My spouse won’t eat Real Food. Can you help me? How can I get him/her on board?
It’s one of the most common questions we receive from our readers and members of Traditional Cooking School.
Wives (and husbands, too) are sad, mad, or frustrated because they’re doing all they can to change their family’s health through Real Food, yet their spouse is unsupportive, picky, or downright refuses to participate.
Maybe you’re in the same boat as Todd S., who shared:
In general her [my wife’s] health is not anywhere near as good as mine. I would like to have some recipes that she would like also. She wants to use only processed flour and sugar. … My wife and 2 kids have eczema (wife has it very bad). I am looking for a gentle push that … will help her with eczema and stomach issues without her noticing it — [t]hus pushing her to embrace cooking with better ingredients.
Do you have visions of the entire family sitting down together to a healthy, home-cooked meal — but that’s not happening because your significant other won’t eat what you’ve prepared? Perhaps you can identify with Jackie S.?
Most of what I now eat, my significant other will not eat. So it makes dealing with meal planning and meal-time togetherness a challenge.
You may even feel that the processed foods your spouse brings into the home are poisonous, like this anonymous TCS member:
My husband refuses to participate which means it’s impossible to get my kids to eat healthy. I feel like they are eating poison everyday. I don’t buy unhealthy food so my husband started buying it himself and started making dinner for himself and the boys. He’s diabetic so eating healthier would greatly benefit him, but he thinks healthy food is gross.
I get it. Really, I do.
The power of food is unlike any other. For an adult who feels like their spouse is forbidding a favorite comfort or junk food, the thought of going without can conjure up dissatisfaction, deprivation, or defensiveness.
And yet, forbidding them or taking food away is exactly what you can’t do because…
Your spouse is an adult.
You aren’t his/her parent.
If your spouse won’t eat Real Food, won’t try fermented foods, and continues to eat junk food or drink soda… that’s not on you.
What are you in control of? What can you change? What can you do?
#1 — Pray — and Rejoice, Anyway!
Every burden we carry must start at the same place. And that is: Laying it at the Lord’s feet, thanking Him for His goodness and care in the midst of trials, asking for His help, and rejoicing in spite of the struggle.
Sound too simplistic? That’s the beauty of it. Putting things in perspective is the only way we can prevent getting wrapped around the axle, stressing out too much, or placing too much importance on things outside of our control.
In Philippians 4:6-8, God tells us:
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Please, if you do nothing else, take this one bit of advice to heart and let God help you navigate all your challenges — whether it’s this particular struggle or a completely different one.
#2 — Recognize that you’re responsible only for yourself.
You are not responsible for your spouse or their choices.
You can only work on and change yourself and hope that you are an inspiration for change in their life.
Allow yourself to release the burden of feeling responsible for your spouse’s health, food choices, and lifestyle — because you’re not.
Need tips to help you continue to stay on track with your healthy eating by yourself? Check out 5 Tips — Traditional Cooking For One (Or Two!) #AskWardee 115 and 10 Traditional Cooking Tips For The New Wife On A Budget.
#3 — Have a loving conversation with your spouse.
Nagging won’t work and isn’t healthy for your relationship, so try not to do that.
Choose a calm, neutral time of day to have this conversation, perhaps after a quiet dinner date or after the kids have gone to bed.
(If you’ve just had an argument over paying bills, wait. That’s not the time to have this discussion.) 😉
Calmly explain what you want (to eat healthier, exercise more, shop organically, etc.) and why you’d like to embark on this journey together.
You can also lovingly ask your spouse to support you and your efforts to eat Real Food in front of the children. Sure, they may drink sodas or indulge in processed foods away from home, but it’s okay to ask that the two of you be united in front of the kids.
#4 — Strive to make healthy changes together, slowly, one step at a time.
If your spouse won’t eat Real Food, maybe it’s partially because you’ve been a bit pushy and your spouse has felt rushed? If so, endeavor to slow down.
Recognize that food or life changes don’t really happen all at once. They take time. Your spouse may simply need more time than you.
Even those of us with the best of intentions and the knowledge to carry them out still need time to adjust to new foods, flavors, and routines.
Taking these changes at a healthy, slow, and steady pace will keep you (and your spouse) from overwhelm and burnout.
#5 — Find out what Real Foods your spouse DOES enjoy.
Ask your spouse what he DOES enjoy that you’ve made or tried — and make those things often.
Perhaps it’s some of your homemade cheese or delicious sourdough bread.
Make the nourishing things he loves on a regular basis, such as mac-n-cheese or nachos.
Or learn to health-ify some old favorites by simply swapping out ingredients, or try one of these real food copycat recipes. (Pssst! They may not even know the difference!)
#6 — Accept that your spouse may always reach for processed foods.
She may always crave soda or chips or candy more than she craves Real Food. You have to accept that and make peace with it.
Again, you cannot control his or her choices, and it’s not good for your relationship for you to try.
Allow yourself to be at peace with whatever your spouse eats, even if you don’t agree with her.
#7 — Love conquers all.
You don’t love your spouse because of what he does or doesn’t eat. You didn’t fall in love because of food, and food shouldn’t be allowed to cause division in your relationship.
You don’t have to sacrifice your own health or goals. You should, however, be sensitive and accepting, even though it hurts to see him making poor choices.
Bottom line: your relationship has to take priority over the food on your plate. Love must win.
How do you put love first, even when your spouse won’t eat Real Food? Do you have any other tips or experiences you can share?
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This really hit home for me. My husband has been angry with me for years because of a difference in opinion regarding food choices. It’s been worse since I chose to embrace a vegetarian, mostly vegan, diet and lifestyle about three years ago. I also pushed to purchase a CSA from a local farm family, and we now receive a generous portion of local organic produce weekly for most of the year. This food has become the mainstay of my diet, but my husband now rarely even touches a vegetable…when he used to prior to my vegetarian decision. He has a host of health problems…obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, kidney and heart problems…and I keep hoping he will choose to change his diet and lifestyle so that he might reduce or eliminate some of the issues he has and enjoy and longer and healthier life. I think he believes that doing so will mean relinquishing some kind of control, and so we remain at odds. I never realized that eating styles and food choices could be such emotional issues. Our relationship is strained…not because I can’t accept his choices but because he refuses to accept mine. I hope I’ll hear from others and perhaps get some advice on how to deal with the differences.
It sounds like your husband’s health problems are pretty serious. I can’t imagine that he would want to continue in that kind of poor health just for spite. Have you thought about seeking out counseling? Food may not be the issue, as you said. This could be about control, resentment, insecurity, fear of change – who knows. We humans do strange things for strange reasons. This could be a great opportunity to clear the air in your relationship and start a new season of unity. I highly recommend MFT (marriage and family therapy) for counseling. They work from a systemic perspective that is extraordinarily helpful. Good luck and blessings!
Wardee Harmon says
Sarah — Thank you for helping Char out. It’s very kind of you! I appreciate it!
Wardee Harmon says
Char ~ I’m sorry to hear this. The littlest things can be big stumbling blocks in relationships. I have seen it in myself and after getting past it, I think “Why in the world did I hang on to that?” In hindsight, it doesn’t make sense, but we know we all do it. I will pray for you and your husband to get to the bottom of the resistance. In the meantime, I would encourage to lean on the Lord, rejoice for the blessings, and keep praying that the Lord would show you how to Love your husband through this. I pray he will come around in time. God bless you both. <3
Maybe there is more to the relationship issue other than food going on. I’ve found that being in a loving relationship means being there for my partner and taking care of myself as I would expect him to do for me. If we are unable to value ourselves then how can we value others? Maybe the relationship has more issues other than health issues.
When I think about having children in the mix, that is another dynamic as well. Aren’t parents supposed to model for their children? What does this say to children when parents are modeling two different messages? Children learn by watching not by listening.
Wardee Harmon says
Mindy — Thank you for helping Char out. I appreciate your kind response to her and I hope it helps. God bless you!
LaVon Donley-Cornett says
I can relate with Char. My husband loves his soda. He has acid reflux and I convinced him to try some yogurt from the grocery store. Immediately his stomach felt better. So now instead of reaching for ice cream he reaches for his yogurt. I asked him to try eating wheat bread for awhile. His first complaint was toasted cheese is awful on wheat bread but when he went to the doctor, his cholesterol had dropped 40 points after eating it for a year.
I found that I was tired and lacked energy and my doctor said my hemoglobin was a little low and I was border line anemic. I tried drinking kombutcha and I felt a boost in energy. I am slow in the things I am doing to change but I am trying small things. I am working on trying to make my own kombutcha. Next I will try to make healthy home made sodas for my husband.
Wardee Harmon says
LaVon — Amazing! I love his instant response to yogurt. Food can be so healing and there are many people who come on board after “aha”s like that. Good for your husband being willing to try your suggestion. I like hearing that you’re feeling better too. God bless you both!
You have a great list here. From a relational perspective, I believe that #7 is absolutely crucial. What if my spouse never changes, (this applies to so much more than food), will I still choose to view him through eyes of love? Am I willing to make our relationship more important than a change in behavior/choices? Does my spouse FEEL loved by me? Proverbs 25:15 comes to mind: “Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone.” Love wins!
Wardee Harmon says
Margie — Amen. Thank you for sharing that verse. 🙂
My husband and daughter and I are all on different diets. She turned out to be allergic to a lot of my staple healthy foods: egg, sunflower, wheat, sesame, etc. For the time being I get a lot of better for her but bad for me foods, like high glycemic GF products and avocado oil chips for her to bring to scouting etc events where she will eat the offerings if she has no alternative. My husband now keeps junky food I don’t want either kid to have in a high cabinet that I don’t open when they are around. And sister’s expensive GF treat foods are in an opaque bin up high so little brother doesn’t see them and ask for them. I’m focusing on everybody trying lots of new foods so they feel abundance. Also then we have replacements before I totally remove some things.
Wardee Harmon says
Alex, It sounds like you’re managing things very well! Thanks for sharing how you balance all your diets. 🙂
Susan B says
Besides swapping out, do some add ins that they can’t taste! Throw in a little cauliflower to the mashed potatoes, a little zucchini to the chocolate cake, a little avacado in the chocolate pudding, etc. These things are undetectable and healthy! Switch out unhealthy for healthy cooking oils, sea salt for plain table salt, get creative! The biggest thing (besides the prayer and praise to God) is to continue eating healthy and enjoy it, a good role model is intriguing and curiosity may get them to sneak a taste!
Wardee Harmon says
Susan B. — Great tips here. Thanks! You’re completely right. “Makeovers” is a great approach.
This was really good! My husband has been EXTREMELY supportive of all the changes I’ve made to our family’s eating habits, but I’ve been critical of my teenage kids when they eat poorly away from home. As I’ve gradually been learning (still in the process!) to let go of those emotions and let them make their own choices, my oldest has started to visibly make good decisions even away from home. I’ve tried to not just make changes to our diet, but also explain the WHY behind everything I’ve done. For example, when we went off grains (hope to return to some ancient, correctly prepared ones eventually), I studied and found out and shared what they are doing to our bodies and why we needed to move away from them for now. It’s worked well.
Thanks so much for sharing this, Wardee! I have many friends who’s spouses are not supportive of them right now and this was great to share with them.
Wardee Harmon says
Tatia — I’m so glad you shared that about your daughter. It’s amazing how the little things we communicate can cause such resistance and when we let go of expectations and stop conveying our disappointment, our loved ones are more likely to get on board and make positive changes for themselves. This is certainly true for me, I admit. I don’t like someone to tell me what to do, I like to choose myself. A great lesson here. Thanks again for sharing. 🙂
Thank you for sharing your ideas. It’s timely for my husband and myself. We have a garden and are just starting to enjoy eating the vegetables and fruits we’ve been growing. Usually we grow them and give them away. I’ve been the one that stayed away from the garden, until now. Thanks again!
Wardee Harmon says
Linda — How wonderful for you. Exciting times ahead, and I’m so happy you’re getting involved yourself. God bless you both!
I really like that your first suggestion is to pray about it because it’s a good reminder that we always have that choice when feeling exasperated. My husband will eat most of my healthy cooking but still buys so much junk food that is so bad for him. He over eats due to diabetes and out of control blood sugar playing tricks with his feeling of hunger. He also has no willpower when it comes to processed sweets and fatty deli salads and other high fat, high sodium foods. He is not grossly overweight but does need to drop about 30 lbs. He also needs to bring his blood sugar down a LOT! I almost lost him last Christmas to diabetic ketoacidosis which resulted in a mild heart attack and kidney failure. He spent five days in ICU and was really good about eating right for about a month. But, alas, he’s taken back up his old ways and it’s slowly killing him.
Now, I know that you pointed out that they are adults and that we should only worry about eating right ourselves, however, 12 years ago I lost my first husband to lung cancer from his smoking. I was a caregiver for 19 long, grueling, painful months and was left as a single widowed mom with two children … my youngest was only six. Now, I see my second husband not caring about his health and the fear of becoming a long term caregiver of a blind amputee scares me very much. These are things his doctors have warned him about and he is currently headed down that path unless he changes his eating habits. I love him dearly and would certainly care for him with love and devotion as I did my first husband. However, I am now 60 years old and KNOW how difficult it is being a caregiver. It ages one … tremendously! My heart would be willing but I already know it would shorten MY life. So, even though we should focus on taking care ourselves if the other won’t comply, I have to point out that trying to get the spouse on board is not ONLY for them. It is also for our own health if taking care of them or losing them is going to put an overwhelming amount of stress and strain on our health as well. If they love us and care about what happens to us and our health then they should at least try. It’s selfish when they don’t. So, back to prayer. Thank you for letting me point out this perspective and for allowing my bit of venting. God’s many blessings on you, Wardee! You are such a blessing to so many.
Nadia Ketoure says
I am reading your comment years after you posted. I am happy you are bringing the perspective of how it feels to watch someone get sick and possibly have to become the caregiver of this adult who did not push harder enough to take care of their own health. I left my husband, not just because of food but because of the lifestyle I wanted to live..I felt that I was going to have to take care of him like a nurse. I had to make that choice to preserve my health.
I love your admonition to pray! Your article title grabbed my interest and was not obviously Christian, and I believe you are helping point people to God who need a breakthrough in their family harmony. Great job! I appreciate your helpful suggestions.
Thank you for this. This is the only thing I’ve found that is relevant to my husband and his food issues! Thankful I found that I’m not alone dealing with this.
Thanks for this. I appreciate that I am not alone. My husband is a pastor, but he LOVES junk food. He thinks that he can exercise away his bad eating so he works out two hours a day every day. Sadly, his diet is so bad (eating out twice a day and drinking soda and lots of candy, chips and junk food) that his health deteriorates more and more each year. He has circulation issues, high blood pressure, extremely high cholesterol, and now he is pre-diabetic. It’s hard to even get him to go to the Dr. let alone eat right. It breaks my heart because I love him so much and each day I expect he could have a heart attack or stroke at any time because of how unhealthy he eats and how high his cholesterol levels are. I will miss him greatly if this happens, but worse yet, he says he will be happy to be in glory and doesn’t seem to be thinking he’d be leaving me behind alone, a homemaker and I’m only 54. I feel bad for him, because I think he knows he needs to change, but just doesn’t want to face the fact because he loves his treats sooooo much.