The truth is, your relationships can dramatically affect your diet, whether it’s co-workers badgering you to join them for calorie-laden snacks or meals, a thin friend scoffing at your food choices, or a well-meaning spouse who feels threatened by your healthy changes.
In one study from Stanford University, 90 percent of women participating in a group weight-loss program said they rarely or never received support from their friends for healthy eating. Seventy-eight percent said the same about their family. A number of the dieters even reported that loved ones purposely sabotaged their efforts to slim down.
“A lot of times people internalize the actions of others,” says marriage and family therapist Vanessa Sovine. “They look at what other people do as a reflection of what they are—or aren’t—doing in their lives.”
Friends and family who see you improving your health may feel jealousy, judgment, or even guilt for not making changes themselves. You order a salad, and they feel they should be doing the same thing. They push treats or offer extra helpings, and they give you a hard time if you say no. They fear your relationship will change—and not for the better—if you no longer enjoy eating together.
“Sometimes it is difficult to see past our own feelings,” says Sovine. The key is to recognize potential sabotage and learn how to appropriately respond to it. “Ask yourself if your family or friend is offering suggestions, solutions, or options that are taking you closer to or further away from your goal,” says Sovine.
Here are other ways to stay true to your healthy habits while dealing with those who may not be supportive of your goals:
- Present your diet as a “get healthy” plan
Claiming you’re not hungry, that you have to control your blood sugar, or that you’re allergic to a certain food may momentarily quiet a naysayer. But award-winning dietitian and author Kristin Kirkpatrick says honesty about the big picture is key when explaining why you’re making changes. She explains, “You can say, ‘I’m trying really hard to improve my health so I can live longer and be strong for _____’ (and fill in the blank with grandchildren, wife, etc.).”
“Make it about health and doing something for the family, …” says Kirkpatrick.
- Be upfront
“I am always an advocate of open and honest communication,” says Sovine. “The key is to use ‘I feel’ statements and focus on your feelings and goals. When you focus on the behaviors of others, people can become defensive and stop listening to what you are saying. Most people resent when others try to force change on them; so make it clear that you’re asking them to support you, not to change with you.”
Though it may be uncomfortable, explain why you need support and offer examples of how to be helpful. Try something like, “I appreciate when you think of me and bake my favorite treats, but I’m trying not to eat so many sweets. Maybe we can try out some new recipes that I can eat” (rather than discussing what you “can’t” eat).
- Come prepared
If you find yourself facing pressure (and no healthy choices!) at social events or family get-togethers, be sure to have a plan in place so you don’t wind up hungry and cranky.
Start your plan before you even leave home, says Kirkpatrick. To ensure you don’t arrive at the event ravenous, have a handful of almonds or a few apple slices with peanut butter. “Or bring something healthy with you if you think there will be nothing available,” says Kirkpatrick.
- Remember, most people are well-intentioned
Yes, actual saboteurs do exist. You may run into friends who are competitive about weight loss, spouses who would rather you stay overweight, and family members who are angry about the changes you’ve made.
But the vast majority of people are not thinking about your diet. If someone brings your favorite doughnuts to work, they’re probably not out to ruin your day of healthy eating. Likewise, if your mother-in-law offers a second helping of her famous casserole, she’s most likely doing it out of love and habit. A simple, “No, thank you” or, “It’s delicious, but I’m full!” should suffice.
If you continue to receive pressure, it may be time for a more serious conversation about why you’re making different food choices.
(Submitted by Betty Dean. Written by R Camacho, Reprinted with permission from Vibrant Life magazine. Used by permission from www.lifeandhealth.org. Courtesy of LifeSpring – Resources for Hope and Healing Stuart, VA.)