Let’s say you’ve been working on your health and feeling amazing (yay, you!), then you go to a family holiday gathering and you just want to help everyone else there get healthy … can you? Should you? Or let’s take a different scenario … your teenager is complaining about her digestive issues or acne or energy slumps, but she’s eating candy like it’s going out of style. Can you tell her to stop? Should you?
Talking about health is a sensitive subject, because it’s such a personal thing. Every body has unique needs, every person has unique goals and preferences and struggles. So even though sharing is often done out of love, it has to be delivered with care and love in order to be well received. And the way to deliver it depends on the audience, so today I’m going to offer tips for sharing your healthy lifestyle with your kids, your teens, your partner, and your friends.
Unpack your motivation first
Before you begin sharing any health insights with others, it’s important to unpack your own motivation first. Why might we want to help our family or friends improve their health? Think about your reason.
Sometimes, without realizing it, we’re thinking about it a bit selfishly. Maybe it would be easier for you to stick to your health goals if your partner were on board. Or maybe you don’t want to deal with your teen’s moodiness, which you believe is being driven by sugar. If it’s about you, though, a conversation on health tends to lead to more resentment and makes it more difficult for both parties.
The simple truth is, we can’t change others (except kids under 7 or so). And if we have their best interest at heart, we shouldn’t want to change them just for our benefit! Pushing people into change (especially teenagers or partners in this case) often tends to lead to repelling or rebelling against that change and moving in the other direction out of frustration or discouragement. Instead, helping them reach their goals and only sharing information that they want to hear is likely to work better for both people.
It’s also important to consider when to share this information. Little bits of information and encouragement given sporadically is much better received by most people than a BIG change or vent all at once. Remember that they as the receiver have to be in an open emotional state … considering their emotional state before giving any tips will make it easier for both of you.
Finally, I believe that in any health change, celebration is the key. It’s why I focus so much on this with my clients. Change is hard, and we as humans are really good at telling ourselves that we’re not doing enough, or not doing it right, or picking up on some other flaw. You can support those you love best in changing their behavior by celebrating them every step of the way, even if they still have a lot of steps in front of them.
How to help your kids live healthier
Even with little kids, we want change to be about feeling good rather than any dogmatic or moral health “shoulds” or (far worse) about weight or societal standards. So, I recommend latching on to any time they don’t feel good and helping them make the connection between their food choices and how they feel. Even kids as young as 2 or 3 can recognize that a certain food gives them a tummy ache, and kids as young as 4 or 5 can be great at recognizing that they need a nap or are in a crummy mood because they ate too much sugar. Don’t lace this with judgment – just notice the correlation with your kids and see if they can learn to identify it.
Next, as much as you possible can, make healthy changes with them. Even young kids are incredibly in tune to your attitudes to food, so watch the “good” food and “bad” food language – that is not setting them up for success! They notice what you do and don’t eat (even in private, so if you hide the Oreos to eat when they’re “not looking,” they’re often looking, and then they think Oreos are shameful and should be eaten in private, which is not helpful!). They see your dedication to yourself, so if you prioritize your yoga class on Tuesdays or your meditation each morning or your green smoothie many days, they learn that prioritizing health is important and worthy, and they’re more likely to embrace that attitude as they grow up.
Family challenges, like going for a walk every day for 10 minutes, or including a veggie at each dinner, can be a fun way to improve health behaviors together. I do not recommend challenges like “let’s see who can NOT eat and candy” or “the most exercise minutes wins” … we don’t want to promote extreme behaviors.
For kids especially, take baby steps. Do NOT change everything all at once, especially for picky eaters. So, if a normal dinner for your family is macaroni & cheese and chicken nuggets, do not make “Healthy Tuesday” and serve only kale and brussels sprouts. Not only will you meet with crying and tantrums, but they’ll learn that “healthy food” is scary, or different, or not tasty, or something they don’t look forward to. Fear is so often at the root of resistance, and it is scary as a kid to think that your favorite foods will be taken away from you and replaced by something that you’re unfamiliar with. Instead, introduce a new plate with macaroni & cheese (an anchor / staple food), chicken nuggets (maybe try ½ breaded and ½ grilled), and brussels sprouts on the plate. By just introducing one new food and making gentle changes, you’re making it easier for everyone, and making it more likely that they will adopt change.
Finally, it’s great to involve kids in cooking as soon as they’re able. Letting them choose between two healthy options is helpful. For example, at the grocery store, asking them if they want to buy broccoli or cauliflower, rather than “do you want broccoli?” empowers them and makes them more likely to enjoy the broccoli. Similarly, asking them if they want turkey chili or chicken tacos for dinner tonight puts them in the driver’s seat, whereas if you ask, “do you want turkey chili?” they might say they want McDonald’s, or complain.
How to help your teens live healthier
Teenagers are tough. In almost every sense, it’s just hard to raise teens. So, if you’re raising a teen (or multiple teens!) right now, you’re doing great. Give yourself a pat on the back!
The best way to help teens live healthier is to talk to them. No, I don’t mean grumble “another donut?” out of frustration, or let it build up inside until you finally say, “I can’t believe you eat so much sugar!” out of frustration. They are far more aware than we give them credit for, and they likely realize that their eating behaviors are not health promoting. Talk to them about why they eat the way they do, if they are interested in making any changes, and what help they’d like from you. Repeat to yourself over and over (and over!): empathy, compassion, understanding. Attacks won’t work; empathy and understanding will. It’s tough when you want them to change, but this is the only way.
If you have had a conversation with a teen and they’ve offered that they’d like to make a change, it’s in their hands now. Let them come to you with celebrations. If you notice them eating a cookie when they said they wouldn’t, let it go. (Again, I know this is hard!) Being overbearing only leads to shame, and that’s not what we want to create. Ask explicitly if they’ve had any health celebrations lately or offer sporadic encouragement. Whatever you want to say, say 5% of that. We want to tread lightly!
Finally, sharing what you are doing or learning can help. If you’ve decided to add in a 10 minute walk after dinner because it helps your blood sugar, share that! The teen may not come around and walk with you, but they do hear it. However, be very, very careful to NOT mention habit change around weight. In fact, I recommend not mentioning the size of your body, the shape of your body, what you want to change about your physical body, or anything else. I simply deal with too many adults in my practice who have had their body image shaped by (well meaning!) parental comments to believe that this can be effective in any way. Make it all about how you feel, how you want to feel, and what you’re proud of.
How to help your partner / spouse live healthier
First and most importantly, check your expectations at the door. It’s their life and their body, not yours, even though you’re in a partnership. They have to decide they want to change. As much as you can possibly want change for them, it won’t work until they want it. That’s just the cold, hard truth.
If they’re not changing (on your time schedule), think about why. This is so important! They are not dumb, or incapable, or unaware. There are a few common reasons why I see spouses or partners not changing at the same rate:
- The unchanging partner simply feels overwhelmed. Maybe the changing partner has made 25 different changes and is feeling great, but the unchanging partner thinks that’s too much for them to deal with. Overwhelm often leads to inaction. If they feel overwhelmed, you can help by not mentioning all the things, just mentioning a thing or two that you’re doing and allowing them to latch onto that.
- The unchanging partner doesn’t know where to start. Maybe they are willing to make 25 changes, just not all at once, and they feel completely lost as to where to start. Maybe their brain power has been “spent” at the office or taking care of the kids, and they can’t even imagine spending more brain power on making a change. If they feel directionless, you can help by asking if they’d like to tackle one thing with you, and genuinely working on it together.
- The unchanging partner doubts their ability to change. Honestly, this may be the biggest. If you’ve made great changes and are feeling amazing, your partner may look at you with well-meaning envy, and imagine themselves failing at what you accomplished. This is embarrassing and demotivating. If they don’t believe in themselves, you can help by encouraging them consistently and genuinely.
- The unchanging partner may be uneducated about what real health looks like. Look at you, you’re here reading this podcast, so I know you’re seeking out education. And your partner may not have time or desire for that, which is OK. If they feel uneducated, you can help by offering to answer any questions they have or slowly, gradually sharing information.
Of course, there are several other reasons beyond this. So, think about the deep reason why your partner may not be changing. Put yourself in their shoes, not yours. Imagine what it might feel like to be them. Now, can you more effectively help them out?
Once you’ve taken your best guess at what’s holding them back, wait until they are ready. Catch them in a really open, positive demeanor, and approach it out of complete love. Then ask them if and how they want you to support them. If they say not at all – respect that. They may come around in the future, and patience is a virtue. I know from experience that I’ve been with Kevin for over 19 years, and change continues to happen, but it did NOT all happen at once and it NEVER came out of me pushing or complaining.
If you’re aware of your partner’s goals, offer them choices. For example, if your partner wants to eat more vegetables, and you happen to be cooking yourself a stir fry with cauliflower rice, say “hey, I’m making a stir fry with cauliflower rice, do you want some?” If they say yes, great! If they say no, no judgment – they are an adult and are completely allowed to make themselves something different without your judgment!
Finally, learn to do your own thing without resentment. You need to be able to be healthy on your own. Sure, it might look nice to be the couple who exercises together, but maybe it’s better for you to find a gym friend to work out with. Sure, it might feel nice to both choose the apple for dessert over the ice cream, but maybe it’s better for you to learn to make your own decisions even in the face of temptation. It’s only when you internalize that their body is different from yours that you can approach their changes with true respect and empathy.
How to help your friends live healthier
It’s commonly said, but not commonly done: suggest other activities than meeting for dinner or at the bar! Suggest a walk (my personal favorite) or a tea date (a close second), or do a fun activity like roller skating or rock climbing. Meet to chat while perusing the Farmer’s Market, or volunteer together. Shared experiences facilitate even closer bonding – something to look forward to! And if you are going to a more traditional, food-centric party, it’s always a great idea to offer to bring a veggie tray or a healthy side or other food item that makes you feel great.
For friends, it often works to ask for their help without pushing them (they’re likely trying to be healthier, too, and will appreciate it, but we don’t want to make it about them!). You might say: “Hey, I’m really trying to eat more veggies. Can we change our lunch plans to Flower Child?” or: “It would really make me feel better to stick to 2 drinks tonight. Can you help me stay accountable?” By sharing your goals with them¸ you may well inspire them to prioritize their own health, too!
Don’t take this as harsh, but if your current set of friends don’t match with your ideal health behaviors, it might be in your best interest to find new friends. You don’t have to ditch the old ones, but having friends who support your lifestyle is key! I’ve met almost all of my friends at gyms, conferences, school programs, lectures, or volunteer events. These people have shared interests to mine and make it easy to continue with the behaviors that make me feel great.
Finally, if you do feel “peer pressure” from your friends, think about why they might be pressuring you. Even if they don’t realize it, it may be out of harmless jealousy. When they see you sticking to your goals, and they are not doing so, it’s normal that they might feel a bit envious of your commitment to your health. It’s (unfortunate!) human nature to try to bring others down when we’re feeling down, so by encouraging you to have the 2nd glass of wine, they’ll feel less badly about themselves. This is why it’s so important to leave judgment out of it. Emphasize that you don’t think they should feel badly about the 2nd glass of wine, it’s just that you choose not to because you want to feel your best tomorrow (or whatever other reason)
Another reason for peer pressure is love. In so many cultures, food is love. If your friend knows you love baklava, of course they’re going to want you to feel happy, so they’re going to push the baklava on you to make you happy! That’s why saying things like, “oh, I really want it, it looks so good, but I can’t…” is unhelpful. That just opens the door wider for them to push, tell you you can (which is true!), and keep pushing more love on you. Instead, if you said, “I will feel so proud of myself if I stick to only one dessert tonight,” or “I’ve actually realized that sugar hurts my stomach, so I’m trying to help myself feel good by limiting it,” then the act of love is to accept your decision and stop pressuring you. This makes it easier on everyone.
A closing word
YOU are in control of YOUR health, and no one else’s (except young kids’). And that’s how it needs to be. So, while the above tips can help you have conversations, the most important part is meeting people where they are, having extreme empathy and compassion, and showing up as the best parent, partner, or friend you can be.
Want more? This topic is actually one I first addressed for members of my Revitalize Health Accelerator. We had a group conversation about this, where we all shared tips & tricks and learned from each other. We cover so much in Revitalize in a supportive format! If you want a step-by-step, proven formula to improve your holistic health, join us today!
Now it’s your turn … Have you tried to encourage kids, teens, partners, or friends to be healthier? How did it go? Any tips to add?