Why don’t my family and friends support my healthy habits?

You want to live a healthy lifestyle, but your family and friends aren't supportive. This can be particularly challenging when socializing with family and friends over the holidays. Here are five reasons why and ways to help you cope.

1. You’ve heard the old criticism, “Living healthy doesn’t make you live longer. It just feels longer because it’s not fun.” They think life can be either healthy or pleasurable but not both. It’s no wonder this is a common belief if you look at the health-crazy industry with their restrictive, bland, calorie-counting diet plans, and their grueling biggest-looser style boot-camp workouts. People are convinced that the road to health is to eat less (of the pleasure-providing salt, sugar and fat that they are addicted to) and exercise more (with a pain-ridden body and mind that barely gets through the day). That approach is destined to fail because it’s the complete opposite of our basic instincts to seek pleasure, avoid pain and conserve energy (or what Dr. Doug Lisle calls, “the motivational triad”). The reality is, with a plant-based lifestyle we can have both health and pleasure, eating as much as we want of delicious, nutritious meals, that cost less than animal-based diets, resulting in bodies and minds that work better without the need for pills and procedures and their harmful side-effects. Since plant-based foods are far lower in calories, weight loss is easy without the need for exercise. Being physically active becomes something you choose to do to celebrate the life you feel, rather than an unpleasant labour that you feel you need to do and feel guilty if you don’t do. This is a big paradigm shift for most people. “If it was that easy my doctor would have told me,” is a common response. The fact is most doctors and others in the medical and fitness world simply don’t know this information. Individuals are starting to seek out this knowledge, but the extremely lucrative industry is not going out of it’s way to preach the power of broccoli.

So, engage the natural instincts of your family and friends by telling them there is more pleasure, less pain, and less effort with a healthy, plant-based lifestyle (“I eat as much as I want”, “I feel good all day”, “my diabetes, asthma, arthritis, etc. is gone”, “I have more energy”). If they want proof beyond your shining example, share the good news found in documentaries like “Forks Over Knives” and “What the Health” and the numerous other books and websites on the Resources page on our website.

2. According to Tony Robbins, from a psychological/emotional standpoint, we all have six basic human needs: certainty, variety, connection, significance, contribution and growth. The need for certainty (aka. our need to feel secure) can be so strong for some people that they will choose the certainty of a bad situation over an unknown outcome even if that outcome has the potential to be good. If your family member or friend lives a life focused on certainty (meticulous house, rigidly scheduled routine, always checking their phone, etc.), then confronting their meat-based world with a “radically” different way of eating that they don’t understand will likely be difficult for them.

Try Dr. Lisle’s “seems strategy” in which you simply present your strange habits as something that “seems” to be working but you’re just trying it out for now and you may very well go back to eating the way they believe with certainty to be the right way. They don’t need to know you’re 100% committed and you don’t need their approval.

3. Sometimes they know you’re right (who doesn’t know fruits and veggies are healthier than bacon?), but they think they can’t do what you’re doing (see reason 1 above) so they feel their status is threatened. According to Dr. Lisle, the psychological phenomenon that compels us to compete for status among our “tribe” runs deep and is rooted in our basic need for survival. You’re also a threat to their status because it is you, not they, who is the messenger bringing this literally “life-saving” news to the tribe.

A simple and effective strategy that Dr. Lisle recommends it to feed their ego (as sincerely as possible). Compliment them on their home, family, job, etc. and downplay yourself.

4. Be considerate of the basic human needs we all have to some extent to feel connection and significance. Your loving family and friends may want to show they care about you and offering you food they made may be one way to do that. They may also take great pride in their special recipe. Outright refusal of the drumstick that Aunt Betty saved just for you, can be considered insulting and denies her pleasure.

Since explaining psychological principals is a little awkward over the buffet table, Dr. Lisle would suggest satisfying their needs in different ways. “I’ll pass on the turkey today, but I can’t wait to enjoy your delicious carrots (significance). And thank you for inviting me today, it means a lot to be with you (connection – and a gentle redirection). I love your center piece (significance – and a more obvious redirect away from food).”

5. Meals centered on turkey and other animals can be very difficult to even witness for vegans and vegetarians who know the suffering that those animals endured. It’s no longer a question of whether it’s healthy or not or whether they will eat it or not. Being told to simply eat around the meat doesn’t lessen the pain we feel. In her book “Beyond Beliefs”, psychologist Dr. Melanie Joy presents the hypothetical situation of a dinner in which the guests ask what the delicious meat is in the stew and their subsequent horror when the hostess tells them it’s golden retriever. How many of our meat-loving friends would eat that meat or even be able to “just eat around it”?

It’s only reasonable that those of us who choose to attend holiday meals hosted by meat-eaters can expect to be exposed to dead animals on the table. We then need to choose whether we focus our attention on it. Although you may feel justified to cause a scene by accusing them of murdering an innocent animal and destroying the planet, ruining their holiday event will likely not encourage them to follow “your way” and will likely only reinforce their defenses towards “those judgey vegans”. The awareness to the insanity of eating animals may not be coming fast enough for some of us, but it is coming. More and more people are adopting a plant-based lifestyle. If your family and friends are not there yet, patience and compassion with focus on the positive rather than the negative will go a long way. Be a shining example of vibrant health and enjoy that plate full of delicious veggies. (And perhaps say a silent prayer for the fallen.)

It can be inconvenient and annoying to have your lifestyle choices and beliefs challenged by family and friends on occasion. But when this conflict exists on a daily basis it can be too much to bear. Show compassion for your family and friends. Many of us don’t truly understand why we behave the way we do. This is less about food and more about emotions. Their reaction to your lifestyle is not necessarily about you and our reaction to them is not necessarily about them. Try having thoughtful, honest, respectful conversations with them about your feelings and also theirs. Rather than jumping right into a face-to-face confrontation, Dr. Joy (a relationship specialist) recommends writing them a letter to help you sort your feelings and then allow them time to read it, consider your point of view, and reply perhaps in a letter of their own. If need be, seeing a relationship counsellor may also help. Remember, our physical, mental and emotional health are all interconnected and they all deserve our loving attention. Showing kindness and understanding to ourselves and others will light the path to good overall health.