November 10, 2008

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by Julie Upton
Money conflicts are common among couples—they may even be the leading cause of fights. But did you know many couples also have fights about food on a daily basis? In fact, the topic sparks so much interest that ABC in San Francisco asked me to be a guest on View From the Bay to talk about love, marriage, and how to keep peace at meals.

Men and women often have opposing Mars and Venus moments about nutrition, which can lead to tension and arguing in relationships. The sexes are wired differently: For example, men have a biological advantage over women due to their increased muscle mass. Losing and maintaining a healthy weight is easier for guys, and harder for women.

When it comes to long-term relationships and marriage, men win out there too. Studies have shown that women tend to gain weight when they marry. (Men may gain weight, too, but overall they actually get healthier.) Many women complain that their spouses are sabotaging their healthy eating plans. In one study, more than 70% of women on diets complained that their spouses had interfered.

Here are some of the diet dilemmas women have asked me about, and my suggestions for how to handle them. If you've had a similar battle of the sexes over your meals and snacks, chime in below.

The salad vs. steak showdown
The problem: "My husband says salad, stir-fry, soy, and anything healthy is 'rabbit food.' He just wants a meat-and-potato-type meal."

The solution: Many men don't find a plant-based diet as satisfying as a juicy, meaty, stick-to-the-ribs meal. What you can do is offer a compromise. Don't try to get a carnivore hubby to be a vegan, but serve smaller portions of meat and choose the leanest cuts. Pair them with a large salad or lots of steamed veggies. Try a few subtle substitutes: Serve baked and breaded zucchini fries instead of french fries, for example, and try dishes that use lean ground beef or turkey instead of the full-fat stuff. (Here are four satisfying veggie-rich options for under $10.)

Sneaky snack sabotage
The problem: "My husband brings home cookies, chips, sodas, and other junk food all the time."

The solution: Your husband needs to know that the food he brings home isn't helping your efforts to stick to a healthy diet, and it may be impacting the diets of your children too. While you can't nag him about his habits, ask him to eat those foods when he's at work or out for meals, rather than bringing them home.

Next page: Self-improvement interference

Self-improvement interference
The problem: "My husband tells me he likes me chubby and sabotages my diet whenever he can by taking me out to dinner or giving me chocolates."

The solution: Many couples are suspicious when one partner embarks on a "home improvement" mission. (If your guy suddenly started hitting the gym every day, you may wonder why as well.) Your husband may be fearful of why you want to change your appearance and may be afraid that you'll no longer find him attractive as you improve your shape. Your new and improved eating style may also make him more self-conscious of the pizza and beer he's downing every Friday night. Offer reassurance that you love him, that your attention to diet details has nothing to do with your relationship, and that your quest for better health can benefit the both of you.

The couch-potato predicament
The problem: "I can't seem to motivate my husband to do anything healthy!"

The solution: Are you really trying to motivate him, or are you coming across as a nag? In many cases, it may be better to remove yourself from the role of diet or fitness coach and get him some professional help. Hire a personal trainer for him, or get him a fitness gadget like a heart rate monitor or a new piece of exercise equipment. Men tend to be motivated by challenge (as opposed to the bathroom scale, clothing sizes, or physical appearance), so set a diet and exercise plan for him that is more performance-based—like aiming to run a 5K or slim down for ski season.

The anti-diet dilemma
The problem: "Since I've gotten married, I've gained 10 pounds in two years. At this rate, I'll be obese by 2010!"

The solution: Research shows that both men and women tend to gain weight once they are married, but women gain more—and generally in the first two years. It's generally a psychological issue, as we feel we are settled and no longer have to work too hard on appearance. But even though your spouse may not be going anywhere, weight gain is still unhealthy. Couples should work to maintain the weight they were when they married; this often means setting nutritional ground rules, such as eating out no more than once a week, not allowing junk food at home, and making vacations activity-oriented rather than sedentary.

If you feel like you're fighting an uphill battle, take heart: While marriage can make some people slothful and apathetic about their weight, it can also be a great opportunity for better health. Sticking with a diet or exercise plan is easier when you've got a committed partner—and if you're both motivated, there's no better way to improve yourselves and your relationship than by working toward a common goal and becoming a healthier, happier couple. Start by setting a good example; you may be surprised by what you're both capable of.

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