Whether it’s a friend, family member, or significant other, many of us have someone close to us who may need a (rather large) nudge in the right direction when it comes to their health. Maybe it’s someone who could get off the couch more often, or add more green vegetables to their diet. Perhaps drink a little less alcohol or give up an addiction to those cheeky Cadbury chocolate blocks?
As you’ve probably learned over the years, there are right ways and wrong ways to encourage other people to adopt healthier habits. To make matters worse, too often some people can perceive your encouragement as judgement. The main question you need to ask when you’re in this situation is:
How do you support a loved one’s journey to adopt healthier habits without them feeling criticised?
If you want to help someone in your life make some positive changes this year, here are some helpful tips you can use.
1. Take Shame Off the Table
Making someone feel bad for failing in any effort to make healthier choices (eg lose weight, stop drinking as much, quit smoking or choosing a sweet treat over fruit) is the worst course of action if you really want to help.
Fat shaming for instance, has actually been shown to make people gain more weight, not less. If a person feels like they are being picked on, or they feel as though someone is being condescending towards them, that’s when the changes are not sustainable and the person slips back into their old habits.
Try changing your approach and perhaps ask your partner, friend or family member why they are having issues making healthier choices. It might be a good opportunity for you to come up with a solution for the underlying issue together.
2. Point Out the Positives
What’s obvious to you isn’t always obvious to someone else. Don’t just assume that your friend/family member recognises the benefits. You need to point out the positives in a way that they understand. Encouragement always goes a lot further than criticism. Do this (nicely) by commenting on all the amazing health benefits of cutting back on sugar for example, that have nothing to do with losing weight.
Try not to constantly ask about how much weight someone has lost. You don’t want the scale to be the only way they monitor their progress. Instead, ask them how they feel, or point out they look more confident, they seem to be bursting with energy and so on. Be patient and supportive as the process of adopting a healthier lifestyle will not happen overnight, it can take time. Instead, just try to offer them the space to learn, adapt and grow into this new way of living.
3. Clear Up Misconceptions
Brussel sprouts definitely don’t have to be bland and soggy, and a healthier diet doesn’t mean you’re limited to egg white omelettes and boring, tasteless chicken breast. As a nutritionist, I’m always telling my clients that just because the ingredients may change, it doesn’t mean the menu has to.
Since your diet is a huge component of your success in achieving and maintaining a healthier lifestyle, it’s imperative you make food fun. It’s about getting back to basics, playing around with food and recipes in the kitchen to ensure it tastes good. Also look to see where you can make healthier food swaps.
4. Practice What You Preach
Some of my clients have told me that they often have to bug their husbands to drink more water and less alcohol, eat healthier and exercise more. Pushing a message that people don’t want to hear can cause them to dig their heels in even further, fighting harder to preserve their way of life. This often results in adding strain in the relationship.
You can lead a horse to water, however you can’t make it drink.
No matter how badly you may want to help, a person has to want to change and cannot be forced.
You are much better off to continually lead by positive example and continue to offer unconditional love. If your partner, friend or family member can see you making the effort to adopt healthy habits, know that you are there to support them no matter what, then they will be more willing to try it out for themselves.
Happy changing habits.