5 Tips For Talking to Loved Ones About Their Health

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Many people have a person in their family whose health they’re worried about.

Maybe one of your parents smokes, a friend drinks too much, or you have a sibling whose eating habits are taking a toll on their health. In each case, you’re concerned and you just want to help. But confronting people about their bad behaviors is not easy, and often backfires causing hurt feelings and advice that falls on deaf ears.

The desire to approach your loved ones about their lifestyle though is magnified when you’re home for the holidays and you must witness these habits face to face.

For years, I’ve been trying to get one of my family members to eat better. I pleaded with them, made them healthy meals, and continually reminded them of the dangers of poor dietary choices, to no avail. Just when I thought I was making some headway, the person in question would wind up with a Big Mac in their hand.

I was at a loss.

Despite this person’s protests though, I’ve continued my campaign to improve their health. Slowly but surely, some healthy habits started popping up. They began drinking more water, eating breakfast, and cutting back on sugary desserts. It hasn’t been a 180 degree switch, but I think my efforts are beginning to pay off.

Which got me thinking: what techniques work (and which hinder) when trying to help a loved one improve their health?

I turned to Dr. Deepika Chopra, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology with a speciality in Health and Wellness, for her tips.

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Dr. Chopra says that the number one thing is to make sure that you are not being accusatory or demeaning when approaching your loved one.

“Going about it in this way will almost always lead to defensiveness,” she told me. “Once the person is defensive, it is very hard for them to see the value or love in what you are saying.”

Her advice is to gently tell them why their behavior is impacting your life, how important their health and happiness is to you, and what a change in their behavior would mean to you. She says to make sure to mention the positive behaviors they are already engaging in. For instance, congratulating them for trying a new workout regimen.

After you’ve discussed the issue and what it means to you, providing helpful solutions is key.

“Immediately follow up with suggestions so that the person doesn’t feel overwhelmed,” says Chopra. “Research shows that a person is much more likely to be open to change if after they learn what not to do, they are provided with ideas of what they should be doing.”

Also, by giving them something to hope for, you will greatly increase the likelihood of them following through with a plan.

“Help them paint a vivid picture in their mind — or better yet out loud — of what their life would actually look like and what they would gain emotionally and physically, if they made these changes,” says Chopra. “The more clearly someone can visualize why they are making a change, the more likely they will actually follow through.”

Finally, practicing these new healthy behaviors with your loved one will give them the support they need to stick with the challenges of starting a new lifestyle.

“The best way to support someone is to be accountable and consistent,” says Chopra. “Try to complete the tasks/goals with them — like partake in the exercise with them, or do it on your own. The idea of partners or groups is really key to increasing healthy habits.”

I hope you’ll think about these tips as you head home for the holidays and employ them if/when you need!

A big thank you to Dr. Deepika Chopra for her insightful advice on this topic. Be sure to follow her on Instagram @Deepikax and visit her website for more positive tips and inspirational pics.

*Photo credit at top: Getty Images. This post is linked to Marvelous in my Mondays.

Weigh In: Is there someone in your life whose health you’re concerned about? Do you think it’s important to confront your loved ones about unhealthy behaviors or should we each live and let live?


  1. Great post! As the person who once had bad habits that hated confrontation, these things are so important. It’s necessary to know its never too late to change your ways and that it may be hard but once you turn it around its super worth it.
    Ashley @ Broc Blog recently posted…Podcast FeverMy Profile

    • Whitney English says:

      I agree Ashley! Although it’s hard to hear criticism about your behaviors, in the end it helps knowing people care about you and want to support you.

  2. Good tips. I know before I lost my 50lbs , I had constant pressure and like you said it begins to feel almost like I had to be defensive and made matters worse. Once I finally decided I needed to do this for myself first, I then understood their hearts were in the right place. Btw I found your blog from your friend request on LC! :)


    • Whitney English says:

      So glad you found me and reached out! Your blog is super cute!

      Congrats on losing 50 pounds! I’m sure that wasn’t easy.

  3. I used to try everything I could with my mom. She was always “skinny fat” and never worked out in her life…EVER but was tiny. She has had so many health issues over the years from ulcers to two heart attacks, to nearly dying of having two kinds of pneumonia at once..oh and a mild stroke. How she is alive I have no idea. And she smokes and none of those things has stopped her from smoking. It’s frustrating and sad to watch a loved one do that to themselves, but I almost feel like at a certain point you love them for what they are. And however long you have them around is not up to you. Otherwise it’s just too difficult. But, I myself can learn from watching other’s mistakes and try not to make any of them myself.
    Tonya@Healthy, Fit, and Frugal recently posted…1/2 Marathon Training Diaries-Week 8My Profile

    • Whitney English says:

      That’s a really good point Tonya and something I should have noted above. At some point, you have to realize that you can’t change people who don’t want to help themselves. I have family members like that as well (who weren’t the subject of this post). Like you said, it’s sad and frustrating but ultimately you have to accept it.

  4. Such a great post! When I was heavy, I hated people looking over my food & getting all over me – it made me feel worse & then I ate to make myself feel better – supposedly as we all know…

    Sometimes even just doing your thing & them seeing it without anything else makes them eventually change on their own but I love these tips!!!!
    Jody – Fit at 56 recently posted…Gratitude Monday & Happy Bday to my Hubby!My Profile

  5. Whitney English says:

    Thanks Jody! I totally agree. When kindly suggesting that others change their ways doesn’t end up working, I try to just lead by example! I’m sure you’re a big inspiration to your whole family!

  6. Love this, Whitney! I found that initially, my family members felt like I was judging them (and probably at the start, it kind of was) but deep down, it was purely out of love and concern. Once they understood that- it became much easier and changes implemented!
    Arman @ thebigmansworld recently posted…From me to you- Merry ChristmasMy Profile

    • Whitney English says:

      That’s great! I think if you care about people you just have to keep trying….and do your best to not be judgmental (which can be hard!).

  7. Great post Whitney and it’s actually a really important topic because I have friends going through this same thing dealing with parents or friends. I actually just told my parents a couple days ago they really need to start doing Pilates and I don’t think they will, but your tips and how to go about it are really helpful. Especially not being accusatory. At least you made some progress with your family member too. :)

    Happy Holidays to you and Abe!

    • Whitney English says:

      Thanks Dale! That would be awesome if your parents went to Pilates with you! I tried to get my dad to do yoga with me once with a home DVD, it didn’t go over too well, haha! But at least he tried :)

      Happy Holidays to you as well!! xoxo

  8. Awesome post! For years I was trying to get my Dad to eat healthier. I think he had to make the decision himself and the only thing that really seemed to help was to lead by example. When he ordered a burger and fries, I ordered a salad and slowly he started giving up the fries for a salad and eventually the burger for a chicken breast. He’s lost 40 pounds and I could not be more proud!
    Davida @ The Healthy Maven recently posted…Holiday Recap 2013My Profile

    • Whitney English says:

      Thanks Davida!

      That’s amazing that you helped your Dad lose 50 pounds!!! He must be very grateful to have such an inspirational and supportive daughter :)

  9. As someone who has had family members encourage improvements in my fitness, I can testify that Dr. Chopra’s tips are exactly what I responded to. I want to expand on #4 a bit (provide easy, tangible suggestions). Eating healthier is so much easier when there are delicious, healthy alternatives to my favorite foods. This is what your website is so often about. I really appreciate all of your wonderful, healthy recipes and alternative food suggestions. Keep them coming.

    • Whitney English says:

      Thank you so much Donna! I appreciate the feedback. So glad you enjoy the recipes. Please let me know if there are any specifics you’re looking for! I’d be happy to makeover a recipe just for you :)

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