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Conversation with my husband Mike last night as we were en route to my parents' house for dinner:
Husband: What are you going to write about on your blog tomorrow?
Me: I don't know. What do you think I should write about?
Husband: Workout tunes. Or stretching.
Me: Those are good ideas.
Husband: Or the importance of having a supportive spouse.
Husband: And you could call it 'Where's Your Mike?'
Me: I'll definitely do that.
Husband: Do not do that. I was not even a little bit serious.
Me: Too late.
Although he was totally joking and will likely be completely embarassed that I'm taking his not-serious idea and running with it, he has a point: having a person in your life who offers support, encouragement and assistance makes all the difference in the world. I am by no means a one-woman show over here. My husband and I often go grocery shopping together. We often fix meals together. He sometimes arranges his schedule to give me time to get caught up on projects when I'm falling behind. He does not complain about always eating healthy food. He does not bring junk food into the house in an effort to sway me. He offers nothing but kindness and support and it's difficult to say where I would be if I didn't have that.
I hear from so many women who say their partners refuse to get on board with their healthy lifestyle choices and they end up making two completely separate dishes for every meal (sometimes even more if picky kids are involved). The amount of extra work this entails confounds me. I also hear from women whose friends, family or in-laws are so dismissive of their choices that they constantly bring over unhealthy food or choose particularly fattening restaurants for meet-ups, unwilling to even give a healthier meal a try.
When I hear these stories I realize I am incredibly lucky to receive the support I do -- not just from my husband but from my family and friends, too. I have only been in a handful of situations where I felt like food or alcohol was being pushed on me since starting this healthy journey. Other than that, I've found that most people have been very considerate about my choices. I had three separate bachelorette parties and all three involved healthy homemade meals, a minimal amount of alcohol, and complete acceptance of my choices with no questions asked. Sometimes I'm surprised by the success I've had but when I think about the support system around me, it's not surprising at all. Everyone lifts me up and therefore I'm able to fly. For others, it's not so easy.
So what do you do if you're trying to make healthier decisions and your partner or friend wants nothing to do with it? First, we have to acknowledge that everyone has a right to his own choices and a person who wants to eat Cheetos and Sprite all day long is absolutely entitled to do so. We can't change people who don't want to change. That said, if you're in a true partnership or friendship, hopefully there can be a conversation in which you are both able to communicate your desires and needs. You may desire for your partner to just try your healthier pita pizza instead of getting extra cheesy, thick-crust delivery pizza this weekend. Your partner may desire for you to let him have his Doritos and beer without commentary. These are both valid desires and agreeing to both may be a fair compromise.
Here are a few tricks I use when I find myself in potentially unhealthy situations with my friends.
1.) I don't worry about anyone but myself.
If everyone is ordering drinks and appetizers but I don't want to, I simply say no thanks, order my water, and let it be. This very rarely turns into a conversation because most people don't actually care what you put into your own body. If it does turn into a conversation, I briefly explain my reasoning. Every friend I know has completely understood when I've explained that I don't like to drink when training for a race, and likewise everyone understands when I say no thanks to the plate of nachos that's being passed around. If you find yourself in a situation where people are giving you a hard time for your choices, know that this is an absolute reflection of them and whatever is going on in their lives and has nothing to do with you.
2.) I make healthy suggestions.
When a friend wants to meet up for dinner, I either suggest a restaurant where I know I can order a clean, satisfying meal or I suggest coming over to my house and fixing a healthy meal together. I can't tell you how many times this has ended in a friend raving about how much fun she had and how delicious the food was. Most people are not inherently against healthy food -- they just like unhealthy food in all its tempting glory too. Remove the temptations and nine times out of ten, everyone is happy. This is especially fun if the dish you're making involves individualized servings, like pita pizzas where people control their own toppings.
3.) I go with the flow when it seems necessary.
This summer I accompanied my husband's family on a two-week vacation to Belgium, the land of amazing fries, chocolate, waffles and beer. We stayed with family who often fixed meals that centered around meat, which somewhat limited my options as a vegetarian. I packed some healthy snacks with me, I made reasonable choices when we ate out, but I also recognized that I find myself in situations like this so rarely that I may as well just drink the beer and eat the waffles and fries and enjoy the heck out of life for two weeks. If you're in a temporary situation like this where there are cultural differences or you're being fed homemade meals by people who mean well, sometimes it's easier to just go with it, say thank you, and eat the chocolate. I don't recommend this strategy for longer-term scenarios.
4.) I let others have a say.
If I'm going shopping or planning meals for the upcoming week, I'll ask my husband for his input. I'll seek out the vegetables and fruits I know he likes and try to avoid the ones he doesn't (though this is a small point of contention because I adore cucumbers and he despises them). I don't fix him things I know he won't like. If I do this, I'm forcing my lifestyle on someone and it's as bad as a person forcing Twinkies and margaritas on me. Not everyone wants to eat clean and I'm okay with that. Deciding what food we put into our bodies is such a personal decision. It helps to know your audience. I would never ask my sister to try sweet potato street tacos because I know she would despise them, but I would share my macaroni and cheese made with cauliflower with her because I think she'd truly enjoy it. Sharing things we think people will enjoy is love. Forcing things we know they won't is not.
5.) I say thank you.
My husband works full-time at a demanding job and when he comes home in the evening and I ask him to help me with some meal prep so we can figure out our lunches for the next few days, I'm sure it's the last thing he wants to deal with. But he's always willing to help. I can't take this for granted because I know there are so many people out there whose partners are unable or unwilling to help, or who have no partners in the picture and have no choice but to get things done despite how tired they are. I am so grateful to have someone in my life who supports me and helps me. If you have someone like this in your life, thank him. If you don't, just remember: This is your journey and you don't owe anyone anything. You get to decide what goes into your body. You get to decide how you live your life. If someone doesn't support you along the way, that someone is likely dealing with his own internal turmoil. It's up to you whether you discuss this with him or not. Don't take it on, though. Don't carry it with you. Everyone can carry his own bags. Your arms are loaded enough with all you're carrying. Look forward and keep moving.