Most people have had at least one dance with a diet in their lifetime. Many people have done the dance so many times they have worn out a few pairs of shoes over the years. Have you ever thought about the influence of your significant other on the outcome of your efforts? Do they drive you to the dance and tell you what a good dancer you are, or are they constantly “cutting in” and stepping on your toes?

Most people have had at least one dance with a diet in their lifetime. Many people have done the dance so many times they have worn out a few pairs of shoes over the years. Have you ever thought about the influence of your significant other on the outcome of your efforts? Do they drive you to the dance and tell you what a good dancer you are, or are they constantly “cutting in” and stepping on your toes?


Researchers at Ryerson University in Toronto have looked at this issue, studying couples where one of them is trying to make dietary changes. In general, the study found that most significant others saw themselves as a positive influence. Some joined right in with the dietary changes, others helped with shopping and meal planning to support the new eating plan.


However, in a few cases the partners not only didn’t support the changes the dieter was trying to make, they overtly sabotaged the dieter’s efforts. One man complained that his wife sat in front of him, eating a bag of cookies. A woman described her husband as openly skeptical about her ability to succeed on the diet.


The researchers agreed that sometimes the non-dieting partner can feel threatened by the changes the other is trying to make, worried that it might change the relationship. Others can feel rejected, especially if foods once shared and enjoyed as part of a social connection are now forbidden.


The researchers’ findings suggest that diet changes need to be seen as a shared activity between partners. This is important, they note, because one partner’s diet makeover necessarily changes food buying and mealtime for both. Finding ways to get a partner on board is important because their support can play a major role in the success or failure of the desired changes.


These can be difficult changes for a person to make, and support is essential. Having to face negativity at every meal is enough to stop someone dead in their tracks. One researcher notes that communication of the dieter’s needs to the partner is paramount. “If there's no communication, then it's pretty hard to make changes."


Much of the time, the negative partner didn’t even realize the effect their words and actions had on the dieter. If the one making the changes doesn’t speak up and state what they need, then the pattern will more than likely continue.


If you are trying hard to do the dance and your partner just doesn’t get it, try spelling out the steps simply and clearly. Maybe the non-dancer will soon be the one spinning you around the floor.


Pam Maxson is a health educator at Noyes Hospital in Dansville. If you have questions or suggestions for future articles, she can be reached at  pmaxson@noyes-hospital.org or 335-4327.