How to manage diets as a couple… is it twice as easy or double the trouble?
No matter what your couple’s goals or individual goals are, chances are that you and your partner eat differently and have different nutritional needs.
But here’s the kicker: you influence each other more than you may realize, both with positive and negative eating habits.
We’ve compiled the common complaints we hear from couples, like, “He eats a ton of food and never gains an ounce” to, “She’s on a diet so now I’m always starving!”
Here’s our story, what the science says, and a simple step-by-step method to create a couples diet plan. Read on for our guide on how to manage your diets as a couple.
how to manage diets as a couple
There are many diet challenges that couples face.
Once you decide to eat healthy together, a proper diet as a couple falls into place, right? Wrong. Outside of the confusion that surrounds diets and healthy eating for one person, the difficulty multiplies when meal planning for two.
For us, it took years to master our nutrition individually, and then as a couple. There were a lot of details to work through.
How do we eat together when Alex is vegetarian, and I eat a meaty bodybuilder’s diet? How do we manage portion sizes when I weigh 70% more than Alex and burn 3X the calories during the same workout? How do we bring only high-quality foods into our household?
This article breaks down how to overcome these challenges so that you and your partner can make a couples weight loss plan or simply reach your goals and feel healthy.
Portion Control and Couples Diet
Managing nutrition is a challenge for all couples. We hear comments like this frequently from Duo Life couples.
- “He eats tons of food and never gains an ounce.”
- “He starts working out, cuts out junk food, and within a week he’s lost 10 pounds.”
- “She is on a diet now, so I am always starving.”
- “Whenever we work out together, she gets discouraged because she doesn’t see the results I do.”
- “He is starving all the time, and his hanger interrupts our day.”
- “I don’t know the best way to cook, we eat so differently.”
- “Our dinner plates are always the same size, but I know it shouldn’t be.”
If any of the above sound familiar, then our story, below may sound family too. After, follow the steps in our guide on how to manage your nutrition as a couple properly.
When we first moved in together, Alex and I didn’t yet have our “eating ratios” down. Alex is a vegetarian and I, at the time, was a heavy meat-eater, and this made for pretty complicated cooking and eating in our small apartment.
When we did eat together, I found myself under-eating with the same sized plate as Alex. An hour later, I’d fly into a hangry rage and Alex would be completely caught unawares. What inevitably would happen is that I’d cook up some unhealthy snack like nachos, and Alex would find herself snacking along.
Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Even if the storyline is different in your relationship, you and your partner influence each other’s eating habits — and perhaps more than you realize. Here’s what the science says.
The Science on Partner Influence On Diet
Anecdotally, we all know that the people living in your house strongly influence your diet. Whether that means having a glass of wine every night with dinner, to succumbing to your partner’s sweet tooth and keeping dessert on hand, it’s an inevitable part of life.
So how do you navigate it?
Much of the research on the subject centers around health conditions for one partner requiring specific diets (like with Type 2 Diabetes).
To us, the most telling study is out of Indiana University, Bloomington, studying ‘partner influence in diet and exercise behaviors.’
So what was the biggest influence on your partner’s habits between body size, social control (aka food and exercise policing), or behavior modeling? Hands down, it was behavior modeling.
The researchers found that, more than anything, when one partner modeled good behavior by working out or eating lots of vegetables, their partner tended to as well.
Policing your partner or simply being a different body size didn’t seem to make any impact. We repeat: policing your partner by forcing a diet or workout plan does not seem to work.
Now that we can all agree that behavior modeling is the best way to manage diets as a couple, we want to let you in on our next trick: the couple’s portion ratio which you’ll read about in Step #2 below.
Now let’s get to the bread and butter: the step-by-step guide on how to manage diets as a couple.
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How To Manage Diets as a COuple
Step #1: Calculate your calories.
It’s unlikely that you and your partner require the same portions, as it all comes down to age, weight, body composition, gender, and weight goals.
Therefore, every few years, it’s a good idea to calculate precisely how many calories you and your partner should be eating. This calculator from the Mayo Clinic will provide you both with a baseline. Also, it never hurts to double-check your work. Here’s another calculator we like.
If you share meals, knowing your differences in calorie baselines are essential to managing your couple diet.
- For Ryan: Caloric baseline is 2700 calories per day
- For Alex: Caloric baseline is 1700 calories per day
Important Calories Rules:
- Adult women, no matter their weight, should never consume less than 1200 calories per day.
- Adult men should never consume less than 1600 calories per day.
These values are the minimum amount of calories that your body needs to function. Even if you are following a weight loss plan for couples. If you are heavier or want to gain weight, daily caloric intake should be significantly higher.
Alex, for example, is incredibly petite at just over 100 pounds, yet we regularly talk to heavier clients who try to eat less than her!
If you are interested in learning how to understand your calories for sustainable weight loss and weight management, this 30-day weight loss challenge is perfect for you.
Step #2: Make a portion ratio to remember.
Now that you have your caloric baselines, it’s time to factor in your health goals. Then, calculate a portion ratio to manage your diet as a couple.
In generic terms, you add calories to your caloric baseline based on your health goals. The more active you are, the more calories you require. Here’s a rule-of-thumb guide on how to determine the calories you need on top of your baseline.
- For those who want to gain mass and get bulky, add 800-1000 calories to your caloric baseline
- If your goal is to get ripped and gain muscle, add 400-600 calories to your caloric baseline
- To maintain, don’t add any calories on to your caloric baseline
- For those who want to get lean and lose body fat, take your weight in pounds and multiply it by 10 to get your target calories in a day. Make sure you don’t go below the minimum requirements for your gender
Of course, all of these target calorie calculations should be paired with an optimized weightlifting, cardio, or HIIT workout.
It’s highly beneficial to use calorie data from a heart rate monitoring device (we use our Apple watches) to compare how many calories your bodies burn, individually. Make sure you’re following the same workouts for this comparison. For us, it’s not uncommon for me to burn 3X the calories that Alex would.
You can see our exact calorie burn measurements during our cardio experiment aimed at finding the best cardio workout. With this knowledge, here are our daily calorie targets:
- For Ryan, who wants to gain muscle, his goal is 3300 calories per day.
- For Alex, maintaining weight means her calorie goal is 1700 calories per day.
Therefore, I am supposed to eat 2X as much as Alex. That’s a significantly different portion ratio.
So, when we’re at a restaurant and order the same dish, we don’t both join the clean plate club. Or when at home, instead of dishing up our egg scramble 50/50, we apply our portion ratio. Since I eat 2X the calories Alex does, I would take two-thirds of the dish while Alex gets the remaining one-third.
Splitting our meals this way gets tough when serving up slices of pie or those prized avocados, but following this simple portion ratio helps us reach our goals and feel healthy.
Step #3: Deal with varying food preferences.
Whether there are allergies, preferences, or other dietary restrictions, this complicates managing your diet as a couple.
We all want to sit together at the table. That is until you remember your partner is vegetarian, dairy-intolerant, gluten-free, soy-free, and allergic to nuts. The food eaten and cooked within the house needs to be a compromise.
For us, when I was eating a meat-filled, bodybuilder’s diet and Alex ate a vegetarian diet, we cooked separately. We would be in the kitchen at the same time so that we could still eat together, but everything else was very separate except for the veggie side dishes.
Over time, my diet increasingly became more vegetarian. Meat started to make me feel unhealthy and sometimes light-headed. So, I transitioned and learned how to eat more vegetables.
With that, it worked best for us to eat only vegetarian at home to share meals (again, always using our ratio of thirds). The compromise was that I would eat meat only at restaurants.
Over time, our diets meshed together, and we eat all of the same meals. Of course, this isn’t always possible, depending on dietary needs. With that, it takes more responsibility knowing how your meal fits into your general calorie plan.
If you need help visualizing your calorie plan in food form, these portion-control containers helped us significantly when we began managing our nutrition as a couple.
Of course, it’s not sustainable to measure all your meals with containers forever. But, you won’t need to because you quickly learn to visualize your portions better.
Step #4: What if one partner isn’t on board?
Whether one person is obsessed with their diet (hint: we don’t support fad diets), or can’t give up their nightly ice cream and beer, it can derail the other. This also breeds resentment and judgment, which never support a healthy relationship.
In this case, stay committed to your health journey and lead by example. Ask your partner to keep their junk food in a separate room or the freezer. Out of sight, out of mind. If you find this food too tempting, log what you eat in a journal to stay accountable to yourself.
It is hard to reach your overall health goals when you’re not in alignment. We recommend you start by taking advantage of the benefits of working out with your partner or picking up some active hobbies that you enjoy doing together. Doing these activities together will fuel the motivation to eat healthier together.
Step #5: Track unexpected perks.
Managing our diets has allowed me to control my hanger better.
In Alex’s words, “Before, seemingly out of nowhere, Ryan would get hangry and completely ravenous — sometimes so much so that it would derail our plans (and diet) while we stopped what we were doing to find him a snack.”
Now that we eat proportionally the same amount of food, our stomachs start to rumble around the same time. We’re either both full or both still hungry, so at least we’re now on the same page and can plan our diet better as a couple.
Other unexpected perks include a similar rate of weight loss and feelings of satisfaction after meals. As you’re actively managing your nutrition as a couple, track the perks and stay on track.
We are major fans of intermittent fasting. Following the 16/8 plan for years and the unexpected perks include more energy, less body fat, more time in our day, and a more structured routine. If you’re ready to transition to intermittent fasting as a couple, follow the steps in our Intermittent Fasting How To Guide.
Closing THoughts On Couples Diet
How do you manage your diet as a couple?
Whether you want to increase nutrition, see weight loss, eat healthier, or eat cleaner, a couple’s diet plan and rule-of-thumb ratio portioning help support your journey together.
And above all, model great behavior because you have more of an influence on your partner than you might expect.
Let us know in the comments below how you built a healthy diet together. For more nutrition and lifestyle tips for couples, check out our Healthy Couples page.
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Hey we're Ryan and Alex
The creators of Ryan and Alex Duo Life. We are a husband-wife duo and “lifestyle engineers.”
After eight years working in the corporate world as engineers, we left our high-powered jobs to tackle our true passion — helping couples engineer their best lives.
The synergy of our engineering minds and ten years of health coaching experience produced Ryan and Alex Duo Life. Our mission is to help you transform your bodies, minds, and relationship as a couple.
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