Until my husband made a change, he drank soda like water: literally. After a game of pick-up basketball, instead of ice cold water he would stop at the gas station for a bottle of Mountain Dew. And before workouts, he drank Red Bull. Throughout high school and college, he consumed 2, 3, 4, or more sodas and energy drinks each day. This might sound crazy to some, but to many, my husband’s journey to nutrition was typical of many men.
My Husband’s Journey to Nutrition
You see, to him, “healthy” meant a limited calorie diet. It meant drinking skim milk versus whole. And when he wanted to be really “healthy” he ordered a salad (and then asked for extra dressing on the side to make up for the lack of flavor).
Then, after a doctor appointment in college, he learned he’d have to make an added adjustment to his diet. Due to a liver transplant at age sixteen, he gets routine blood work every two months. One of his medications caused his blood sugar to run higher than average. And because of it, he had to begin to monitor his sugar intake. Like most people, he reached for everything low sugar and sugar-free then tried his best to be careful otherwise.
But if you don’t know my husband’s story, allow me to back up and provide some background. At age thirteen he was diagnosed with autoimmune hepatitis. In non-medical speak, his body attacked his liver causing him to need a new one. After a three-year battle, he was fortunate to receive a liver transplant at the age of sixteen.
He wasn’t required to follow a strict diet or anything due to his health complications he experienced as a teenager. But I think he would say that he has a greater appreciation for his health because of it. And because of it, he’s tried to be more responsible since then.
Thankfully, my husband has enjoyed working out for as long as I’ve known him. But he really never placed a priority on nutrition. The only time he really gave any thought to what he ate was when he was trying to make gains in the gym. And that just meant he ate a lot more.
He admits that nutrition wasn’t on his radar until we got married. He actually lost 25 pounds in our first 5 months of marriage. And it wasn’t because he ate less. It was a matter of what he was eating instead of how much. I’m married to this man, so I want him to stick around as long as possible.
That’s the background of my husband’s story. I would say his nutrition was pretty similar to a lot men. But I know there is so much power in food and I knew he would benefit if we cleaned up his nutrition.
Maybe your husband’s (or boyfriend’s) nutrition is similar to what my husband’s used to be. If so, you’re probably reading this because you want to know how you can help your husband or boyfriend clean up his nutrition.
My goal is that the following conversation with my husband will help you with that. Here’s my interview of sorts with my husband about his journey to nutrition.
My Interview With my Husband About His Journey to Nutrition
Me: Why do men struggle with nutrition?
Noah: Well, for starters, I think women grow up naturally being more in tune with their body. Men and boys aren’t nearly as in turn with their body. While growing up maybe we have too much junk food at times, feel crummy the next day, but then move on. We don’t really think much of it. But this type of mentality, giving little thought to the way our body responds to outside influence doesn’t set up for success in the future.
But beyond that, why does anyone struggle with nutrition? It’s mostly for the same reasons. Maybe we go to the gym, wish we were as in shape as the person standing next to us. But as soon as we leave we’re tempted by fast food or any other junk food in the pantry. We figure that bodybuilding physique is too much work – pizza and beer become more appealing than the discipline required to be a bodybuilder.
There’s not a strong enough connection between nutrition and results. For most guys, avoiding a heart attack is too distant of a threat to prevent them from enjoying their food.
Me: What caused you to want to make a change?
Noah: It began with education. I liked the idea of eating healthy. But I had an inaccurate interpretation. To me, healthy nutrition meant being restrictive. In college, I had friends who ate really clean and even competed as professional bodybuilders. They would tell me about their diet and it sounded terrible. It pretty much consisted of grilled chicken and steamed broccoli. There was no way I was going to live on that.
But when you explained that eating healthy could actually include delicious food I realized I could actually make it work. Then when you explained balance, that I didn’t have to give up everything entirely, I was onboard.
But really there were two reasons I wanted to change. I wanted to be healthy for you, and for our future family. I didn’t want to be the fat slob of a husband or dad. And I like to be in control of my life as much as possible. Eating crap doesn’t allow that. Eating junk food means you’re at the mercy of whatever the manufacturer injected in that piece of fake food.
Me: What benefits did you see?
Noah: Weight management and physique aside, I’ve seen a lot of benefits from cleaning up my nutrition. I generally feel better. I don’t get sick nearly as often anymore. I used to get sick on a pretty regular basis. And when I did, it would last for several weeks. But that’s not the case anymore.
I also sleep better now. I used to sleep terribly, but now I sleep more soundly at night.
And I had previously struggled with acne. Even after college. Remember when you were in Africa before we got engaged? I was stressed and my adult acne was out of control. It was embarrassing! But since cleaning up my diet, I don’t struggle with acne. I might get a pimple a couple times a year, but before, it was constant. Especially when I was stressed – it was a given that I would have a severe breakout.
Me: You grew up being able to eat whatever you wanted – how hard was it to change?
Noah: At first it was hard. I struggled to wrap my mind around the idea of not consuming all the processed, prepackged food I had grown up on. But once I shifted my mindset, it was much easier to continue making changes.
It required that I reframe my idea of nutrition. I had to realize that food consumption wasn’t some nebulous activity. Once I realized that what I put into my body had a direct result on how my body performed – number of sick days, ability to focus, energy levels – it became easier to adopt these changes.
Me: When we first found out London had a gluten intolerance and need to go gluten-free, you didn’t. Why were you reluctant?
Noah: Honestly, it’s because I didn’t see the benefit. I’ll admit, it was selfish. I just saw all the things I would have to eliminate. I liked pizza and I liked donuts. I didn’t want to have to think about whether what I was eating was gluten-free or not. It just seemed complicated.
I also saw how expensive gluten-free foods were. It didn’t seem worth it to me.
Me: What made you change your mind?
Noah: I wanted to support my daughter. If I was going to ask my little girl to make this change, then I needed to support her. Even though she felt better from it, it was a big deal for a little girl.
But what made that decision even easier was how much better I felt after going gluten-free. When you prioritize your nutrition everything else is relative. Eating healthier might cost a little more, but it helps you avoid the doctor and it means fewer sick days.
Me: What makes eating healthy enjoyable to you now?
Noah: I don’t feel deprived. Marketing has made “healthy” a negative qualifier. If something is “healthy” we’re led to believe it’s less enjoyable. Or something needs to be added to it to make it taste good. Diet foods have fewer calories, so they use added sugars or fake sweeteners to make them taste better.
But you’ve proven that eating healthy doesn’t have to be complicated or boring. You’ve also shown me that it’s not about an all or nothing mindset. I can still enjoy my favorite snacks in moderation.
Me: What advice would you have for women trying to encourage their husbands to eat healthier?
Noah: First I would tell her not to give up. I know you’ve mentioned it before, but it’s true that a mom has a big influence in her home!
Then I would tell her to follow the following steps in some form:
1. Start small
I would tell her to start small with him. Us guys can be slow to learn. And that means you have to be patient with us. Don’t try to replace all his beer with sparkling water overnight and hope you’ll be successful.
As I sit here I’m drinking a cup of black coffee. And before this delicious cup of coffee, I was drinking sparkling water. They’re my two drinks of choice. But this wasn’t the case ten years ago. Back then I wanted soda and every sugary drink the Starbucks menu had to offer. There was certainly a sequence of steps from my venti caramel frap to my cup of black coffee.
2. Help him realize it’s a lifestyle
Remove the four-letter “D” word from your vocabulary. He’s not going on a diet. That word immediately conjures a terrible mentality. This is an indefinite lifestyle – one that will allow him to feel better and maintain the results he’s always hoped for. Every guy would like to feel better and have a little extra room in the waistband. But most don’t know how to make it happen.
Introduce him to foods that are both healthy and delicious. Help him realize that those two things don’t need to be mutually exclusive.
3. Abandon the all or nothing mentality
He can still enjoy his favorite snacks. He can still enjoy beer and buffalo wings. But in moderation. If he’s watching Monday night football, Thursday night football, and has a guy’s poker night on the weekend, tell him to choose one of those nights instead of eating junk each night.
It’s a lifestyle, not a diet. And when he does have a rough week, help him recapture his nutrition by enjoying some delicious healthy meals over the weekend instead of going for pizza.
4. Replace instead of remove
Bad habits are more successfully broken when they are replaced with a good one. Not to say he shouldn’t eliminate some bad behaviors. One perfect example for me was replacing my soda with sparkling water. But that took time. The thing about cleaning up nutrition is that it will take time. Your body won’t naturally crave foods with less sugar. Sugar is highly addictive. But as you work to remove more of these highly processed foods, his taste threshold will lower. In time he’ll start to enjoy the more subtle flavors of fruits, vegetables, and other whole, nutritious foods.
Look for alternatives to his favorites. For me, I love coffee. But I didn’t wake up one morning craving black coffee. I normally have a couple cups of coffee each morning. So, I started by drinking one cup of black coffee for everything creamy, sugar infused cup of coffee each morning.
Without sounding like a marriage counselor, make sure you talk together. You need to land on the same page about nutrition. It might not happen at first. But the more you talk about it and adopt this lifestyle yourself, it will help him come around.
You should also practically plan out your week. If he’s watching college football all Saturday, he’s probably going to want to snack. So don’t go out for pizza the night before. Save that for the game the next day.
I hope that by reading my husband’s journey to nutrition you’ve been given hope. It was my goal to arm you with practical tips to help your husband or boyfriend do the same. Remember, this is not a diet. It’s my goal to show you that nutrition can be simple + easy + delicious! This is a lifestyle to help you reach your goals through healthy living.
About the author:
Kara Swanson is a certified nutritionist and founder of Life Well Lived. She is married to her best friend and the proud mother of three. Her passion is to make nutrition simple+easy+delicious!