WWMUD: My husband is a food pusher
Help me set the right boundaries to protect my commitment to the Whole30, and my long-term Food Freedom plan
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Dear MU: I need guidance for a husband who is a food pusher. He tries to sabotage my food choices by any means, and every time I say no, it creates conflict. It reminds me of the old saying, "misery loves company." I hate the conflict and backlash that comes when I don’t give in, but I hate giving in even more. I need advice on how to set boundaries here so I can take care of ME and protect my physical and mental health. –Peer Pressured
Dear Peer Pressured,
Now is the perfect time for this question, as many of you are embarking upon the September Whole30 starting on September 4th. (Even if you’re not, being pressured around food isn’t fun.) It sounds like you have two boundary needs here: one with your husband, and one with yourself.
Boundary 1: With your husband
There’s a saying—"we teach people how to treat us"—and your husband is doing just that. He’s teaching you to give in to make him feel better, because if you don’t, he’ll punish you with tension, backlash, and an otherwise unpleasant environment.
He’s probably not manipulating you on purpose. He clearly has his own issues (emotional and otherwise) around food, which are driving this reaction. Eating junk food by himself while watching you care for your health is painful, and he wants that pain to go away. And it’s easier to pressure you than it is to make changes himself.
Your boundary with your husband is, "I will no longer accept peer pressure around food."
During a quiet moment away from food—maybe on a drive, a walk, or relaxing Sunday afternoon—tell him you’d like to talk about your mental health. Share that you’re deeply committed to your Whole30 or Food Freedom plan for all of the benefits it brings you (energy, sleep, mood, reduction in anxiety or other mental health symptoms—share the goals that will resonate best with him). Emphasize that you’re only focused on what’s on your plate. Explain that when he tries to get you to join him in eating things you really don’t want, it turns a pleasant occasion (like dinner, a movie, or a date night) into an uncomfortable environment. Then, clearly state that you need meals and snacks to be a judgment-free zone, without assigning morality or peer pressure in either direction
You can also share that this dynamic makes you feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. If you give in, you feel physically bad, and disappointed in yourself to make him happy. If you push back, however, you preserve your commitment to self-care, but end up in conflict with your husband, and that feels just as bad. Try ending the conversation with, "I won’t accept peer pressure around food any longer. If I say no, please respect that. Can we agree to this?"
It’s likely this won’t be the end of it, and you’ll need to reinforce your boundary at least a few times. Remember, a boundary isn’t about controlling other people’s behavior, it’s about letting them know what YOU will do in the face of that behavior. If you say no and your husband continues to pressure you, your boundary becomes, "I’ve said no, and you’re not respecting that. I’m going to eat dinner in the kitchen/read a book instead/end our date night early."
Ultimately, you are responsible for holding your limit, and if he continues to peer pressure you, the message you have to send is, "This situation is harmful, so I am removing myself from it."
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Boundary 2: With yourself
Now, the equally hard part: the boundary with yourself. There’s a reason your husband continues to peer pressure you around food: because at least some of the time, it works. This is where the boundary with yourself comes in.
You’ve already said you’re in a lose-lose situation in this dynamic, and I’ve already said that you can’t control his behavior. But if you stopped giving in—if 100% of the time, you said no, offered a warning if the behavior continued, then held your boundary—he’d probably stop pressuring you. (It’s not getting him anywhere, so what’s the point?).
You need to set a boundary with yourself that you will not give into his peer pressure. Not once, not ever. Because the conflict with your husband that follows (we’ll get to that) is nowhere near as painful as knowing you sold yourself out just to make someone else happy, said with love.
Your self-boundary is, "I will honor my Food Freedom plan and what I know is and is not worth it, no matter what."
When you set boundaries with yourself, it can be helpful to think about the consequences you’ll experience when you fail to respect your own limits. You already know that Future You is going to be mad at yourself and your husband if you don’t hold your own boundary here. It’s going to hurt your relationship, your trust, and your self-confidence, and you’re going to feel physically uncomfortable to boot.
Similarly, it can be motivating to consider the freedoms that come from adhering to your own boundaries. If you hold this self-boundary, you will be free to feel your best (physically and mentally) in your body and relationship. You’ll be free to approach the conflict that may try to follow from a place of self-confidence, grace, and strength. You’ll be free to find empathy for your husband, where before, you only had resentment and anger. And you’ll be free to evolve your relationship with food and my relationship with my husband, because you’ll no longer be stuck in the same dysfunctional pattern.
Your well-boundaried future
In truth, this will probably be uncomfortable for both of you. And yes, if this pattern continues despite your healthy boundaries and communication, you might require the help of a therapist or marriage counselor.
But this new way of showing up facilitates an emotional connection in a space that feels more peaceful and safe—and that’s where the real relationship magic can happen. All you need are some clear and healthy boundaries, spoken from a place of kindness, to get there.