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The Dos And Don'ts Of Supporting A Loved One On Their Health Journey

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TALKING TO OVERWEIGHT FRIEND
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Adopting a healthier lifestyle is an active process; no one can force anyone else -- no matter how much they love them -- to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Your loved one has to be at least interested in having the "health conversation." Health is a process, and in order for long-term changes to occur, the person must want to -- and be ready to -- be part of the process.

No matter how much you want your X (plug in wife, husband, child, etc) to make different health choices, until they decide to do it for themselves, the life changes won't stick.

To make matters worse, too often helpful encouragement is perceived as judgment and criticism -- as I always say, perception and intent are two different things.

The million-dollar question becomes, how do you support a loved one's journey to become fit, without them feeling judged, belittled, and criticized?

Also, as a side note, it is always easier to make objective health choices for someone else and much harder to embody our own suggestions. Possibly what we all need to do is stop fixating on our loved ones' health and fixate on our own? Anyway, that is another blog.

The million-dollar question becomes, how do you support a loved one's journey to become fit, without them feeling judged, belittled, and criticized?

I have been on both sides of this tricky health "dance." I spent 18 years of my life as the loved one being "helped"; I hated myself and my body. My mom lived the encouraging and healthy part of the dance.

Currently, I almost exclusively exist as the "helper." I try to embody the rule that some type of daily movement is a "non-negotiable"; I spend my days encouraging others to adopt a similar mindset.

Since I have lived both sides of the dance -- and since my mom navigated the parenting/helpful part of the dance so well -- I thought a #TalkToMe blog that synthesized our experiences was in order.

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Spoiler alert: Judgment and criticism are not helpful. Unrealistic goals are not helpful; they are overwhelming and set the person up for failure. Anything that promotes shame and self-hate is not only unhelpful, but potentially damaging both physically and psychologically.

What is helpful? Encouragement, constructive advice (when it is asked for), and open and supportive communication.

In this video I asked my mom to explain how she navigated the "how to motivate your teenage daughter to be healthy" dance almost 15 years ago.

Since I am a firm believer in the idea that perception and intent can be two totally different things, In this video I recorded my thoughts about how my mom handled my teenage years. I am curious if my perception meshes with her intent.

Last, since I am now trying to encourage my mom to exercise -- and I am a big believer in communication and asking for what you need -- in this video I ask my mom how she would like me to support (but not judge) her as she negotiates her present health journey.

Don't constantly ask your loved one how much weight they have lost. You don't want the scale to become the only way they monitor their progress...Point out that they seem stronger and more energetic, more self-confident and dexterous, and/or that they seem to be sleeping better.

A few things to keep in mind when encouraging a loved one to be healthier

1. Two things that were NOT helpful when I was heavier: being told I needed to lose weight and "jokes" that were actually veiled critiques about my eating and exercise habits. Both simply made me want to assert my independence by eating and not exercising. When I was heavier, I knew it. My pants were tight. Critical jokes or comments about weight were not helpful. They were just infuriating and demeaning.

Be patient and supportive. The process of adopting a healthier lifestyle is just that -- a process. Give your loved one space to learn, adapt, and grow into themselves.

2. For me, the fact that my mom was a positive health role model was extremely helpful. Be that for your loved one. Try to be active, consume healthy food (and if you live with the person you are trying to encourage, make sure to keep healthy food in the house), and always discuss health with your loved one, not weight.

Don't constantly ask your loved one how much weight they have lost. You don't want the scale to become the only way they monitor their progress -- especially if they have a tendency (like many of us do) to conflate their self-worth with that number. We are all so much more than a number, and becoming healthier is not just about reaching a certain weight. Instead of regularly asking your loved one "how much weight have you lost?" (which can be taken as criticism), find ways to encourage them. Point out that they seem stronger and more energetic, more self-confident and dexterous, and/or that they seem to be sleeping better.

3. Communicate with your loved one. Don't assume you know what they need -- what you find motivating isn't necessarily what your loved one finds motivating.

I grew to love being active because my mom helped me find something that was mine -- my "bliss" -- something that I enjoyed and that I felt proud doing.

Instead of criticizing other people's choices, stay in your own health lane.

Ask how you can support their health. If your loved one is open to accepting your input -- ask first -- help them find their bliss. Maybe your loved one would enjoy taking a group exercise class, learning a new sport, or coaching. Don't try to make your loved one adopt your health recipe for success! There is no "one-size-fits-all" health plan; everybody is different. Everyone requires a tailored recipe for success. Help your loved one put together their own plan; a plan organized around their realities, goals, and life rhythms.

One final thought, the next time you judge someone else's health choices, remember the therapeutic concept that "judgment of others often stems from judgment of ourselves." Instead of criticizing other people's choices, stay in your own health lane. Get up and go for a walk; as you walk brainstorm how you can make healthier choices! Own your own health choices.

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