A few months ago a loyal client asked me a tough question and it’s taken until now for me to figure out how to answer it. She is a dedicated client; works her buns off in the gym and does her best to shop for and prepare healthy meals.
Her problem, though, is a common one: her family doesn’t eat clean – and doesn’t want to.
How hard is it to prepare a nice, clean meal of chicken breast and broccoli and have your kids begging for mac n’ cheese? Or to stick with a piece of grilled fish and salad when the husband brings home a bag of deliciously greasy-smelling McDonalds? Or spend your time putting together a big batch of quinoa pilaf for the whole fam and they turn up their noses?
In my opinion, what happens at home is about 100 times more important than what happens in the gym, and more often than not, is also a better determinant of how successful you will be on your fitness program. You can hit it hard on your exercise program but come home to a den of temptation – and once you’re in the comfort of your own home, it’s a lot easier to give in.
I used to be a huge fan of the TV reality show The Biggest Loser, and it used to kill me when you’d see episodes of the newly-health-conscious contestants going home to their families and seeing their entire program unravel because their partners and kids refused to support their new wellness routines. Time and time again you’d watch these formerly-obese people return to the toxic environments that enabled them to become that way, and like a caged wolf released back into the wild, they’d slip right back into their “natural” habits.
So what do you do when you want to make a lifestyle change and the people around you don’t?
My first answer comes with a lot of tough love: find new people to be around. Ok, so that’s easier said than done when it comes to family, sure – but if you are part of a group of friends that gets their kicks from sitting around eating junk food, hating on “skinny people” and lamenting how hard/unpleasant it is to get up and exercise, it may be time to surround yourself with some new, more positive influences. Find a bootcamp of like-minded people. Hire a personal trainer to be your fitness partner. Recruit a lunch buddy at work that will go get salads with you when the entire office orders in a pizza. You control who you let into your inner circle, and if you can find a tribe that supports you, you are more likely to find success.
Now onto the family/home issue more specifically. If you are serious about making a lifestyle change, especially if it’s a critical issue of health (you need to lose weight because of prediabetes, for example), you should be able to have an open and honest conversation with someone who truly loves you about why you need their support.
Don’t let anyone belittle or rationalize away your reasons for wanting to make a positive change; see if you can work together to create and post an actual, written action plan (i.e. “we cook dinner at home three nights per week” or “I take walks at lunch every weekday”) that you can point to whenever there is some tension about wanting to do/eat/add/eliminate something in your life. Never be afraid or ashamed to ask for what you need from your partner, especially if it is something that matters to your long-term health and happiness.
As for the “kids food” issue, this of course is a bigger philosophical discussion than I have room for in this little ol’ blog (and truth be told, as someone who is not yet a parent, I may as well stuff my foot in my mouth before I talk about how someone else should raise their kids).
But what I can say is this: children are children. They will eat what they are provided or they will hold out until they’re truly hungry, but either way, you are the parent and you are in control of what goes on the plate. If you don’t put mac n’ cheese in the house, there is no mac n’ cheese in the house. If you demonstrate healthy habits by putting green vegetables on the table at dinnertime, even if they don’t touch them at first, they will still see the example of you making a commitment to healthier options at home (remember those somewhat-creepy “I learned it by watching you” anti-drug commercials in the 90s ? Yeah, it applies here too).
It make take time, effort, and a few tears to make healthy changes happen in your household – but as they say, nothing worth having comes easy. When it comes to your wellness goals, you’re the one in charge – and where there’s a will, there’s a way. Pioneer the positive habits and attitudes you want to embrace, and one day, the people around you will want to do it without their hands being forced. Be your own best example.
How do you deal with less-than-supportive peers when you’re working toward a goal?