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