How to Help your Spouse Make Healthy Changes

Bicycle Commuter stop at Traffic Light

We’ve all heard the old American dicho, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  This little bit of wisdom, much like the dichos of our abuelas, madrinas and moms, is tried and true. Another one of my favorites is, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.”

I think these two dichos are pretty handy for those of us over-achieving helper types. Being a helper or a supporter of someone trying to make a change is very important. De Las Mías is based on the knowledge and the research that affirms that helping relationships actually make a difference. But it is equally important to realize that if the horse ain’t ready, there ain’t much you can do about it. So here’s your first consejo: Before you volunteer to help someone change, make sure they are ready to make the change.   

When I started helping my husband, Mike, eat healthier foods, he was ready. His dad had died when Mike was just a baby, leaving Mike’s mom as a young widow to take care of herself and her infant. This was in the 1950s and women alone had more barriers than they do now fending for themselves. This tragic story was told and retold by Mike’s aunts and uncles so that young Mike grew up knowing of his father’s fateful date with a heart attack. When Mike reached the age 35, the same age his dad was when he died of a heart attack, he went in for a routine check-up. The doctor told Mike that he had a very high cholesterol level for a man in his 30s. Mike didn’t need more warning than that. This was his wake-up call and he responded, ready to make a change.

Mike was ready and he asked for my help. Those are two key ingredients to helping someone make a change: readiness and asking for help. If you are in a situation where you want to help your spouse or partner make a change, remember they have to be ready for change and you have to be ready to help.

Mike and I love to eat, and we love to eat good food! We took the guidelines his doctor gave us about what to eat and  starting looking up healthy recipes. We were in it together and that made it fun, not to mention delicious. One of the first things I did was buy a subscription to Cooking Light  because they have wonderful and delicious recipes!  But, although these recipes were good and light, they weren’t Mexican.

So the next important task was to find a dietician who knew about Mexican food! I’m a proud Mexican and a proud Mexican cook. Mike is a proud consumer of Mexican food, so we make a good couple. At the time there was this misconception that Mexican food was unhealthy and greasy, and although there are plenty of ways to cook high fat Mexican food, there are also plenty of ways to cook low fat, healthy Mexican food. And thanks to dieticians and nutritionists like our own Madrina Malena Perdomo, I learned everything I could on how to keep my hubby healthy and happily eating his favorite food.

Remember, the secret sauce here is that Mike was ready. If your spouse is ready, it’s going to be easier, but there are still ways you can get yourself into trouble if you don’t watch it.

So here is how to watch it:

  • If you’re kind of metichi like I am, you’re kind of bossy, right? So the next piece of advice is Stop.  Being bossy is only a good idea in theory. Looks great on Tee-shirts but it doesn’t work that well in marriages.
  • If your spouse needs your help, encourage him or her to ask you for help. You can say something like, “Okay, so I hear you want to start eating better, what can I do to help?”
  • Another helpful hint would be to say, “You know, I’ve been wanting to make some changes too.  What do you say we do it together?”
  • Avoid nagging. Saying “I told you so,”  is a big no-no. If you see him reach for the peanut butter cups, say nothing on the spot. Better to wait and ask him/her later, “Hey, Love, when you reach for the peanut butter cups, do you want me to say something or no?”If he or she says, “Nah, by the time my fingers are on those suckers, it’s kind of late,” take the cue. Take a deep breath and let him or her guide you in how you can help.
  • Control your environment. A very powerful approach to cutting down on junk food and sweets is to simply not have them in the house. You might suggest this when it is NOT emotionally charged. Don’t wait until you’re in the middle of the Super Bowl or his favorite novela to challenge peanut butter cups. Think ahead. You could say something like, “Hey, what about if we don’t buy any junk food this week and see how it goes…”
  • Look up a delicious De Las Mías recipe and prepare a meal together. They say that the couple that cooks together stays together.
  • If you see that either one or both of you want to eat more than you planned after dinner, go for a walk. Exercise has proven to be a great countering technique to overeating.
  • As in all good communication, it starts with a good plan and a good agreement. If you can prepare a plan before going into action, chances are good you’ll be successful!

Remember, as a helper, you want to help.  As you do with your comadres, avoid judging, nagging and giving unsolicited advice.   

And feel free to share my story… About the time that I helped Mike eat better and possibly prevent a heart attack — all while cooking and eating good Mexican food!


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