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1 Household, 2 Diets

Should a spouse ever play ‘diet cop’?

En español | Marriage is hard enough, but add the stress of one partner who needs to go on a diet and daily life can get even tougher.

“I see this tension every day, when one person has to lose weight and the other is at an OK weight or thin,” says Susan Albers, a clinical psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio and author of several books on mindful eating.

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should you play diet cop with a spouse with a medical condition?

Show your loved one support when dieting, but don't monitor every bite he or she takes. — Photo by Daniel Grizelj/Getty Images

Couples have plenty of reasons to dread a weight-loss program. It means change, and change can rock even the most seasoned marriages.

A new diet can also lead to resentment: “Why can my wife eat whatever she wants and I can’t?” Or frustration: “We won’t be able to enjoy dinner together.” Or fear: “If my husband doesn’t lose weight, he could have a heart attack and die.”

That fear, says Albers, “is the hardest way to start a diet.”

To help you or your partner achieve a weight-loss goal without undermining your relationship, Albers and other experts offer these suggestions. Remember, Albers says, the improved health that can result from weight loss can mean a happier — and longer — marriage:

1. Take the focus off food. Leisurely brunches, romantic dinners, late-night snacks: Many couples do a lot of their bonding over food. When a doctor recommends weight loss, some couples may undergo “a bit of a grieving process, given that food may not play as central a role anymore,” says Sofia Rydin-Gray, a psychologist at Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, N.C. But as she points out, you can still bond over food, just less frequently. She suggests, for instance, the occasional restaurant dinner. Or coming up with other activities you can do together — such as a dance class. Rydin-Gray tells couples to view this change as a good thing. “It’s an opportunity to refocus on the quality of the relationship,” she says.

2. Start talking. Solid communication is key to a successful relationship, even more so when weight loss is on the table. Rather than guess at how you can support your dieting spouse, ask him or her for specific guidance, advises Rydin-Gray. Her clients find it helpful to write a letter to their spouse, explaining what they need in the way of diet support and why. (For instance, “Please don’t hide treats in the house because then I focus on finding them, which makes me feel rebellious.”)

3. Don’t play diet cop. Hungry for success, a dieter might ask his spouse to play food police; a spouse, eager to help, might willingly jump into that role. Don’t. “That never works,” says Albers of the Cleveland Clinic. Why not? “It’s a control issue,” she explains. “What goes in your body is up to you, and when someone tries to take that control away, it creates havoc.” Nor is it practical: In most relationships, a spouse isn’t physically present to monitor every morsel. Spousal support is necessary for a diet to work, but, Albers says, that support should be offered in more helpful ways, such as asking whether your spouse would like to join you on a nice, long walk.

Next: Spouse's weight loss spurring thoughts of jealousy? »

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