Clearing Your Hurdles Part 1: The Friends and Family Plan

Today is the first installment in my series, Clearing Your Hurdles.  For an overview of the topics we’ll be covering please read THIS post. In today’s piece we’re talking about dealing with critical, unsupportive, or downright negative friends and loved ones. Let’s get started! 

History Repeats

Most of us have a history with trying different approaches to achieving our health, fitness, and wellness goals. It’s very rare that someone finds the exact right approach for themselves on the first try. This means that our friends and family have been witness to our learning curve. Less supportive folks will call that learning curve “failures”, and they will be quick to bring them up in criticizing our current efforts. 

As we continue on our journey, we may try vastly different lifestyle modifications. As I’ve stated before, I’ve been at various times vegan, vegetarian, pescatarian, raw foods only, macro-biotic, and now primal. While we understand the validity of experimentation to find our own best diet, others might not be so inclined. As we deviate from the norm (whatever that means in your circle), we can encounter resistance and criticism from what should be our support group. How do we deal with that? Can we remedy it, or do we need to just accept it? 

First, let me say that as an adult, unless you are making choices and changes that endanger your life, it really is no one’s business how you choose to eat. In a perfect world we wouldn’t be asked to defend or even explain why we are eschewing grains, dairy, meat, sugar, alcohol, or whatever. No one should question our interest in lifting heavy objects, working at a treadmill desk, or adding daily meditation to our lives. However, any time we try new things it seems that there will always be those who need to know why, and insist they know better. 

My first suggestion in dealing with negative folks, is just to smile and nod. Agree that yes, you’ve tried lots of other approaches previously.  Acknowledge that, and then emphasize that it was important for you to have those experiences in order to learn more about what does and doesn’t work for you. Often, negative people are just looking for a way to create conflict. By agreeing with them on the fact that this isn’t your first (health) rodeo, you can often take the wind out of their sails. I like to conjure the image of water rushing around rocks. While the rocks create an obstacle, the water just keeps doing its thing. It can’t go through the rocks so it just acknowledges their presence and flows around them. Eventually the rocks will be worn away and the obstacle removed, just by the water being water. Problem solved. Holding this image in your mind while having these sorts of conversations can be very helpful. Give it a try. 

Food Critics

But maybe you are encountering more forceful criticism, perhaps in the guise of someone actively trying to sabotage your efforts to adhere to your new eating and fitness habits. What then? Here is where we have to stretch ourselves, and perhaps deal with some personal discomfort in setting boundaries. 

It can be difficult for a lot of us to set firm boundaries with our family and closest friends. We don’t want to hurt any feelings, or exacerbate conflict because we love these people. I know, I’ve been there! But I want you to remember that your decision to get your health on track is IMPORTANT! If someone is actively trying to derail that, you have every right to set boundaries. 

If the behavior is centered on trying to guilt you into consuming foods or beverages you are eliminating from your diet, stick to your guns and politely refuse. You’ll get sick of saying “No Thanks”, but eventually they will get the message. If it becomes really intolerable, restrict your interaction with them to non-eating gatherings. This might mean missing a few expected events, but it can often be a wake-up for the person criticizing you. Once you explain that you want to spend time with them, but won’t be bullied about your dietary choices most people will back off. I’ve had to do this several times, explaining that I’d love to visit, play cards, go for a walk, etc but I can’t add the stress of meal-centered activities with them. Generally, once I’ve been plain in laying out my truth the conflict has subsided. 

Exercise Your Rights

If the sabotaging behavior is preventing you from getting to the gym, yoga class, or whatever your preferred fitness activities are, you may need to be very firm. Explain that physical activity is a non-negotiable component of your new life. Emphasize its importance to your physical and mental health. Set appointments on your calendar and do not change them. Make sure you have an alternate plan for child care if your critic is also your baby-sitter, or have a plan for kid friendly activities. Hiking, swimming, at-home Zumba Party or yoga are all great options with the kiddos. In the past I had to bring my (then) 2 year old to my martial arts dojo (with Sensei’s permission) so I wouldn’t miss class. A steady supply of crayons and copy paper along with a thermos of her favorite soup kept us both happy. Some people will probably never agree with your choices, but that’s okay. The goal isn’t to get them to agree, it’s to get them to respect your choices and stop sabotaging you. 

You Know What You Ought To Do...

Finally, you might be experiencing the know-it-all criticizer. These are truly my favorites. They generally are ‘experts’ in the correct way to do everything, and it’s never the way you are doing it. The thing to remember here is that usually these folks have their own agenda (and sometimes a product as well) that they are pushing. You might start getting lectured about how great training program x is, and shake y, and questioned about how you can possibly think doing a,b,c will get you results when ALL THE STUDIES SHOW….. Gah! These people drive me nuts! 

Sometimes confronting this type of person with hard facts regarding whatever ‘program’ you are following will appease them, as they tend to like case-studies. But if you are not interested in trying to justify your choices to them, or tired of hearing their rhetoric, you can just opt out. Try simply stating, “Hey, I get that you love xyz, and it totally seems to work for you. That’s so great! But I’m doing my thing and really don’t want this to be our main topic of conversation. How about those KC Royals?” or words to that effect. You are under no obligation to repeatedly defend your choices. Change the subject, refuse to answer, suddenly remember an important call you have to make….  Eventually, they will stop. Or not. But you are not obligated to hang around and listen to them. I know that sounds harsh, but people who refuse to respect you don’t deserve your attention. 

Hard Choices

Making different choices is hard enough without feeling like we are being questioned, criticized, and judged by our loved ones. Sadly though, we often need to make the additional choice to start setting boundaries within those relationships in order to support our new lifestyle. As difficult as this can be, it is a crucial skill to learn, as our lack of clear boundaries has often been a component of our previous less healthy lifestyle choices. Learning to be strong in our resolve, as well as loving and respectful towards ourselves, is key in achieving our goals. 

Next we’ll be addressing the subject of dealing with workplace critics and how to navigate those always tricky office-food politics. Doesn’t it seem like it’s always someone’s birthday, or baby shower, or made-up special occasion? I’m looking at you, National Doughnut Day! Have you experienced uncomfortable feed-back from co-workers regarding your new healthier habits? 

As always, please leave a comment with your thoughts on these subjects, and please share this post if you feel so inclined. 

I’ll be periscoping about this topic Wednesday, Nov 4th at 1pm. I hope you’ll join in the conversation. 

Read other installments in this series: Part 2, Part 3