February is celebrated as American Heart Month to urge Americans to join the battle against heart disease. What a great time to encourage a significant other to eat healthier for heart health as well as overall health.
Of course, many of the things that will encourage a spouse to eat healthier can also be helpful to encourage other family members or loved ones to do the same.
The first thing is honest communication with your significant other to establish if you both have the goal to eat healthier. If not, it can feel like nagging to the person who really does not want to develop healthier eating habits and actually set up barriers for making changes. If you agree that both want to eat healthier, it is time to talk about the changes in eating habits you each feel would be beneficial and then together create some possible solutions.
For example, perhaps you enjoy having dinner out at a favorite restaurant but find that one or both of you have a tendency to overeat when eating out. Brainstorm solutions together. One idea is to each order a dinner salad and then split one entree. Order the salad with dressing on the side so you each control the amount of dressing used. Generally, vinaigrette will be lower in fat and calories than a thick salad dressing, plus not as much is used since some of it runs to the bottom of the plate.
If choosing a thick salad dressing like thousand island or blue cheese, try dipping the tines of the fork in the dressing and taking a bite or two of salad to minimize the amount used. This saves a lot of fat and calories when eating a salad. You get the taste of the salad dressing with every bite of salad but use much less of it. Thick dressings tend to stay on top of the salad greens and all of it is usually consumed when eating the salad.
When ordering the entree to split, choose fish, chicken or lean meat cooked without added fat or butter to reduce the amount of fat and without salt to reduce the sodium content. One great side dish to split is a baked potato served dry with toppings on the side so you can choose what and how much you want to use. A tablespoon of sour cream is only 26 calories and 2.5 grams of fat and a tablespoon of chives is only 1 calorie and no fat. So adding both of these to half of the potato only adds 27 calories and 2.5 grams of fat. But a tablespoon of butter is 108 calories and 12.2 grams of fat and a tablespoon of cooked chopped bacon is 27 calories and 1.6 grams of fat, so adding these to half of the potato adds 135 calories and 13.8 grams of fat! Many times it is the add-ons that increase the calories and fat significantly. Accompany the meal with steamed cooked vegetables also.
If eating out and you don't want to eat the same entree, go ahead and order what each of you wants. But ask for a take-home box at the beginning of the meal and each of you can divide the food in half and pack it up before starting to eat the meal.
Another idea is to encourage each other to eat more slowly. We tend to eat less when eating slower because our bodies begin to feel satisfied with less food. This is a great time to talk with each other and share the events of the day. Take a bite of food, put your fork down (no one will take it away!) and chew the bite of food 10 to 15 times. This is also good for digestion. While your significant other is talking to you, put your own fork down and just listen for a bit. Think of the idea of dining, not just eating dinner at the same fast pace you have been going all day.
These are just a few suggestions to get you started talking with your significant other about practical guidelines to implement for healthier eating when eating out.
You may realize that many extra calories are consumed from snacks like cookies, candy and chips. At home, stock the kitchen with plenty of healthful foods. Keep a bowl of fresh whole fruit such as apples, bananas and pears on the kitchen table or counter to encourage fruit for snacks. Keep cut-up raw vegetables in clear covered containers in a visible place in the refrigerator for snacking. Keep low-fat hummus or other dip available if desired. Chicken salad or tuna salad made with low-fat or fat-free salad dressing is great for a half sandwich on whole-grain bread or on whole-grain crackers for a snack. At the office, keep small packages of raisins, a few unsalted nuts, whole fruit or small pop-top cans of peaches, pears or pineapple in no-sugar-added juice or very light syrup for an afternoon snack.
For many people eating a late and large dinner is a problem. They may get home late from work and are already famished, which is often a trigger to overeat. So they eat a big meal late in the evening and soon go to bed. Eating a planned healthful mid-afternoon snack like a carton of fat-free yogurt, two or three whole-grain crackers with peanut butter or an apple with some cheese can help minimize the hunger late in the day so one is not so famished when arriving home. It may be a good idea to enjoy a salad or small cup of a low-fat soup at the beginning of the evening meal to take the edge off of hunger. Then it will be easier to have smaller portions and prevent the overeating.
Another idea is to plan how you can cook together. It might be that one of you lights up the grill to cook the main entree while the other prepares a salad and the vegetables. Or some couples might want to actually fix everything together in the kitchen.
Perhaps you want to eat healthier but your significant other has no intention of doing so. Leading by example is a great teacher. It just doesn't work to try to get someone else to make changes if they don't want to. But when they see you eating healthier and reaping the benefits of achieving a healthier body weight or having more energy, they may be inclined to start eating healthier also.
Planning physical activities together is another way for both to increase physical activity. It could be taking a walk together after dinner, going for a Saturday morning bike ride or taking dance lessons together. The list is endless and the benefit can be great.