Control Another’s Eating? Forget It

Dear Dr. Hurd,

My husband’s father recently passed away from a heart attack. He wasn’t a particularly healthy eater, but he wasn’t obese, either. Suddenly my husband has completely changed his eating habits. Everything is ‘organic’ and supposedly healthy. Frankly, when I eat with him I feel sick from all the fake stuff and chemicals they use to make non-meat taste like meat, non-salt taste like salt or non-whatever taste like whatever it’s supposed to be.

He gets angry when I question him or, God forbid, suggest a nice hamburger. I love eating with him, but I hate the food. He works at home and does the cooking.

Questioning him is like questioning his father and he takes it personally. What to do?

Dr. Hurd replies,

The choice is simple: Eat what you want, and let him eat what he wants.

You can criticize him, but you can’t stop him. He’s obviously not open to persuasion.

He’s passionate about this healthy eating (as he defines the term), and you’re actually making things worse by trying to stop him.

This is an emotional reaction to his father’s death; not just a sense of loss, but also a reminder of his own mortality. And these are highly charged emotions. When you create conflict over his desire to diet, you’re asking him to ignore the loss of his father and deny the importance of living a long life. It’s not helpful to him, and it’s not serving your purposes, either.

Stop questioning him. At the same time, politely, and without fanfare, prepare your own food or arrange for your own meals. Don’t do this in an angry or punitive way. Tell your husband that you don’t want to step on what he’s doing, but that you don’t enjoy everything he’s cooking. You won’t ask him to give up eating the way he wants, and you simply ask for the same in return. You love the guy, so maybe even try some of his less disagreeable dishes once in a while. But go no further than that.

Eating is a primal drive. Rationality applies, of course, but the originating source is biological. People do not like to be told what or how to eat. It’s no different from telling someone how or with whom to have sex. Don’t ask your loved one for anything he’s not able or willing to give, but do ask him to respect the same for you. Maybe you won’t have food in common (at least not for a while until he gets over this), but you’ll still have everything else. If he gets hostile about your choice to eat what you want, don’t get defensive. Just calmly reply, ‘I’m leaving you alone about what you eat. I’m asking that you do the same.’ End of story.

I suspect this will not be permanent. Give him time to come to terms with his grief and all that goes with it. It makes no sense to fight him if this is a passing phase. And if it’s really what he wants, it makes no sense to fight him on it, either.


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