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Helping Loved Ones Make Healthy Choices

When my wife and I were first dating, I remember being very pleased with myself for making all sorts of healthy and tasty meals for her. My goal was to make healthy meals so delicious that she wouldn’t have a problem eating the way I did. Thick and hearty leek, chickpea and potato soup, freshly made hummus and ripe tomatoes over toasted whole grain baguettes, my famous guacamole with baked corn chips, and of course, a fresh, colorful salad with all sorts of raw vegetables with a creamy tahini dressing – this was a typical meal!

It’s hard to describe the angst I felt whenever she decided to have something that wasn’t on my menu. The pain was never worse than one evening when I sat with her at a café in uptown Toronto, sipping my peppermint tea while she went to work on a gargantuan ice cream sundae. This thing was about twice the size of your typical McDonalds sundae. Lucky for me, she was so happy with every spoonful that she didn’t seem to notice my disappointment and heavy heart.

It took about a year and a half before I woke up to an important realization. During her occasional forays into less-than-healthy cuisine, it was me who was unhappy and unhealthy. She was happier than a kid on Halloween. While I brooded over the damage that I felt she was doing to her health, she seemed quite content with her occasional treats.

Over time, she began to feel the pressure that I created with my obsession over dietary purity. Not only was this pressure stressful, it created resentment in her heart that dampened her capacity to maintain a loving and supportive relationship with me. This got me to carefully consider my reasons for wanting us to eat healthfully. Did I want for us to be healthy, just to be healthy? Or did I want for us to be healthy so that we could spend many years with each other and our families, doing things we find personally meaningful?

Usually, our feelings of conflict about a loved one’s food choices comes from a genuine desire to see them live a long and healthy life. The problem is that sometimes, we can forget that people need to feel peace of mind to be healthy. And peace of mind rarely comes when we feel judged and disapproved of by those we are supposed to be closest to. Interestingly, it has been my experience that when we let go of our expectations of others and what they should do with their forks, chopsticks, and lives, they end up feeling more supported and accepted, which makes them want to consistently make choices that will lead to long and healthy lives. I mean, why would anyone want to live a long life if they constantly feel judged and disapproved of?

This doesn’t mean that you have to spread a toothy grin over your face when your spouse, child, or parent makes quick work of half a dozen doughnuts and a frosty glass of soda. It means that, in my opinion, the best shot you have of getting your spouse to make better choices is to strive to be as healthy as you can, without sending any obvious or subtle messages of disapproval of their choices. If one day, they wake up and are inspired by your example, they will start their own journey to better health.

For the record, my wife and I strive to consistently eat whole, unprocessed foods. But if a slice of pumpkin pie presents itself to us once in a while, we strive to eat it with happy and grateful hearts.


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