If you want to convince someone to join you on your healthy lifestyle journey, they probably aren’t going to join you if you’re not respectful of their values. For example, if you’re trying to make your family healthier, and you’re trying to convince them to join you in that, you shouldn’t assume they don’t have a healthy lifestyle already, or that you’re the only person that can convince them.
While we don’t know if our loved ones will follow our decisions to eat better, we do know that they care about our well-being. Our friends and family are there for us when we’re sick, and they love us regardless of our weight. So, how can we make them feel as welcome in our new diet and exercise program as a favorite pair of jeans?
It’s hard enough to change your eating and exercise habits. Get your loved ones behind your healthy lifestyle changes? Be prepared to grit your teeth. The company you are in has a huge impact on your progress towards a healthy lifestyle. Here’s how to reduce peer pressure and get the social support you need.
You shine as you gather your family around the dinner table where you have lovingly prepared a colorful and nutritious meal.
Everyone take their place.
They serve grilled chicken, sauteed broccoli and pumpkin seed salad. They are anxiously awaiting reactions.
It’s really good… I swear to God.
Then, after a few moments:
A broccoli flower makes a perfect arc across the room after your little girl jumps on it with a fork.
Your teenager leans so low that only his or her furrowed eyebrows and the top of his or her phone protrude above the table.
His partner, trying to be polite and courteous, has been chewing on the first bite for two minutes. Without swallowing.
Even the dog, who usually hovers shamelessly in the air, sniffs at the spinach leaf and then sinks into a corner with a sigh.
You feel… alone.
To change your eating and exercise habits, do you need to convince your friends and family to change too?
Will your plan make it easier for your loved ones to adopt a healthy lifestyle?
And if so, how, #@*%, do you do that?
It’s really important to you.
They are excited about your lifestyle change experiences.
They eat more vegetables. They go running on their lunch break and visit a coach on the weekends.
Your body looks better, functions better and feels better.
They feel sparks of inspiration and hope. And you want to move on.
You desperately want the people you love to be with you.
Well, because you love him.
You want your family and friends to be healthy and safe – so they can feel comfortable. They want to protect them from suffering from ill health.
You want what’s best for her.
And frankly, you need the support of your loved ones.
It seems difficult – if not nearly impossible – to make these major changes alone.
If you are experiencing similar feelings, it is important that you are aware of them: These thoughts are very, very normal.
It’s hard to eat and exercise in a way that supports your health goals when your social circle consists of beer and tacos on Fridays, a bacon Jenga tower at a coffee house on Saturdays, meeting up at a bar to drink tequila instead of throwing balls in the park, etc.
In a sense, you are the sum of your social environment.
Habits can be contagious.
The people around you are important. And you are important to the people around you.
Research shows that we are influenced by the body composition, habits and lifestyle of the people around us. The more people around us do things or live a certain way, the more likely we are to do and live the same – whether it’s what we eat, how we eat, exercise (or not), how we exercise, and so on.
If your friends and family live a healthy lifestyle, you are more likely to do the same. And the reverse is also true.
Studies show that:
- The weight of people around you can help you determine your own weight. According to a large-scale study, having an obese friend, adult sibling, or spouse increases your own risk of obesity by 57%, 40%, and 37%, respectively.
- Your friends’ friends are important too. Two degrees of separation between you and an obese person increases your own risk of obesity by 20%. You don’t even have to go out with them for it to be a factor in your own weight.
- Your weight is more likely to be affected by your gender. For women, this means that the weight of a friend or partner of the same sex may have a greater impact than that of a friend or partner of the opposite sex, and vice versa for men.
- The convergence of the weights is most likely unconscious. Researchers believe that we adapt our habits to those of our social group without saying so or even thinking about it.
- The amount you eat depends on who you eat with. If you’re eating with a big eater, you’ll probably eat more; if you’re sitting with a small eater, you’ll probably eat less. This effect was observed even among foreigners. When asked, they usually attribute the mirror effect to taste and hunger and not to the behavior of the people around them.
- The amount of food also depends on the size of the group you are in. Eating with one, two, three, four, five, six and seven or more people is associated with an increase in energy intake of 33, 47, 58, 69, 70, 72 and 96% respectively.
- Your social network can also have a big influence on what you eat. People whose friends generally follow food consumption recommendations are more likely to eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day.
- Your sense of social norms helps determine what you eat, how much you eat and how active you are. If a light salad for lunch seems acceptable, you’ll probably do it even if no one sees you eat it. Conversely, if a pack of Ruffles sounds yummy for lunch, you do it, even though you know the salad is more in line with your health goals. Those who have high levels of physical activity as a social norm are also likely to be more active themselves.
As you can see, most of these actions are unconscious. We often change our habits to fit those of our social group without saying so or even thinking about it.
It’s certainly not just about how you eat and exercise. Research shows that family and friends influence you in other important decisions, such as For example, if you get married or have a baby.
Of course, all these results are correlated: researchers are still trying to figure out why the weight and lifestyle of friends and family members affect yours.
But why does it work this way? Why can’t you be a lone wolf or an individual? Well, in a way, social influence is a good thing.
Social cohesion helps us survive.
People are social beings.
We evolved in small groups that depended on each other for survival. A large part of our brain is specifically dedicated to social cues and communication: Facial recognition, emotion reading, speech production and understanding, etc.
To survive, we depended on social cohesion, on belonging. Being alone (abandoned, rejected or left behind) often meant certain death.
Today, modern medicine shows us that loneliness can still be deadly: Our bodies respond to social rejection and isolation as a viral threat. When we are constantly alone, inflammation increases, immunity decreases, we suffer from more chronic diseases, and we die earlier.
Loneliness is scary. Vulnerable. It’s hard.
The loneliness can be real, like a young woman who decides to stay home to eat a healthy meal and sleep while all her roommates are eating pizza and partying.
Loneliness can also be a feeling, like a man has when all his friends are drinking beer and he takes a seltzer.
If you’re the only one who orders a salad instead of fries during happy hour, that means you’re sitting outside the social safety circle around the campfire waiting for the lions to pounce on your tender, unprotected flesh.
So protection from loneliness is in our DNA.
Swimming against the current is difficult.
Of course, you can also act alone. (After all, there are terms like pioneer and forerunner).
But let’s face it: It’s much easier to eat better and exercise more when your social environment – the behavior of your family and friends – supports your goals.
As with any other activity, the laws of physics come into play. When you try to change, you may encounter friction or momentum.
Friction can make you feel stuck.
Friction makes the job harder.
Colleagues who roll their eyes, kids who can’t tolerate spinach, and friends who love chili nachos – people who clearly disagree with you or just have conflicting habits – throw up environmental and emotional barriers when you’re trying to reach your goals.
- When you prepare a large amount of kale chips for your family at the movie theater instead of the usual popcorn and your kids start fussing, screaming, protesting and choking excessively in response.
- If you sign up for a 10K race and your friends point at you and say running will kill your knees.
- If you agree with your mother-in-law that you will provide the side dishes for Thanksgiving dinner because you want to provide healthy options, but when you arrive, she has already prepared all the usual fatty and sweet dishes because she doesn’t want to break with tradition.
If you struggle with friction, changing your lifestyle is like climbing a steep mountain with rocks beneath you – cursing, stumbling and moving forward slowly.
Momentum keeps you going.
This moment gives you strength and energy.
Like-minded and/or willing friends and family can help you take responsibility and support you in your dietary and exercise changes.
The momentum is :
- When the whole family gets involved in preparing a healthy meal and cooking becomes a family project. You’ll discuss the fruits and vegetables you love, learn recipes for healthy eating, and try new and oddly shaped vegetables.
- When you sign up for a 10K race and ask your friends if you need a support group, or at least someone to throw water on you (with support, of course).
- If you agree with your mother-in-law that she will provide the side dishes for Thanksgiving dinner. She takes the hint, lets you do what you want and, following your lead, gives you local berries for dessert. (Of course, people still slap on the cake…. but… well… okay, it’s pie).
Be brave, be positive.
So much for AU physics: You can have friction and momentum together.
In other words: Even if you encounter resistance, you can get support.
Even if your loved ones aren’t excited about your diet and fitness experiments or will never love pea shoots as much as you do, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about you or won’t help you.
- You can pursue your goals despite procrastination or stingy support.
- You don’t have to leave all your friends and family behind.
- The best part is that you may not even have to convince anyone to hire them.
Social support is a two-way street.
The people around you can influence you. And you, in turn, can influence them.
This is where a good way to go it alone comes into play: Leadership.
It may be easier to wait for the people around you to make healthy living a priority, but it’s also incredibly inspiring and rewarding to be a leader of change, despite the forces that work against you.
That way you create your own little wave of momentum that gradually erases any friction you encounter.
But here’s an important tip: You won’t reduce the friction by pushing it away. A strong health pioneer is a peace pioneer.
To get into this role, try using this gentle and sometimes counterintuitive plan of action.
3 key strategies for engaging friends and family in healthy living.
1. Accept that you cannot be right.
Take a step back and accept the hard truth.
The amount of friction you experience from others…. is actually created by you?
Even if you have something good to say, and even if you are absolutely 100% right (yes, smoking is bad for you; yes, vegetables are good for you)…..
How many times have you judged? Stubborn? A sermon? Confident? Contemptuous? Overwhelming enthusiasm? Maybe even a little… emblematic? (You can see the t-shirt with Bald University on it).
Reversed: How many times have you been curious? Are you interested in what others think? Can you handle diversity and tolerate different points of view? The opening? Sympathy and compassion? A good listening ear?
Think about it: Maybe the right thing to do is not so obvious.
Every behavior and choice has a reason. Maybe you don’t know the reasons, don’t fully understand them, or even disagree with them.
But whatever your loved ones’ habits are, they do it for a reason. In a way, their habits fit them. You may have limited resources or coping skills.
- Understand that your brother suffers from panic and depression under the stress of work and that he thinks drinking is the best way to deal with it.
- Pity your best friend who is afraid to face her body and therefore gets defensive and critical every time you talk about your new health regime.
- Understand that your parents were raised to respect traditional authority figures and still believe that margarine is better for you than butter because the doctor told them so 30 years ago.
When we try to defend ourselves and try to prove our loved ones wrong, our range becomes very limited and our relationships become conflictual.
However, when we let go of judgment and choose compassion and empathy, we create space for understanding.
Understanding resolves conflict because it usually shows us that we are all ultimately facing the same problems – we are the same, not different.
Understanding helps us to work together rather than argue, to build relationships rather than criticize. We begin to ask questions that, rather than provoking guilt and shame, invite connection and support:
Why are they so different from me?
When have I ever had to deal with something like this?
How do you get them to stop a bad habit?
What problem is the bad habit trying to solve?
What’s wrong with them?
What could they really need?
As your loved ones feel more understood and less judged, they may also become more flexible and less critical of your new habits and beliefs.
(And by the way, the practice of non-judgment, compassion and self-understanding will help you a lot).
2. Be persistent, but not pushy.
Opposition is more often based on fear than real philosophical opposition.
Change can be daunting. It can raise questions of control, safety and identity, and evoke painful emotions such as fear, panic, shame or loss.
When our loved ones resist change (in any creative way possible – consciously and unconsciously, with or without kindness), they may actually experience fear.
Your anxiety may be the result of thoughts such as:
- What if you became a different person?
- What if the new food tastes like crap?
- What if your healthy habits force me to face my unhealthy habits?
- What if people don’t accept us?
- What if you judge me or stop loving me?
- What if I can’t keep up with you?
- What to do when life gets uncomfortable?
Like a scared child, resistance and fear in their adult form respond poorly to rational argument and pressure.
So while you should push for changes for your own good, you are more likely to get support if you are persistent rather than assertive.
Being pushy means trying to persuade friends and family to join you or agree with you, and only accepting a hard line of compliant responses.
Perseverance means constantly offering friends and family the opportunity to join you in striving for a healthy life, while being open to a wide range of responses to each invitation.
So be persistent:
- Continue to offer healthy meals at the dinner table.
- Keep inviting your friends and family over for runs, walks and fitness classes.
- Keep talking about nutrition, healthy body image and what it means to live a really good and powerful life.
Focus on positivity and connection when presenting these options, and expect resistance, sometimes again and again and again.
As much as possible, avoid dramatizing and emotionally charging these conversations. Support your loved one’s reasons for staying as they are and don’t push them away.
Once their fears have subsided and they realize it’s safe to plunge into the land of green cocktails and box jumps, maybe your loved ones will join you and you’ll ride off into the sunset together (on your convertible bikes, sipping coconut water).
3. Do it yourself.
Change is hard.
In order to overcome the many blows, blocks and breaks that come with major lifestyle changes, we must anchor a deep, inner, personal why that will help us persevere.
You can’t create that motivation for someone else. No matter how hard you try to get your kids, your spouse, your parents and your friends to change, they won’t.
And actually, that could be a good sign. Because it means they know they have to want it too in order to make the changes you do.
We call it intrinsic motivation – a connection to your own internal reasons for doing something. Research shows that intrinsic motivation leads to more lasting and self-sustaining changes than extrinsic motivation, which is based on the desire for external results like good grades or the approval of others (ahem).
Intrinsic motivation requires careful thought and may take longer to develop.
So respect that it may take some time for your loved one to find their own reasons to eat and exercise better.
In the meantime, treat yourself.
Focus on your own inner motivations. Stay in touch with what drives you deep inside to make these personal changes.
Without ignoring your natural love and concern for your loved ones, allow your attention to turn inward. Spend more energy on your own growth and development.
Which could lead to something amazing….
Think about how you feel when you see someone you love working towards a great goal with genuine determination, courage and bravery.
Think about how you feel when you see this person endure setbacks, failures, and fears.
Think about how you feel when you see this person overcome adversity, even if it is by accident and in an imperfect way.
You feel inspired.
They feel that anything is possible.
You feel you can do something great too.
And that’s the beautiful irony of doing it with you:
By working on yourself and achieving a healthier, happier, more confident and capable version of yourself, you will become an inspiration, a positive influence on your family and friends.
And it all culminates in the little wave of healthy living you started to attract other participants, grow, and then turn into a huge tide that carries you to your ultimate goal – a healthy, fit person – and keeps you there.
The effects are two-way, remember?
Lead the way.
We have learned that it is hard to change, and even harder to change others. It can be difficult to know where to start.
Take one of these concrete steps today to start reducing conflict and maximize your own efforts to live healthy.
Practice sacrificing victory.
When you are in conflict with a loved one, check your instinct to be right.
Ask yourself who should win: You or the team consisting of you and your loved ones.
Sometimes we have to sacrifice personal victories for the overall good of the family/friendship. This often means loving and accepting our neighbors, even if they don’t agree with what we think is right.
It takes practice and can be uncomfortable at first.
Find an opportunity to practice non-correction today and note the result.
Use near targets rather than evasive targets.
To strengthen the understanding between you and your loved ones, play with the language you teach them (beautiful).
Avoidance goals – such as. B. stopping junk food, stopping watching TV after dinner, and stopping overeating – are likely to make people feel restricted, rebellious, and resistant.
Achievable goals – such as. B. trying two new vegetables this week, eating three different colored plants today, or doing something that makes you breathe for 20 minutes – are more likely to make you feel expansive, creative, interested and ready.
The right goals will help make the change process smoother, more positive and even more fun for you and your family.
Find the right objective support for you.
Having someone to support you away from your social bubble can be very helpful.
A certified nutrition and fitness coach provides an objective perspective and acts as a guide, a voice of reason, a source of practical ideas and inspiration – a source of momentum.
An experienced coach can also hold you accountable, which is especially important if you are a trailblazer in your social circle.
Research your motives.
Ask yourself this question every time you make a decision about a diet or workout (or any other health factor you’re trying to improve):
Am I doing it because everyone else is doing it, or because it is in line with my intentions and deepest values?
This does not mean that it is wrong to want to do what others do. But if you follow the path of the masses, do it consciously.
Involve loved ones.
Small moments of support can make a big difference when trying to move from friction to movement.
- Ask your spouse to help you stretch after a workout or accompany you on your morning walk.
- Ask your kids to help you plan meals, pick out vegetables at the grocery store, or even help you prepare a meal.
- Ask your best friend for a hug when you’ve had a busy week.
- Ask your friends and family to support you in the race.
Involve and integrate your social network into your life without forcing it to change.
Accept them for who they are and don’t forget to tell them how important their presence is to you.
Click here to see the sources of information referenced in this article.
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Emmons KM, Barbeau EM, Gutheil C, Stryker JE, Stoddard AM. Social influences, social context, and health behaviors among multiethnic working class adults. Health Educ Behav April 2007 vol 34 no. 2 315-334.
Alison L Hill, David G Rand, Martin A Novak, Nicholas A Christakis. Modeling infectious diseases through social contagion in networks. PLoS Computational Biology, 04 Nov 2010 DOI : 10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000968
Holt-Lunstad J, Smith TB, Baker M, Harris T, Stevenson D. Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: A meta-analytic study. Perspectives in Psychological Science March 2015 vol. 10 no. 2 227-237
Hruschka DJ, Brewis AA, Wutich A, Morin B. Shared norms and their explanation for the social clustering of obesity. Am J Public Health. Dec. 2011; 101(Suppl 1): S295-S300.
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Frequently Asked Questions
What are 4 strategies to help you eat healthy?
-Plan ahead -Eat a variety of foods -Drink lots of water -Exercise
What are 3 lifestyle changes you can make to become healthier?
-Eat more fruits and vegetables -Exercise regularly -Drink lots of water
What are 10 tips for a healthy lifestyle?
1. Eat a balanced diet 2. Exercise regularly 3. Get enough sleep 4. Drink plenty of water 5. Limit alcohol consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men 6. Limit caffeine intake to no more than 300 mg per day 7. Avoid smoking, second-hand smoke, and other tobacco products 8. Avoid using recreational drugs or prescription medications that can cause addiction or dependence 9. Reduce stress 10. Get regular medical check-ups
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