Today, I’m answering a Real Nourished Newsletter reader question from Jen. (Which you should absolutely sign up for if you want evidence-based tools to heal your relationship with food in your inbox!)
Q: My husband is big on “diet talk.” He’s always referring to food as “good” or “bad.” If he has a “bad” eating day he talks about “getting back on the horse” to have a good eating day tomorrow. How do you recommend responding to this?
A: I love this question, Jen!
First things first. I don’t know how long you’ve been with your guy but as anyone who has been in a relationship for more than about a minute knows, you can’t make someone change. Even if you’re obviously right, even if they’re leading themselves down a path of self-destruction, even you’re going to lose your mind if you see one more crumpled up receipt on the counter… you get the idea. People change only when they want to (and even then, it can be hard.)
Here’s what you can do: Plant the seed. And by “plant the seed” I don’t mean leaving a copy of Intuitive Eating on his side of the bed and taking every chance you get to pontificate about how happy and free you feel since you stopped classifying foods as good and bad.
Planting seeds means living your life the way you want and giving him the chance to observe. That might look like suggesting you go out for ice cream after dinner — and making it clear that it’s because you’re in the mood for it or you just want to enjoy the longer days of spring. Once in a while, you could say something like “I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my energy thinking and worrying about food in the past but it feels so good to enjoy food without guilt now.”
If he says something like “We went to the gym- we deserve to be bad! Want to grab pizza?”, if you’re feeling the pizza, you could say something like, “I don’t feel like I need to ‘earn’ my food but yes I would be down for pizza!!” And if not, you could say something like, “I’d eat pizza if I were in the mood for it, regardless of whether we’d just worked out, but I’m not in the mood for it right now. What about x?”
Meanwhile, try and tune it out when he talks that way. Or instead of correcting him, try using it as a reminder to be grateful for your relationship with food.
All of that said, depending on your situation, while I still don’t think you can (or should) change your husband’s mindset about food, you can create some healthy boundaries if you need to,
If the way he talks about food is triggering to you — in other words, if you find yourself second-guessing your food choices or sliding back into black and white thinking about food or backsliding into any of the disordered eating habits you’re trying to let go of — you have the right to set a boundary.
You can say something like “I am working really hard on my relationship with food and my body and it would mean a lot if I had your support. One thing you can do to help me is to stop talking about food in terms of what’s “good” or “bad” in front of me. Can you please do that for me?” For more insights on how to handle a friend or family member who won’t stop with the diet talk, check out this article I wrote for the Washington Post.
Jen, you didn’t say anything about whether you have kids with your husband. But if you’re concerned about the way his words are landing for your kids, I’d suggest having a conversation with him where you explain your concerns and ask for what you want. (i.e. “Would you be willing to stop classifying foods as good or bad in front of our kids?”)
I need to acknowledge, this might be trickier than simply stating your needs because he may feel that it’s healthy to think of foods in this way and that he’s actually helping your kids develop good habits. Please cut him some slack for that (because diet culture.)
I don’t know how your relationship works, but I do this fun thing where I often shoot my husband’s (legitimate) suggestions down right off the bat. But when I hear the same idea from an outside source (my sister, a friend, someone I don’t even follow on Twitter), I’ll be like “That’s BRILLIANT!” and immediately try it.
If that sounds familiar, consider asking him to listen to this episode of the Full Bloom podcast, featuring two registered dieticians discussing “Nutrition sans diet culture: what can I teach my kids?”
And one last thing — as you’re navigating this issue, ask yourself: What did it take for me to stop thinking of food in terms of good and bad?
Maybe the seed was planted a long time ago but it took a while to take root. Sometimes change happens suuuuper slowly and then all at once. And sometimes it just… doesn’t happen. (My husband is still waiting for the day that I can get out the door on time).