He lives for barbecue and you follow a vegan diet. He wants to eat out when you're ready for a healthy meal at home. If opposing eating habits are causing food fights between you and your mate, look out—it can affect more than just intimacy. "Food issues are also obstacles to weight loss, cholesterol control, stable blood pressure, and increased energy levels," says Cynthia Sass, author of Your Diet Is Driving Me Crazy: When Food Conflicts Get In the Way of Your Love Life. Sass serves up simple and satisfying solutions to help keep your diet—and your relationship—from spoiling.
Food Fight #1: "We're Not Hungry at the Same Time"
Ann is a teacher who gets home from work several hours before her husband Dennis, a realtor. She used to wait around snacking on chips and cookies to satisfy her hunger until mealtime. Naturally, Ann gained weight and felt self-conscious. "Postponing meals is incredibly problematic and can lead to under-eating, overeating, fatigue, irritability and mood swings," says Sass.
The Fix: As long as you're spending quality time together, who says you have to be eating the same thing? If you're hungry before your partner's home for dinner, eat your entrée solo. Then enjoy soup or even dessert while he's having his main course. Or, split the meal by eating the heartiest parts of the meal (the protein and starch) alone and the salad or veggies later on. Ann now makes herself a cup of tea while Dennis settles down to dinner and they sit together and talk about their days.
Food Fight #2: "He Sabotages My Healthy Diet"
Your jeans are feeling snug so you start to say 'No' to high-calorie dinners and late-night snacks. The problem? Your partner may feel resentful or even fearful that you want to move "up and out" of the relationship. "When half of a couple changes his or her diet, the other may feel that cherished dining routines have been abruptly abandoned," says Sass. "When my client Diane went on a diet, her husband Tom said he missed their comfortable habits—Papa John's pizza and Marble Slab ice cream on Friday nights. Tom also felt that Diane was leaving him behind, so he sabotaged her diet by buying treats she couldn't resist, like fresh olive bread and donuts."
The Fix: Tell your partner why you're dieting so he or she doesn't take it personally. Tom was surprised to hear that Diane was worried about turning out like her mother, who became diabetic because she didn't maintain a healthy lifestyle. Next, find new ways to socialize that aren't food-related. Rather than polishing off a pint of Rocky Road on a Friday night, try something like shopping for bikes or putting together your ultimate playlist of all time. Pulling yourselves out of that rut can actually revitalize the relationship. When you do eat together, compromise. Trade in a large pizza for personal pies so you can customize with a thin crust with veggies instead of eating one with "the works."
Food Fight #3: "He's a Picky Eater and I'm Adventuresome!"
Grilled fish, chicken, rice, vegetables, lasagna, and fries. Mike can count on two hands the number of foods he eats, but Stephanie is dying to try the Pad Thai Noodle shop that opened up down the street. If you're hungry for some culinary excitement, it's time you and your picky eater meet in the middle.
The Fix: At restaurants, skip the entrees and order two "safe" healthy appetizers and two "adventurous" ones. Your partner can sample new foods without the pressure of liking it or going home hungry. When you're at home, cook the same meal two different ways. Before seasoning chicken with curry, set aside your partner's portion and then spice yours up! Or, if you're getting takeout, consider ordering from two different places.
Food Fight #4: "He Overfeeds Me to Show Affection"
When your sweetie surprises you with ice cream after an especially hard week at work, it's a special treat. When he buys you decadent desserts and salty snacks on a daily basis, it's overload. "Using food as a replacement for love is common," says Sass. "We celebrate with food on birthdays and holidays and even bring it to those who are grieving. When we eat for emotional reasons—to fill a void, distract us from problems or for comfort—it takes on a purpose other than sustaining our physical existence. In this case, therapy can help a person discover why food is being used as a coping mechanism."
The Fix: Recommend creative ways your partner can show affection without food. Tell him, "If you do the dishes, iron my clothes, fold the laundry or give me a backrub, that's a great sign of love!" (Of course, we're assuming you also wouldn't argue with jewelry or those $98 workout pants you've been looking at.) Agree to a no-food policy for special occasions and offer alternatives. Say, "Don't bring me chocolates on Valentines Day. Instead, write me a poem or buy me flowers."
Food Fight #5: "It Would Be Easier if She Ate Meat"
Scott likes steakhouses, wing shacks and hot dog stands. Rachel is a strict vegetarian. Pairing a hard-core carnivore with a passionate herbivore doesn't have to spell dining disaster. "A couple should be able to find some common ground, as long as they are both willing to give a little," Sass says.
The Fix: Keep a list of restaurants that offer foods you like but he doesn't (and vice versa), and then agree to visit these restaurants with friends who share your preferences. If you're lucky, a carnivore may give meatless options a try–it has happened! After Scott realized that Rachel's veggie burgers tasted good, cook quickly, and make him feel light and energetic, he put them on the top of his "shared meals" list.