How do you get your loved ones to care about being healthy? Are you a good or a bad health influence on those you love?
You’ve tried discussing the benefits. You’ve tried scaring them with the facts.
You gave up dessert hoping they’d join you, and you lavished them with praise when they dusted off their bike.
You gently explained that you were worried. Then you bitterly announced that they looked 9 months pregnant.
And after all this… it seems you’ve had no influence whatsoever.
Mom’s still carting around large McFrappés. Your spouse insists that trekking up and down the stairs is plenty of exercise. And your kids, you suspect, are squandering their lunch money on Cheetos and Mountain Dew.
Trying to influence people into building healthy habits can feel like walking across a minefield. You know that you have to be careful, with kids especially, but really with everyone. Even well-meaning campaigns can backfire, and you don’t want to be on bad terms with anyone in your family.
Yet when a loved one’s health is on the line, keeping the peace isn’t an option. The IdealShape program was created to save the life of David Meine’s foster dad, who was over 400 pounds and had refused to budge. “Project Tom” was a success, and the IdealShape mission took off from there.
I’ve spent many years trying to help my own family adopt healthier habits, with some successes and some failures. I’ve learned a lot about being a successful influencer along the way, and I’d like to share some of those lessons with you.
Simple “Hang-Ups” Often Have Complex Roots
What seems like laziness or stubbornness to you might not be such a black-and-white issue for someone else. (That’s why “I’ve gotten it together—why can’t you?” tends to be very ineffective.) People will resent an oversimplification of the challenges they’re dealing with, and rightly so. Instead, be compassionate and perceptive rather than prescriptive as you help them work through their struggles and obstacles on their own terms.
Use Positive Reinforcement, Not Bullying or Threats
Anger and frustration are sometimes understandable—you want to see your loved ones make positive choices for themselves. But unleashing these emotions will only hurt your cause. Ask any psychologist, teacher, parent or pet owner: positive reinforcement is the most effective way to influence behavior. Chastisement will get you little more than a “surprise” on your pillow.
Different approaches resonate with different people, and the one that finally clicks might not be what you were expecting! If you hit a dead end, don’t keep at it. Change your tactics instead. My brother gained weight when he hit his teenage years and was really bummed about it, but whenever I tried to get him interested in exercise, it increased his resistance. Finally I got the hint: teenage boys don’t want warm and fuzzy advice from their older sisters. So I pretended to order myself a subscription to Men’s Health. The magazines quickly disappeared from the coffee table, and he’s been exercising zealously ever since.
Know When to Back Off
This doesn’t mean giving up, it just means laying low for a while. Sometimes when you stop pushing, others start listening. Or it turns out that they were listening all along. They just needed a chance to take ownership of new healthy habits, and to get all that weird stuff—heart-to-hearts, taking advice, having one’s actions and appearance become a matter of public discussion—out of the way. Now they can focus on getting started with their healthy journey.
Let’s wrap it up!
It’s important to approach other people’s weight loss and fitness journeys with care and compassion. When you think you’ve tried everything, think again. You might need to consider deep-seated issues, change your tactics, and even stop pushing for a while to get the healthy results you’re hoping for.
Want more tips on weight loss and relationships? Check out these articles for more.
What’s the hardest obstacle you’ve come upon in trying to help the people in your life be healthier?