It is one thing for us to work on our own health when it comes to a better diet, more hydration, incorporating exercise, self-care to manage our stress, and keep a routine for good sleep. All of that is challenging enough! Then, add on the fact that those things (especially diet) is, frankly, countercultural to most societies (at least, in the U.S.) – it can be tough to navigate social situations and conversations that might come up with friends and family (or strangers) on the choices we make for our health. It can be uncomfortable – or we do not handle it in ways we are proud of.
Do you have friends/family that just ‘don’t get it’ and they question why you eat what you eat? Perhaps they make fun of you and jest in subtle ways? Or maybe they get frustrated with you when you say “no” to something they ask you to do, because you need to prioritize yourself and your needs first to be your healthiest and best?
I would wager all of us have experienced (or will experience) this from time to time, even in the best of situations, and even with really supportive/loving family and friends. Why is that? I will share a few thoughts as to why it might be, but it just depends for everyone, of course.
Why others might resist your diet/healthy-lifestyle choices:
First (and most common), whether people know it consciously or not [often they do not unless they are honest with themselves], they may feel threatened by your lifestyle changes because it may reflect negatively on their own choices. People feel more comfortable and secure around others that act the same way they do. Often – this can be a perception issue by others, even when you have not suggested they make changes themselves.
Second, they might have preconceived notions and concerns, out of love, for you. This is an unfortunate byproduct of all the confusing and conflicting information on diet and health that is out there. For example, let’s say a friend of yours had read about the keto diet, but had read more articles about negative consequences people experienced from it (and they do not understand there are healthy and unhealthy ways to go about this diet), and you tell them you are doing that diet. It’s understandable, then, that your friend would be concerned for you because he/she fears you’ll end up being hurt.
Third, some folks may have hobbies/interests or earn a living in a line of work that conflicts with healthy diet and lifestyle. For example, if someone is a farmer and produces grains, and you are doing more of a paleo-style diet, or you believe that grains aren’t the best choice of food for you health – well…no matter what way you slice it, it’s hard for that person to not take that personally, since it says something about their very livelihood.
So, what are ways we can interact with our friends/family/community wisely and respectfully in regards to diet (and lifestyle) changes?
- Keep the focus of conversation on how it affects you and your body. Try not to speak in generalities. This goes a long way to reducing the chance that someone will take it personally (like in my First point above). At the same time, it increases the chances they better understand you. This, in turn, can empower them to better care/serve you and they can feel good about that.
- If you are sensitive to food, but not allergic, it may help to say that your body seems to react to that food. This goes along with the idea of keeping the topic focused on your own body, and can reduce questions people ask. It is an honest and simple way to convey to them you are sensitive to a food without using the phrase “food sensitivity” – since some people may not understand or agree with that concept.
- If you are at a restaurant and are sensitive to a food, you could say you have an allergy to xyz, rather than a sensitivity. It may not be the 100% truth, technically speaking, but it simplifies the request to keep certain foods off your dish, and compliance level by the staff goes up considerably, in my experience.
- Think of yourself as an ambassador for health. When you look at what it means to be an ambassador, it is a fitting concept in this context. An ambassadorial mindset encourages you to be diplomatic in your words, respectful, and merely representing yourself in the best way you can without being demanding or insulting to others. An ambassador lives by example without being pushy on others. People respect that. When it comes to friends and family – this mindset conveys to them, “I love you regardless of our differences in diet or health choices we make.”
- Speak positively. Share the benefits and good outcomes of the choices you are making. As always, keep it focused on how it benefits you. This is more attractive to people than if we focus on the negatives of poor health/diet choices (that is where we can run into issues of the First point above).
- Lastly – try not to place expectations on others when it comes to living more healthily. It is easy to do, even when we do not intend to. Work on yourself, set an example, and if others want to follow, great! If not, it is their own choice and not yours (unless you’re a parent of a minor…then that’s a whole other complicated topic ;). This takes a lot of pressure off your shoulders, and can give you the freedom to better practice the suggestions shared above.
Every person and situation is different, and sometimes we may meet resistance from others no matter how hard we try to love and respect them. That, unfortunately, is life. However, we can always control our own choices in how we navigate interactions and conversations with others. Practice makes better!
To you health and wellbeing,
Lead Health Coach, Dan Tribley
EPIC Functional Medicine