Making a significant change in your life is challenging. The habits we form for eating, exercise, and self-care are longstanding and don’t change on their own just because one day we wake up and want things to be different.
These habits can be especially difficult to change because they are wrapped up in our lives as social creatures. That feeling of waking up and wanting things to be different may well come after a long time of feeling a sense of dissatisfaction. But just because you have finally reached the point of being ready to make new healthy choices doesn’t mean the people around you have arrived there with you.
Healthy Choices Are Built on Healthy Communities
Say you want to change your diet. When you’re the one responsible for feeding the family, and you want to change the way you eat, it often affects the entire family. Which is great — if they’re on board.
It’s easier to make big changes, such as to the types of food you eat or the way you cook, when you do it together with others. In fact, one of the strategies experts recommend to individuals embarking on a habit-changing path is to find a group of supportive, like-minded people. Having a support group can mean the difference between success and failure.
Some of the benefits of a support group are:
- A common purpose
- Feeling less judged
- The ability to talk openly
- The sharing of strategies and new ideas
- Less isolation and loneliness
But, sometimes, the people we count on the most aren’t there for us, whether it’s:
- Co-workers: “The break room is full of sheet cake!”
- Friends: “Girls night out! Margaritas for everyone!”
- Or even family: “Mom, I don’t want to eat kale just because you are on a health kick!”
To help you navigate the murky waters of taking on healthier habits amid friends, family, and coworkers, here are three techniques for coping when the ones who are supposed to have your back turn theirs.
1. Look Within
When the people in our lives push back, we can begin to doubt our purpose. I used to work in a school and I would joke that I wished there was a chocolate chip cookie dispenser in the break room. It was kind of a stressful job and using food to cope with stress is a way of life for many people (I’m looking at you, Girl in the Mirror).
But even though there was no cookie dispenser, there was often a lot of “treat” food. Maybe you’ve got the same deal where you work. And when we’re surrounded with that type of food, it can be hard to resist it, right? And, sometimes, our co-workers don’t make it easier.
How many of these have you heard when you’ve tried to turn down the junk food:
- “Just try one, they’re delicious!” (Well meaning, but not helpful.)
- “You must think I’m a pig.” (The person feels you must be passing judgment.)
- “Don’t let it go to waste!” (As if eating food you don’t need isn’t wasteful?)
- “You don’t need to lose any weight.” (It’s not always about the weight.)
- “Don’t be a party pooper, have one!” (It can still be a party if I don’t.)
- “You’re already skinny. I hate you.” (Um, thanks?)
Sometimes comments like these are well-intentioned, if a bit tone deaf. And sometimes they come from a place of insecurity, as if your effort to make healthy choices is an act of passing judgment on others.
Comments like these, whether well-intentioned or ill-, can plant the seed of doubt in us. When this happens, take a moment to ask yourself: Why am I doing this? Has that changed?
Chances are, if you look within, the motivation to make those changes in your life is still there. If you’re like me, when you’re eating “clean” you feel better physically as well as mentally and emotionally. That’s true no matter what anyone else thinks about our food choices.
2. Look Without
Have you ever felt sabotaged by friends or family members who won’t take “no” for an answer? You’re trying to make healthy choices — and they’re putting an extra helping on your plate or telling you, “Lighten up and eat a cookie!”
When confronted by pushback from people who care about us, we may find ourselves thinking, “Well, it’s just one…” or feel that it would be impolite to refuse. And then we’re kicking ourselves for giving in to something we had promised ourselves to avoid. After that comes the resentment: “Why did so-and-so have to say that?”
Whoa, Nelly. Put the brakes on all those kinds of thoughts.
First, cut yourself some slack. Everybody slips up, so dust yourself off and try again. And instead of blaming and resenting people, take a moment to step into their shoes. What is motivating their lack of support? Could they be threatened by your changes?
It’s easy to color healthy choices as “good” and less-healthy choices as “bad,” and from there it’s a short hop for us humans to conclude that if we make these choices we are ourselves “good” or “bad.” If your naysayers are jumping to the conclusion that they are “bad” for not making the same choices as you, that can leave them feeling pretty vulnerable.
And sometimes vulnerable people lash out.
This doesn’t excuse anybody’s unhelpful or even hurtful comments, but understanding where they are coming from can help you put it in context. What they are saying is more about themselves than it is about you, and you can give it the weight it deserves. (Like, none.)
3. Look With Love
Changing habits that we have developed over a lifetime is a big job. Deeply entrenched practices are familiar, comfortable, and routine. In order to change them, it takes focus and determination. When the people in our lives are unable to give us the support we need, it can shake that focus and cause us to wobble in our determination to change.
You have made the choice to make positive change in your life. It’s worth pointing out that the key word here is “positive.”
Your new lifestyle doesn’t have to be about avoiding “bad” things. You can move positively forward toward the things you know are good for you. You’re not avoiding the “bad” things, you’re embracing the things that bring you well-being and healthfulness. So, try to consider both yourself and your choices through the lens of love.
Your New Healthy Choices Are for You
In the end, though, no matter however wonderful your new healthy choices and the associated changes may be for you, they may not be right for your friends and family. Maybe the people around you aren’t ready for the kind of changes you’re going after. Or it may be that now is simply not the right time for them.
If they’re open to listening, you can help them understand why it’s right for you, and why now is your right time. But in the end, you are responsible for your choices, not anyone else’s.
And that’s okay. We can’t force others to change; we can only be responsible for our own path. And, remember, we are all on our own path.
P.S. If you’re looking for a healthy community, come join us in the Official Whole Life Challenge Facebook Group.