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Dealing with health saboteurs

What to do when your friends and family don't make it easy to stay on track

I want to take a detour from our usual positive mindset messaging to address one of the uglier sides of working with people to achieve their health and fitness goals: That is the saboteurs among our loved ones, friends family and coworkers.

It’s an unfortunate part of human nature that when we see somebody else exceeding one of our instincts is going to be to coax them back to where they were before.

How this shows up in health and fitness could be a loved one surprising you with cakes, cookies and sweets, making comments that you’re losing weight too fast or that they think you’re doing something unhealthy when in fact you’re doing things to become more healthy, or someone starting to make snide remarks and leaving you out of social plans that used to be a part of your life under the justification that not you're different.

Why do people do this? It’s not because we're inherently jerks as humans. There’s a couple things behind this from a psychology standpoint. Understanding this will make it easier to deal with.

First, while you may be ready for change, everybody else in your social circle may not. Change is not an easy thing. People enjoy the status quo. What they don’t know is what will be different once you reach your goals. If you’re in a relationship, and all the sudden you lose weight and get fit, will you be looking for a different relationship? Will you start flirting with other people or attracting other attention where before they felt safe from competition?

Or in your social circle, if you start losing weight and reaching health and fitness goals, it’s a reminder to your friends who more than likely have tried the same effort but failed that you’re succeeding where they did not. That never feels good by comparison. So they have two choices; either they can get on the bandwagon and change as well but if they’re not ready that’s pretty tough, or they could try to drag you back so they don’t have to feel like they’re getting left behind. Sad but true!

The other things that happen is that culturally we have decided to create so many social activities around eating and drinking, and otherwise unhealthy habits, that people maybe worried they’re going to lose your friendship if you’re no longer participating in those activities. And also with such a high failure rate in the health and fitness world (partly because of the saboteurs in your life!), loved ones like parents may worry that you’re going to fail so they set you up from the beginning, tell you they love you as you are, and here have a piece a cake. It’s not constructive, and it doesn’t make sense, but many studies have been done about this concept called cognitive dissonance, and when there starts to be a gap between them and you that’s where people start to feel uncomfortable.

This is not your fault, and no reason why you should stray from your personal goals! We shouldn't hold back from reaching our potential just because our success makes someone else uncomfortable.

So here’s a few ways you can make it easier on yourself, and on others.
  1. Share the reason why you want to get healthy and fit. To have more energy, to have better health, to be around your kids, whatever the case may be. Give them the bigger picture so that they can get on board. And then ask their support.
  2. Communicate ahead of time that your relationships are still important to you. Just because you’re changing your habits or health just doesn’t mean anything is going to change necessarily with them. You can let them know that you’re going to get creative, and if you choose to have a salad when you go out they're still allowed to have burgers and fries. No judgment.
  3. When inevitably someone does try to force stuff on you like birthday cake, family recipes, sweets and treats, you can politely decline, or have a very small amount, or say that sounds great maybe later. (Later can also mean throw it in the trash when they're not looking) Deferring is fine if you're worried about hurt feelings, but you don't have to eat things you don't want to.

PSA if someone in your life is working on a health and fitness goal: READ THIS!

Now to those loved ones, friends and family: if someone in your world is making a big effort towards weight loss and health, here’s what I want you to do.

  1. Before you make a comment out of concern for their well-being, ask yourself what are you really worried about? Are you worried about losing the relationship? Are you worried that they're success makes you look like a failure? Question yourself first before you inadvertently undermined somebody else. Be honest.
  2. Ask how you can be most supportive. Ask what things are acceptable and what things aren’t. They are probably not secretly jonesing for you to bring treats as an excuse if you get from their plan. That’s probably your production. But they may still want to go out for the special birthday dinner with special event. Ask what would be most supportive. Hiding leftovers, keeping treats to yourself, that maybe part of the game. Be a true supporter by establishing a game plan first.
  3. Find a way that you can maintain your relationship but still benefits both of you. Maybe instead of boozy sweet treats as a means of connecting, you can do something more active. Try a new activity, craft or hobby to do together instead of eat. It could create an entirely new and stronger bond.
  4. Celebrate their efforts in progress. If their success makes you feel insecure because you failed in the past, flip that around as a means to believe that when you’re ready to make change on your own you too can do it because your friend just did. See the positive, not the negatives. Focus on all the good and the benefits and the WHY this person wants to change.

If your relationship is solid and you truly want the best for them, find a way to help. See that their goals and achieving them really is what’s best for them. It’s not about you, it’s about them. The best friend, supporter or lover you can be is the one that helps them get there and achieve success.

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