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When friends don’t support your diet

 “Come on, just have a piece of cake.” Or “you’re only going to eat a salad?  What… are you on a diet?”. Sound familiar?

Earlier this week during a training session, one of our clients described how her friends were critiquing her healthier choices when dining out. She is brand new to exercise, and for the first time, is taking steps to change her habits. Her workout partner then described her experience at a hockey game when she went to order water and a perfect stranger tried to convince her to have a beer.

            If you are trying to lose weight, and become healthier, you’re probably already familiar with diet saboteurs: people, possibly a friend, co-worker, spouse or even a stranger, who try to derail you from your plan. Sometimes they are well meaning- such as your mother who has always shown love by making delicious meals for you. Sometimes they are a bit guilty or jealous- such as the friend who would really like to lose a few pounds herself and would rather you carry a bit of extra weight as well.  Sometimes they are unprepared for the change- such as the friend who knows you as (and thinks he needs you to be) his beer drinking, pizza eating buddy. And sometimes, they have absolutely no idea why they are trying to sabotage your weight loss efforts.

            Changing your lifestyle habits is just that- change. And while you may be ready to embrace and make the change, some of your friends and family may not be.

            Here’s the thing: it has nothing to do with you. People, by nature, fear change, even positive change. It’s often the people closest to you who are the most afraid that you will change, and therefore their relationship with you will change. It’s uncomfortable, and people who feel threatened will fight back.

            I’d love to say that all your relationships will endure through your transformation, but truthfully, some relationships will survive, and some will not. Some relationships are really worth fighting for, and some are not.

Here are three ways to help turn your sabotaging friends into supportive allies.

  1. Share your why. Schedule a time to talk with your friend or loved one. Mention that you have something important you’d like to discuss so they are prepared to listen with minimal distractions. During the conversation, do not accuse them of being unsupportive or a bad friend. It’s important to understand their feelings, as they are most likely not trying to be malicious. Share your struggles and why you’re trying to make a healthy change. You might say things like “I’m really frustrated with this extra weight. I want to feel better.”

When you allow yourself to be vulnerable with your close friends, they will be more likely to support you and help you. Which brings me to point #2.

  1. Ask for help. When your loved ones have a role in your transformation, they will feel needed and be more likely to support you. Perhaps you can ask them to be your accountability partner, or to simply support you when you choose not to drink during a dinner out. You could say things like “I love you, and you’ve always been there for me. It’s really important to me to improve my health, and to do that I need your help.”
  2. Don’t try to convert your friends or your spouse. Be mindful how you talk about health, fitness, and weight loss. Do not offer advice, or preach about all the interesting things you’re learning, unless they ask. This can be hard to do when you’re excited about all the changes you’re making and how good you feel! If you say no to a meal or dessert, simply say ‘no thank you’ or ‘I’m full right now’. You don’t need to educate everyone at the table why you’re not eating gluten or sugar. And if others do ask, simply share that you’re doing something that is working for you, and it’s making you feel good. There is no one size fits all approach to eating, and just because something is working for you, doesn’t mean it’s going to work for your friends.

My advice to not try to convert others is especially important in your romantic relationship. Nagging. Does. Not. Work. Instead, focus on your own journey. Invite your spouse along (ex. For a walk, to enjoy a healthier meal with you, etc.) But do not force them to change. Often, your healthier choices will rub off on your partner, but let them change as they become ready. 

      When you’re making significant lifestyle changes, be prepared that some people, even your closest loved ones, may not be completely supportive of the change. Be open with them, and ask for help. Communication is the best way to enlist support from your family and friends.