great!
  4. Suggest that you can start a healthy eating plan together. That way, he/she is not alone. Living a healthy lifestyle is always easier if the people you are surrounded by live a healthy lifestyle too. Not only does that provide a great support system, but you can save money by splitting the cost of groceries and also find out your true health potential together! It might be difficult for you since you are accustomed to eating unhealthy and maintaining a healthy body weight, but eating healthy will reduce your risk of diseases and improve your overall health as well.
  5. A diet rich in non-starchy vegetables, lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, some fruits, and very minimal added sugar and processed foods is ideal. I’ll break down some of the categories for you.
    1. Non-starchy vegetables: spinach, carrots, brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes (I still like to consider it a vegetable), zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, celery, etc.
    2. Lean proteins: boneless skinless chicken breast, lean ground turkey, lean beef (I prefer round cut steak), eggs, egg whites, fish (try for varieties with a low mercury content, such as salmon, tilapia, haddock, etc.), shrimp, scallops, etc.
    3. Complex carbohydrates: sweet potatoes, brown rice, beans and lentils, whole wheat bread (make sure it’s minimally processed, generally implying that the only ingredients listed are those that you can pronounce), whole wheat English muffins, brown rice cakes, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, etc.
    4. Healthy fats: avocado, coconut, olive oil, coconut oil, almonds, cashews, peanuts, peanut butter, almond butter, etc.
  6. Consider preparing meals for the week in advance. Since you mentioned your schedule is very busy, it will definitely be helpful to simply grab pre-packaged meals that you cooked earlier in the week. This is often referred to as “meal prepping” and it is practiced by many health and fitness professionals to stay on track during busy days. Once or twice a week, prepare bulk amounts of healthy foods to store in the refrigerator in portioned amounts. Research how long foods typically stay fresh and spend a couple of hours one day cooking together. You can put portioned meals (mostly vegetables, some lean protein, and some complex carbohydrates) in portable plastic containers. Before work or class, you can simply grab your meal(s) and snack(s), minimizing any impulses to order takeout. This can be fun to try something new: cooking together. You might learn a new skill you never realized you possessed!
  7. I strongly urge you both to download a calorie-counter app, such as My Fitness Pal (myfitnesspal.com). This is what helped me stay on track throughout my weight loss journey and I still use it! It really gives you a reality check of the calorie content of foods you consume. It might actually surprise you and it will definitely help you to stay eating healthy, low-calorie foods! You can add each other as “friends” on the app and keep each other motivated by seeing each other’s progress.
  8. Once you have both started eating healthier, you can look into gym memberships or fitness classes that you can participate in together. Weight loss is essentially a result of 80% diet and 20% exercise, so beginning a healthy eating plan is an important start. Exercise will also provide many healthy benefits, including reduction of disease risk, improved sleep quality, and much more. But I lost 50 pounds when I first began my journey without having started an exercise program. I would suggest that you focus on eating healthy first, not only because you have a tight schedule, but because eating healthy will help spark interest in an exercise program later on.
  9. Make it fun! There are different ways you can make this journey an exciting adventure together. Don’t view it as a diet; view it as a healthy lifestyle change. To help stay on track, you can create a reward system for completing certain short-term and long-term goals. These rewards can occur at instances such as the completion of one week of healthy eating or attending the gym three times in one week. The goals can then progress to longer periods of time with bigger rewards. Some of these can include going to see a movie together, going bowling, playing mini golf, and more. For longer-term goals, such as maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle for a certain number of months or losing a certain number of pounds or pant sizes, if your finances allow it, you can reward yourself with a little getaway, a new television, iPad, etc. Only you both know what rewards will keep you motivated, so it’s important to have fun with it. An important point to note is that unhealthy food should not be a reward. Treat meals or treat days (an unhealthy meal or a day to eat unhealthy food, in moderation, of course) once a week are absolutely acceptable, but it’s important to make sure that all your efforts and hard work are not going toward something potentially counterproductive. Rewards will help keep you both motivated and motivation is key!
  10. Most importantly, reinforce that you are suggesting this healthy lifestyle only because you care about him/her and you want him/her to be the happiest and healthiest he/she can possibly be. It all comes down to his/her motivation, but if you two are doing it together, it’ll be much easier for both of you to begin and maintain a healthy lifestyle. Remember, you can schedule a treat meal or treat day once a week, as long as you get right back on track afterward. Anything is possible and you can both do this!

 

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