When embarking on a sugar detox, you can't help but have at least a few conversations with people about healthy eating. A few weeks ago one of my very good friends and I caught up over lunch and had one such — rather poignant — conversation. He had just come back from his parents' house over the holidays and was so worked up over how unhealthy his parents had become.
"They basically eat chicken wings and drink beer every night," he lamented with an air of defeat. Upon his return, he proceeded to stock his own fridge with healthy food, perhaps as a way to psychologically counterbalance the onerous reality of his parents' declining health.
Seeing someone you love make bad decisions for their health is not an easy pill to swallow. We can feel powerless because ultimately, the person making those poor decisions has to come to the realization that he or she needs to change. So what can we do if we can't get the people we love to change their habits overnight?
I asked my friend if he had a sit down talk with his parents about their eating habits. "Oh, I tell them all the time," he said. "They just go back to eating sh*t." A couple weeks later I got a call from my friend again. "I had to say 'thank you' because I called my parents the other day. I wasn't angry with them," he said, "but I made it very clear how I felt."
Turns out the timing of his call to his parents worked out well, largely because two days later, his father's gout returned — but this time far more serious than before. It was basically the straw that broke the camel's back. His father, fearing worse conditions and huge hospital bills, switched his eating habits overnight and his mother decided to join in. They even went so far as to get a personal trainer.
Luckily, the conditions weren't more serious for his parents. And unfortunately this scenario is more common that not. It begs the question: how can we help others make better, healthier decisions, especially when their life depends on it?
Here are five ways that can better guide us through the process:
1. Find a close-knit group to intervene.
Let's be honest. We all live very busy lives, and as much as we have love for others, especially our families and friends, it's still difficult to find the time to "monitor" other people's eating habits (not to mention our own)! If possible, ask a very small, select group of people who are close to the person who needs intervention whether they want to help out. Perhaps it's a spouse or a sibling; what you are trying to do is not gang up on the person, but to assemble a support network of people who care.
2. Find a time and place to share your concerns.
Telling someone how you feel over the big game might not be the most effective time. Be sure to suggest a time and place that makes sense. It could be as easy as saying, "Hey dad, I've had something on my mind that's been worrying me recently. Do you have 15 minutes to talk?" When you finally find some time, show empathy. The person needs to see that you're coming from a place of compassion and love, not a place of anger, rage or even disappointment. Gentle but firm statements are the best. If it makes sense, show your own concerns and fears. This is where vulnerability can really be a strength because it removes emotional boundaries.
It's hard to tell how someone will respond, but as I shared with my friend, even if his family responds with silence, that means something. Be prepared to listen, even if the person you're intervening with isn't ready to talk just yet.
4. Exhibit patience.
The person who you are speaking to may not want to speak right away or may respond negatively. This is okay. It likely means that he or she isn't quite ready to move onto a healthier path just yet. The important thing is that you planted the seed. You may find that you have to do this multiple times before there is any real action.
5. Offer suggestions and words of encouragement.
When the person you love is ready to do something for his or her health, be prepared to offer advice and help, where possible. Perhaps it's a list of groceries and recipes that you assemble together, perhaps it's a meal you cook with them, or maybe you can even send notes of encouragement throughout the process.
6. Know one's limits.
Most importantly, always remember that you are not responsible for any other person's actions but your own. You cannot feel defeated if the person you are trying to intervene with doesn't want help or even reverts back to his or her old ways. As my dad always says, "If this were easy, everyone would be doing it!" As much as possible, stay positive, be patient, and define your limits so it doesn't infringe on your own happiness.