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If you have never been diagnosed with diabetes or heart disease yourself, you might think the lifestyle changes apply only to your loved one (spouse, parent, etc.). After all, if you didn’t have a heart attack, or develop diabetes, why should you have to eat as if you did? 

We would encourage you, especially if the patient is your spouse, to join with him or her on this journey, at least on the foods you prepare for the two of you. You might be healthier for it yourself, and it will be a huge demonstration of your support. The emotional fallout of lifestyle changes will be easier for them (and more likely to “stick”) if they are not in it alone.

At the very least, you will want to taste and adjust the flavors of your new salt-free, saturated fat-free cooking so you can make it as enjoyable as possible. If something tastes to you like it needs salt, fat or sugar, it probably tastes that way to them too. There are so many ways to flavor, enhance and enjoy healthy foods, you will both enjoy the journey of discovery more together.

If you are the spouse or a family member and are not under any dietary restrictions, it might be fair to say that when you’re eating something prepared only for you (such as in a restaurant, or when preparing something they don’t like anyway), that you’ll use the salt, fats or other ingredients that you want. Fair enough, but when you’re cooking for both, or the family, getting used to healthier ingredients, less salt, and less reliance on butter is probably a good thing for everyone. And it’s the loving thing to do.

This is all assuming your loved one is willing to change. If not, all you can do is offer and encourage; you can’t make their choices.

If you’re going to a lot of trouble to cook with low sodium, avoiding saturated fats and sugars, etc., you might be deeply frustrated and defensive if your loved one reaches for the butter, the salt, or some cheese to add to their dish. Or you might be out running errands together and they suddenly insist on pulling through a fast food drive-through for something clearly unhealthy. At these times, we would suggest the utmost patience. If you try to think of what they’re going through, their feelings of powerlessness and even grief might make sense, especially in the early months after the diagnosis.

The best thing you can do, for your loved one and your own conscience, is prepare the healthiest options you can for them, encourage them, but then let them make their own choices. Wayne hears this line often: “You’re a grown-up. You get to decide.”

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