I Heart You and I Want Your Heart to be Healthy!

What happens when you see your spouse in real trouble, out of control and needing to change his or her health and eating habits?

How You Can Help (the Dos)

Dr. Tamara Goldman Sher is a professor and the director of clinical training at the Illinois Institute of Technology. She says when it comes to managing chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cancer, there are 3 ways a partner can be involved in helping facilitate behavioral changes in his or her spouse. The person trying to make the changes needs to figure out which of the 3 modes they prefer.

Do It Together
“Some want their partner to do it with them. They say to their spouse, ‘Let’s both try to lose weight, let’s both join a gym,’” says Goldman Sher, who also has a practice helping couples learn how to deal and cope with chronic diseases.

Cheryl and Harrel Wittenstein of Glenview are a couple who have managed to stay fit and healthy after being together for 12 years. They workout and watch their diets together regularly.

“We keep each other going,” says Cheryl, “So, if there’s a falling off the wagon, we tell each other. We’re emotionally there for each other if we’re slipping.”

Cheer for your spouse
According to Goldman Sher, some people want their spouses to be cheerleaders. “They want their partner to say, ‘It’s terrific that you went to the gym today!’ or ‘How can I grocery shop better to support your eating changes?’” she says.

Sue Sondag of Glenview says she fits this description when it comes to her 65-year-old husband, Glen.  “He’s a meat and potatoes guy. I can’t control what he eats at work but I always try to cook healthy at home,” she says. “I’m very self-motivated and he needs me to push him a little bit.”

Stay out of it!
The third option for a person trying to make behavioral health changes is to keep the spouse out completely. Goldman Sher says some people just want to do it by themselves, and when their husband or wife gets involved, it makes them feel like a child or a burden.

How You Can Hinder (the Don’ts)

There are plenty of ways to hinder your spouse, too. According to Goldman Sher, there are two big ones. First, the partner is a nag. “’Are you planning on going to work out?’ they ask ten times a day.”

She says she’s also seen people police behavior change. “’When I left the house there were 32 Oreos in the package. When I got home there were 6. What happened?’ they say to their husband or wife.”

When I asked her specifically about weight loss, Goldman Sher recommended buying one of the cookbooks published by the American Heart Association, such as The New American Heart Association Cookbook. She also suggested going to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s interactive website, myplate.gov for healthy eating tips, personalized eating plans, and audio podcasts about changing your weight and health.