“My husband is so fat from eating junk food that his jeans fit him like compression shorts. I hoped that he would notice how much weight he’s gained—or at least buy some pants that fit.”
“My girlfriend’s new diet is driving me crazy—she makes so many special requests that I’m embarrassed to eat in a restaurant with her.”
“I lose my appetite just watching him eat meat. I’m not sure a meat eater and vegetarian can make it.”
Remarks like these make me question whether my nutritional practice is more like couples therapy. What do couples do when they click over everything but food?
In the beginning of a relationship, food compatibility is rarely considered. You might anticipate a little tension over spending habits and religious preferences, but food fights can really tear couples apart. That’s because we connect over food, three times a day- every day. Or not.
Food is more than sustenance. It’s what we believe and a result of how we were raised. For some of us, our food preferences and rituals are practically a religious experience. For the person doing the planning, shopping and cooking there’s added pressure. When your significant other doesn’t appreciate your prowess in the kitchen, it can be deflating.
Health Kick… or Kick Him To the Curb?
A client told me that she is beyond frustrated keeping up with her husband’s diet schemes. One week it’s The Paleo Diet, the next Weight Watchers, then Atkins, and The Ab Diet—each followed by a binge and then a fresh start. Shopping and restocking is a full time job for her. He’s manic, obsessive and self-righteous when eating according to what his diet dictates and depressed when he falls off the wagon. She’s exhausted and feels judged for eating normally.
Chemistry in the Kitchen
Cut to bachelorette Andi and her one on one date with Brian—the cooking date where Brian clams up in the kitchen. Clearly, Brian has no idea how food makes it to the table. He’s scared at the thought of preparing a meal together and completely shuts down. Andi tells us in voiceover that all of the energy she felt with Brian dissolved in his culinary insecurity and silence. His unwillingness to dive in, try something new and laugh at himself was revealing. He may have gotten a pity rose at the end of the night, but he didn’t make the hometown date, that’s for sure. I’ll give it to Andi- she read the tea leaves. Even on first dates, we can learn a lot about relationships in the kitchen.
When Good Food Goes Bad
But what if when you were dating, your eating habits were similar? Say you cooked together…he grilled; you made the salad, etc. Until you attended a yoga retreat in the Berkshires that is, where you reappeared as a vehement, eco-conscious vegan. Your partner feels like you’ve played a game of bait and switch. The cooking ritual you once shared is replaced with stress and resentment around food, creating a big wedge in the relationship. Or you’re married to the once lean guy who outgrew his pants- you feel duped and angry.
Don’t Wait For the Boiling Point
I tell my clients that they need to be aware of their food preferences and history at the get go. That’s not to say that they have to love the same food, but they do need to be honest and support one another. People change and grow in all aspects of life- food and nutrition is no different and you’ll need to find some common ground. Communicate about why your partner’s eating has changed. Ask what they hope to get out of the new regimen. Express your concerns and challenges in adjusting to the change. Something as simple as one partner giving up coffee can upset a morning ritual that is meaningful to the other.
As a nutritionist, I come by moralizing food naturally. When my husband and I got together, things changed. I learned a lot about balance and compromise—not to mention the joy and pleasure of eating blueberry pancakes. For the most part I eat well, but I’m flexible now and indulge in treats more often than I did when I was single. My husband has corrupted me and I’ve influenced him to improve his diet—together we’re better off in our food choices. We both get our way and really enjoy food. Still, if I revert to stringent dietary behavior, my husband reminds me to ease off. When he gains a few pounds, I let him know that his health is my greatest concern.
Enjoyment of food is indicative of a person’s enjoyment of life and should be a consideration in dating and marriage. Couples fall in love over their first meals together. Be sure that passion, adventure, compromise, flexibility and respect show up in the kitchen as well as the bedroom.