This is it. You’ve finally made the decision to change your lifestyle and get your daily diet on the healthy eating track. You can envision your future self with more energy, healthier and happier. You throw yourself into healthy eating with abandon and begin studying recipes and cooking meals with labels such as low-fat, high-fiber, protein-loaded and heart-healthy. Foods you had once avowed to hate forever and wouldn’t think of letting into your kitchen you find you now love. You shudder at the thought of the quantities of junk food and refined sugars that used to pass your lips.
The problem? The people in your life – especially in your household – that are just as committed to the old way of eating as you are to your new, healthy menu. They’re hanging on to it with the tenacity akin to super glue, as skittish as a shy colt when you enthusiastically down a plate of kale and lentils.
I understand, truly I do. I have been in the position where my husband looked at me like I was an alien-in-a-Kim-suit when I served a meal that wasn’t loaded with meat and potatoes, and nary a fried item in sight. If there are kids in the house, they’re not fazed by the new-you-alien but rather by the broccoli steaming in the serving bowl. And kids will trick you. I clearly remember that as a child, one of my stepdaughter’s favorite foods of all time was broccoli and cheese. Then the preteen years hit and instantly (and I do mean instantly, it was overnight!) she was transformed into a hater of vegetables of all kinds. There ensued years of trying to stick to a healthy lifestyle while dealing with a picky kid addicted to junk food and a husband that wanted meat and starches only.
When we commit to making changes to our lifestyles, especially to how we eat, it makes a major impact on the people in our lives. It’s one thing to say, “Honey, kids, I’m going out for a jog!” vs. “Honey, kids, I’m overhauling the way I eat and I’d appreciate it if you’d join me!” It gets a little more personal when you bring it to the dinner table. The reaction you hope for is that they throw their support behind you whole-heartedly and join you. On the other hand, they may support your efforts but decide to let you go your own merry way while they continue with the old eating pattern. They may also get defensive and let you know in no uncertain terms you’re on your own and have no intent of even trying to incorporate a few healthy things into their diet and make small changes.
The good news is it’s completely possible to live an intentional, healthy life and include the people you love without your household turning into a battle zone and keeping everyone happy. It takes a little compromise and a good deal of commitment on your part to stick to your healthy eating regardless of the path your loved ones choose. Listed below are some tips that will help to introduce the people in your life to healthier eating habits, keep the peace and promote a healthy home environment as well.
- Make small changes. As with any fitness or diet plan, if you make huge changes in the beginning you’re setting yourself up for failure. It’s the same with your loved ones. If they’re used to things like spaghetti and garlic bread or pork chops and mac and cheese for supper, they’re going to balk if you suddenly quit serving it all together and hit them with brussel sprouts and tofu. Make the tweaks small; make minor changes a little bit at the time. If you have a lot of starches in your meals, such as both bread and potatoes, replace one of them with a green vegetable. Take several weeks and cut back on soft drinks and sugary tea a little at a time. Make one tiny change per week, too small to raise alarm, but they’ll add up and introduce a healthier approach to eating almost without notice.
- Don’t label it. It may be a healthy diet, but don’t refer to it that way. Most people don’t like change and are instantly on guard when the words “healthy” and “change the way we’re eating” are used. They will immediately associate the new way with rabbit food, tasteless, bland and boring and as having to sacrifice good stuff like junk food.
- Lead by example. Regardless of what others around you do, when you begin making changes to your diet and accomplishing health goals left and right, you will have more energy and feel amazing, which positively affects your interaction with others. Others around you will notice the change, want the same thing and just may follow your lead.
- Dispel the myths. Most people associate low-fat, sugar-free or gluten-free with healthy, but this isn’t really the case. It can be tastier, lower-calorie and healthier to use a little bit of flavorful, regular products than a larger amount of the low-fat, sugar-free or gluten-free stuff. If your loved ones see you eating a slice of regular cheese vs. rubbery, tasteless, low-fat cheese, eventually they’ll realize healthy eating isn’t quite so bad after all!
- Involve them. If your loved ones turn their noses up at anything that doesn’t resemble pizza or say “bleh!” if it isn’t loaded with sugar, get them involved in the meal planning and preparation. Ask them what fruits they’d like for you to purchase or what meat they want one night for supper. No one likes to be forced into anything, but if they have a voice in the matter and request certain foods they’ll probably eat it. Allow them in the kitchen to help with the meal preparation.
- Make easy swaps. You can make simple swaps to cut back on fat and sugar-laden foods that will mostly go unnoticed. Swap Greek yogurt for sour cream, quinoa or farrow for pasta or rice and turkey or chicken sausage for pork sausage. Instead of a bagel or white toast in the morning, scramble eggs, add veggies and roll in a whole-wheat tortilla. Know your loved ones’ preferences and work with those to make their favorites healthier and keep them from feeling deprived.
- Start with snacks instead of main meals. If you mess with supper too much you may have a war on your hands and alienate everyone from the get go. Changing snacks is a little less drastic and an easier way to introduce healthy foods to your loved ones. Instead of chips, try a little peanut butter on apple slices or celery sticks. Make turkey or fruit wraps and cut into slices for snack time or larger portions for a quick lunch instead of sandwiches.
- Don’t throw in the towel! It won’t go perfectly, especially in the beginning. You may hear the words “gross” or “not in this lifetime!” If you’re ready for a lifestyle change but your household isn’t, don’t talk about it constantly or push the issue. They will watch you and possibly start to pick up on a few healthy habits as they begin to see the changes in you and how great you feel. No food is prohibited; have potatoes with your steak but only occasionally and grilled instead of fried. As with any food you want to limit, keep portion control in mind and only have one serving available so no one will be tempted to gorge later. Give it time and stay committed to your plan; even if you’re the only one eating healthy you’re on the winning side!