As someone who has spent a decent portion of my life dieting in some capacity or other, I know that trying to achieve personal health and fitness goals can be an intense, emotionally-fraught experience. While it’s also an extremely personal process, it can be a significant part of a person’s daily life, which means it can definitely affect those close to them.
This intense and emotionally-fraught experience is magnified significantly when it corresponds with a particular event. Multiply that again when the event in question is already notoriously stressful and expensive—like, say, a wedding.
Suffice to say, if you and your partner are planning a wedding, it’s likely already a stressful time for both of you. If one of you is working toward certain pre-wedding health and fitness goals, that can definitely add another level of stress—but it doesn’t have to! We reached out to registered dietitians Rachel Paul, PhD, RD of The Wedding Nutritionist, and Rebecca Ditkoff, MPH, RD of Nutrition by RD for advice on how to support your partner’s pre-wedding health and fitness plan.
Be careful with the unsolicited advice
When your S.O. is working toward something they care about, it’s natural to want to encourage them. But when that thing is as personal as health and fitness, it can be hard to know what to say and when to say it.
Step one is recognizing that health and fitness is an intensely individual experience, and what works for you may not work for your partner. As Rachel and Rebecca note, “Everyone believes they are an expert in nutrition, because everyone knows their bodies best and everyone eats!” However, it’s important to keep your partner’s individual needs in mind. “Try to not project your personal food and exercise beliefs onto your significant other,” they advise.
This is especially important for hetero couples, as the dietary needs of men and women tend to differ even more drastically than among same-sex individuals. “In many cases we’ve seen, men can pick up an exercise regimen and easily drop a few pounds. For women, however, it’s generally not that easy, and requires more focus on the food part of the energy balance equation,” say Rachel and Rebecca. “Projecting what works for you regarding food and exercise onto your partner isn’t typically helpful, and more importantly, isn’t what will actually work best for the other person.”
Set guidelines beforehand
While in most cases, a good rule of thumb is to avoid commenting on someone’s body altogether, there’s naturally a bit of a grey area when it comes to the person with whose body you are most intimately acquainted.
Some people love hearing encouragement from others, especially their partner, when they’ve lost weight or made other significant strides in achieving their goals. Others, however, may feel offended or scrutinized. I’ll admit that for me, this preference can literally change by the day.
That’s why Rachel and Rebecca recommend setting clear expectations about commentary beforehand. “Some women like to be openly encouraged, questioned, and prompted regarding their weight goals, but many women prefer to have a shoulder to lean on and to hear an encouraging word when needed,” they explain. “Having a conversation beforehand about what type of encouragement [someone] prefers would be the safest bet.”
Of course, this conversation can and should be flexible and on-going. “It’s completely fine for this discussion to be a learning process,” say Rachel and Rebecca. “[They] may think they want daily encouraging remarks, but midway through decide that isn’t the best supportive method.” As with any part of a relationship, “clear communication is key,” they add.
Don’t forget to have fun!
Following a health and fitness plan can be daunting, and, frankly, it’s hard work. That said, there are ways to make the process more enjoyable and rewarding for you both.
“Making a healthy lifestyle change is often a lot more fun and better when you do it with someone else,” say Rachel and Rebecca. Involving your fiancé "in the food shopping, planning and cooking of meals together can be a great shared activity as well as a good break from the stress of wedding planning," they explain.
A new meal plan can also be a creative excuse to plan a date night. “We even like to remind couples how romantic a night in of cooking and sharing a candle-lit healthy meal that they prepared together can be,” Rachel and Rebecca add.
Of course, it’s not all fun and dates. “Weight loss isn’t always a fun process, and you NEED someone in your corner,” they note. “Being supportive throughout this time is key.”
Ultimately though, “discussions of weight loss and health should be two-way,” they add. “The couple should be able to openly communicate how they want to be supported throughout the process.”
At the end of the day, both parties have needs, and those needs can easily be met with a little forethought and a lot of that classic relationship secret sauce: communication.