We all want to help our family eat healthy foods. But have you ever noticed how describing the evils of junk food and jumbo-portions rarely causes them to change their eating behavior?
If anything, it seems to make them MORE likely to order the bleu bacon cheeseburger with a side of smothered nachos.
As the much-older sister of two younger brothers (ages 22 and 14), I’ve learned a thing or two about dispensing nutrition advice to family. Namely, that it doesn’t work.
At least not outright.
Come to think of it, the same thing that causes my siblings to rebel against health advice also causes my parents to rebel. They just don’t like being told what to do by a know-it-all health nut.
Call it the family dynamic: even stronger than the desire to be healthy is the desire to be right.
But you DO have the ability to influence healthy eating habits among your loved ones. It’s all in your approach. Indeed, sometimes, good old fashioned persuasion is in order.
Whether you want to help someone…
- consume less processed food
- eat more plants
- skip second helpings
- drink more water and less sugary beverages, or
- eat at regular meal times
… pick one behavior to start with, and try out the following influence strategies:
Strategy 1: Ask
The well-known persuasion psychologist Robert Cialdini once conducted a study to find out what would get hotel guests to reuse their towels. Customers were needlessly piling their wet towels on the floor each morning, and the hotel was wasting energy on frequent washing when people could easily reuse their towel a few times.
And so, at check-in, some customers were asked to make a commitment to recycling their towels, while others checked in as usual. The result: the group that was asked to reuse their towels was over 50% more likely to do so.
Sometimes all it takes is a friendly request. “Could we try to eat healthier this week?” might just work wonders. (And note the “we” 😉 )
Strategy 2: Ask for a Specific Commitment
Among the hotel guests in the study above, those who were asked to make a specific commitment (to reuse their towels) instead of a general commitment (to help the hotel “conserve energy”) were even more likely to comply.
Not only were they more motivated to reuse their towels, but they were also more likely to adopt other conservation behaviors, such as turning out the lights and turning off the TV when leaving the room.
If you can ask for a specific commitment—“could we make a goal to eat fruits and vegetables with every meal this week?”—you may be even more likely to get a “yes.”
Remember, this is about ‘asking.’ It’s easier to bypass resistance with a request than a command.
Strategy 3: Change the Environment
There’s plenty you can do to inspire healthy snack choices without even saying a word.
Duke marketing professor Dan Ariely says people are programmed to go for the “low hanging fruit.” They’ll take a free Hershey’s kiss over a quality 15-cent Lindt chocolate every time.
By the same token, if the cookie jar sits on the counter, don’t be surprised to hear the chime of the ceramic lid opening and closing all day. If you keep the pantry stocked with chips, good luck getting anyone to cook a baked potato.
But by creating easy access to healthy snacks, you can fix that. Put a bowl of colorful fruits and veggies on the counter, while indulgences like French fries and dessert must be prepared from scratch, and see what gets looted first!
Strategy 4: Make It Seem Like Their Idea
Sometimes asking won’t be enough. There will be those family members who scoff at compliance, and delight in doing exactly the opposite of what they think you want.
In this case, eating healthy will have to be their idea. And you can plant the idea by helping to change their self-image.
An Ohio State University study found that when people saw pictures of themselves voting, they were more likely to identify themselves as “politically active,” and then more likely to go out and vote.
Can you help your family see themselves as healthy eaters? Perhaps you spot your spouse eating a nutritious breakfast smoothie. That’s your opportunity to mention how their healthy food choices inspire you to do the same. (You might even add that they look trimmer lately.)
Chances are, soon they’ll be eager to show off their healthy choices and give YOU nutrition advice. Resist the urge to rebel. 😉
Incorporate meal replacement shakes into your daily nutrition and you have a good chance of crossing “achieve ideal shape” off your wish list by summertime!