My wife and I have been married for five years, and overall, things are great. We get along famously, don't fight too often (and try to "fight constructively" when we do), and she's an angel for knowing how to deal with me, as difficult as I am. We've even reduced our fighting over money (the #1 reason couples fight) down to 10% of where it used to be. But there's just one glaring exception: She eats horribly, and no matter what I do, I can't get her to even consider changing her habits. I never realized how much resentment and bitterness this could cause me to feel, but it's causing serious rifts in our relationship. Are there more constructive ways for me to work with her?
posted by CommonSense to Human Relations (62 answers total)
I'll start by saying that I am far from perfect myself, but I try to stay educated and to eat at least somewhat healthy. I was better in my 20s and early 30s (but then again, who amongst us wasn't?), but I still make an effort. My general philosophy is "healthy middle ground" — keep portion sizes sane, eat only when your body says it's hungry, moderation in all things, have a balanced diet, eat "whole food" as much as possible, and don't get too tied up in the latest fads. There are no easy outs, no fad diets that will work, no magic short cuts. Diet and exercise, same as it ever was since the dawn of time (though it's a lot less effort to eat wisely than it is to eat like crap then kill yourself in the gym to offset the crap eating).
In the last couple of years, I've really started to be bothered by my wife's apparent unwillingness to move on from the eating habits of her childhood. Worse, it seems that any attempt I make to suggest changing is taken as some soft of effort to "change" her, which immediately taps into her pride about how she, as a strong and independent woman, won't ever change for anyone. Any effort I make to then reframe it as changing for her own good, rather than for me or anyone else, continues to fall on deaf ears.
So alas, she has an extremely carb-heavy diet. As we're both of Indian extraction, rice and flatbreads (chapati, puri, and other rotis) are a huge part of her diet — you can't have just one, in her view; you have to have both with any Indian meal. With Italian food, it's not enough to have a big plate of pasta or a few pieces of pizza; you HAVE to have several generous portions of garlic bread beforehand, too. Bread and rice MUST be white; she won't even so much as TRY a bite of brown (or black) rice or 100% whole-wheat bread (or, God forbid, skip bread once in a blue moon). Tortillas can't be anything but flour, anthropological-historical accuracy be damned. Diet sodas are unthinkable (let alone the very notion of, say, reducing soda intake altogether).
Complicating matters is the fact that as a quasi-vegetarian, the only meat she eats is chicken, which makes going out to eat a challenge at the frou-frou, farm-to-table places we both claim to love (except that she turns up her nose at at least half of them, since they don't always have chicken dishes). And for a supposed "vegetarian," she eats at BEST four servings of fruits or vegetables a week. Anything "exotic" like asparagus, beets, chard, arugula, pears(!), or blueberries (to name a few) are immediately vetoed by her.
She never eats breakfast, aside from her morning coffee and a cookie, which of course kills her appetite until 2-3 PM (we're late risers), at which point the inevitable crash has her feeling famished and scavenging for a carb fix. (She actually will make potato sandwiches at times — on white bread, of course.) I think it's only due to my slack-jawed shock and amazement, and some not-too-subtle shaming, that she's even started to feel mild embarrassment at the very notion that it's normal to have dessert after LUNCH. Let alone daily.
I don't go to the gym as much as I used to, but I try. I'm averaging 1-2 times a week, which I know is pathetic (especially compared to the 3-5 times a week I averaged a decade ago), but again, it's something. At work I have a standing desk. If I can't go to the gym on a given day, I leave the house and go for a walk, even if it's a lousy 10-15 minutes. It's something. My wife signed up for the gym with me a year ago, but only went with me about 20% of the time. That gradually slid to zero, and we ended up killing her membership. I now go alone and don't even bother asking if she wants to join me anymore, because it's pointless.
I have actually seen MY eating habits slide downhill since I met her, and it pains me to say it, but I have to credit some of my weight gain in the last few years to her. The rest of it, however, is due to alcohol. And THAT is the trump card she keeps using against me in an effort to shut me up.
Yes, I drink more than I should, but I'm working on it and my primary-care physician is making sure I do. I'm making slow progress, but it IS progress — the number of drinks I take in a week has steadily declined over the last year or so. But still, when she feels backed into a corner, my wife will ALWAYS bring this up as if to say I'm not bothering to try, so why should she? I find the notion absurd — that two wrongs make a right; that that she should be "allowed" to slide into a pre-diabetic state just because I have a problem (that I'm actively working on) — but arguing that point with her continues to get me nowhere.
On top of all this, we're trying to conceive. And my sexual interest in her has plummeted over the last year. And I think it's because I've grown to resent her utter lack of concern about her diet. She actively avoids any effort I make to get her a primary care physician here (she moved here after our marriage), yet she makes sure she attends my PCP appointments with me, to catch up on any and every problem with my health (and I have a few, but they're comparatively minor). I think that on some level, I've made the unconscious decision that I don't think I want to have a child that matures inside of an increasingly unhealthy body, who's going to be passively eating processed crap because of his/her mother's poor dietary decisions. But I also find it hard to feel sexually interested when my wife evidently doesn't care about herself.
This is NOT a case of someone who has low self esteem and therefore eats poorly as a result. Quite the contrary, she has the biggest ego and self-esteem in the world — she's always been like this — and often has helped me with my chronically bad self esteem. But with her, I think her "healthy" self image is blinding her — it's causing her to really think she can do no wrong. Her stomach has grown very visibly since we first met, I catch her getting winded at some of the tiniest exertions, and she gets headaches and other body pains with a frequency that was nonexistent only 3-4 years ago. Yet she laughs away any suggestion that any of this could be related to her diet and lack of activity.
We really don't fight about anything else — it's just diet, and her perception that I'm trying to "change her" whenever I "dwell" on it. I've finally started shutting down and not bothering to say anything anymore whenever I see her order crap at a restaurant or go into the kitchen and come back with a bowl full of processed chemical shit as a snack. I know, intellectually, that that's no way to deal with it, but talking about it has gotten me nowhere also. My current thinking is to just go my own way — even if it means pushing away dinners she makes if I feel they're unhealthy and instead making my own meals — and going to the gym alone (actually, I already do that) — and not caring what she does.
That's obviously not constructive. But hell if I know what else to do. So I come to you for help (if it isn't too late). So . . . help? Please? :-(