In this post, I want to explore the Social Dimension of Health and how the people around us can affect our weight loss attempts. Let’s first discuss the different relationships that our lives are composed of. At home, we have those who we have a daily rhythm and routine with, and these are usually the people who know us best. At work or school, we have the people who we spend time with mostly in a professional setting, and they range from friends to acquaintances. Outside of home and work, we have friends and family we see occasionally, and whom we have various levels of connectivity to as well. There are some that are healthy relationships, some strained, and some distant. However, each is unique and affects us in different ways at different times. Overall, the people around us can influence not only our choices, but also our mood, our confidence, and even our outlook on life.
Relationships can be very uplifting, supportive, and help you reach goals that you cannot reach on your own. I highly recommend sharing your whole weight loss journey with one or two people in your life that you feel comfortable with and who support you. Those accountability partners can motivate you on a tough day, help you bounce back after a cheat day, encourage you to keep going, and notice the hard work you are putting in. Sometimes even a few words can completely change your demeanor!
Those around us can definitely have a positive impact on our goals; however, they can also affect us negatively, and usually it is not intentional. In this article, I outline different difficult situations a person may find themselves in and offer guidance for how to respond to these situations gracefully, with tact, and without getting off track on your weight loss journey. Not only do others’ affect us, but we affect them as well. How we talk to others about our diet can make them feel a range of things anywhere from offending them to motivating them to make healthy changes as well. Not all of these situations will apply to everyone, but my hope is that I highlight at least a few of the difficult situations you may find yourself in.
Home Life: Now, for some of you who live alone or with roommates, this may not apply, but I urge those of you with families who will be directly affected by your weight loss process to communicate with them! If you have an accountability partner at home, it helps tremendously! It can be hard to initiate a conversation about your weight loss. Some of us may feel vulnerable about the subject and may not want to hear what others have to say on the subject. How we manage our body can be a very personal thing, and some want to keep it more private than others. However, as I outlined in my last post, weight loss should be focused on an entire lifestyle change. If we are trying to make a permanent change that we are serious about, it is important to communicate this to the people in our own homes who will be directly affected by the changes we make. If we do, we are setting ourselves up to be much more successful. Talk to your family and: (1) ask them to support you in reaching your goal, (2) ask them to respect the time you allot for exercise (within reason), and (3) ask that they keep an open mind to a few menu changes.
Don’t be afraid to be a good role-model and advocate for being a healthier household. It is not only better for you to start eating healthier, but it is important for those around your to do the same. Don’t be afraid to kick the soda, Oreos, and chips to the curb. It is good for everyone! On the flip side, don’t expect those around you to get excited about an entire 180 flip in the normal menu. Compromise is important! Get rid of the foods that really trip you up, but let them keep a few of their favorite snacks around. Discuss the importance of moderation with unhealthy foods with them as well, if they are receptive to it. You can also try healthier versions of some of the favorite family meals with veggie lasagnas, cauliflower crust pizzas, or lean-cut burgers on the grill. Dieting doesn’t mean eating food that you don’t enjoy… remember, it is a change you are making for the rest of your life, so you better enjoy the food! If you want to make more drastic changes do so in your own lunches and breakfasts, as these are usually easier to prepare and can be prepared for you individually.
Keep an open dialogue about what foods work and which don’t and keep trying new recipes until you find a good rotation. I have about 15 meals that I rotate through. I like trying new things as well, but these are the recipes we’ve perfected, we know are healthy, and are simple to prepare. We plan, grocery shop together on the weekend, and are set for the week. Hopefully, your family is receptive, supportive, and open to trying new things! If you do get a lot of push back, really focus on making your biggest changes in the meals and snacks you have on your own. For the meals you eat together, modify the meals with portion control, a different dressing, or skipping the tortilla for a healthier option.
For Situations Outside of Home: For the rest of the people in our lives, choose what you communicate to them based on the comfort level you have with them and with the diet you are on. You will most likely need to advocate for yourself while on a diet, and saying “no” to unhealthy opportunities can be a tricky balance. We want to make sure that we stick to our diet without offending anyone by saying “no” and offering too little of an explanation, coming off as short or terse. We also don’t want to offer too much of an explanation and make them feel bad for the unhealthy choices they are making. In my own journey, I had some of each of these situations happen, but I also had a third outcome that was awesome: I had a group of people that I found were very receptive when I offered an explanation. Some of these people supported me and took their own feelings out of the equations. But, I even had a few people who felt inspired by my healthy choices and made the same healthy choice with me. What a great influence we can be on people when we make healthy choices!
Now, let’s take a look at some of the different situations we may face with people outside of our homes:
Dormitory Days: College was one of the tougher times for me as far as diet was concerned. Dorm life was specifically tough with a mini-fridge, cafeteria food, a small bankroll, limited time to shop, lack of transportation to shop, and a new world full of way too many opportunities to drink alcohol. Once I had a larger fridge, a job, and a car, it became a lot easier to moderate what I ate, but the opportunities to get off track are endless! Moderation is the best advice I can give for this time in life.
Alcohol: If you want to go out to parties and drink in moderation, that is okay! This is a small window of time in your life where you are living among your peers, and you should enjoy the company. However, when it gets to the point of drinking too much or drinking too often, this is when it begins to infringe on the rest of your life. Be it your weight, ability to succeed in academics, quality of work you can put into your job, quality of your relationships, or ability to lead a life aligned with your beliefs, too much alcohol will negatively affect you. If you can handle going to parties and not indulging, this is an option for you. You can also find friend groups that you can enjoy activities with outside of partying or say “no thank you” to a few events if they start stacking up too close together. If you aren’t comfortable sharing that you are trying to lose weight, don’t feel the need to share details. You don’t need to ruin a friendship by attacking what they are doing, saying, “Drinking is so overrated” or “Drinking is so bad for you”. Try saying “not this time”, “I have a lot of studying to do”, or “I’ll take a raincheck”. If they keep pressing, feel free to go more in depth into why it’s the right choice for you, but not necessarily everyone. Keeping sight of your main goals in college (graduating, setting yourself up for success in the “real world”, and finding lifetime relationships, etc), and make sure the life you are leading is aligned to your goals.
Food: The same idea of moderation goes for food. If you eat out for the social aspect or convenience every now and then or have to do Ramen occasionally to help with the bills, it is okay in moderation. However, getting quality food means your body will function at a more quality level, so think about making quality food a priority in your budget. Also, saying “no” to going out to eat too often is okay to do. You will not only help your bankroll, but you will also save yourself the calories. Again, you don’t need to offer a huge explanation if you aren’t comfortable with sharing what your personal goals are. On the flip side, if you feel very strongly about your diet, that is great if you want to share… just make sure you aren’t inferring that others should be on the same diet or make them feel bad for making choices that aren’t as healthy as yours.
The Co-worker Conundrum: Co-workers can range anywhere from our best friends to mere acquaintances that we don’t know much about. We can choose what we’d like to share with these people. However, we have all most-likely found ourselves in the situation of being offered the cake/catered lunch/eating out option for a significant event in someone’s life or just because that’s the norm. Here, we find ourselves in another tricky situation, trying to be careful how we come off. I can’t offer a go-to solution for these situations because each situation is unique, but I can offer a few solutions that have worked for me.
When a person directly brings a treat to your office that they brought to celebrate something significant in their life: Say “yes” and either throw it away, bring it home to your significant other (who could eat Oreos by the bag and not put on a pound), or put it in the break room. This person went out of their way to specifically bring you their treat, so they are really excited about sharing and you don’t want to offend or rain on their parade by making them feel rejected. If you really feel the need to say “no” because you can’t deal with the temptation at the moment, make sure to stay away from, “No… do you know how bad cake is for you?” or “I stopped eating cake when I found out how many calories were in it”. Instead, start with “I’d love to” or “Happy Birthday!” or whatever it may be and phrase the rejection very tactfully and as if you’d love to (which you actually may), but for health or dietary reasons can’t.
When a person has a cake/catered lunch brought in for a reception or celebration of some sort and it’s at the event or in the break room: Don’t feel the need to take it. This is not as personal of an offering as someone coming to you directly with a treat. If you skip it, it’s very likely that no one will even notice. If they do, feel free to offer as little of an explanation as is tactful or, again, politely phrase your reasoning, i.e.: “I’m really trying to stay on track, but thanks anyway”, “Thank you, but I’m going to have to pass today”, or “Not today, but thanks so much for offering!”.
When everyone is going out to eat for lunch: If it doesn’t involve a work meeting, feel free to politely pass. If you want to go for social reasons or it does involve a work meeting, go with and order the healthiest option available and/or don’t eat all of it. People probably won’t take note of the healthy choice you made or draw attention to it if you’re in a bigger group. If they do, offer the same succinct response. Again, balance the explanation by offering a small enough response that you aren’t offending them by seeming short but also aren’t being offensive by making their choice seem unhealthy or bad.
The Social Shuffle: When you are outside of work and home, there are a number of social situations that present themselves to us and can get us off track in a hurry. However, remaining disciplined is key to staying on track and losing weight. If you feel comfortable sharing with friends and family that you are on a diet and know they will be supportive, this can help alleviate some of the temptation because once they know your reasoning, it is much less likely that they will be pushy or keep offering you unhealthy things once they know where you are coming from. If you are not comfortable sharing this or are among people you don’t feel will be supportive, there are other options as well.
If you are in a large-group setting at a party or event, it is very likely that no one will notice if you make healthier choices or even if you eat before the event and skip eating there altogether (it might actually help you to be less likely to cheat as well)! If someone does notice, start with the default of being succinct and polite. Again, try to avoid directly attacking their choice by saying it’s unhealthy or high calorie. If pushed (everyone may have that grandma that sets down your favorite peanut butter M&Ms right in front of you), feel free to offer a little more of an explanation or simply laugh, excuse yourself to the bathroom, and find another setting that is less tempting. If you really feel the need to take some of what is offered because of tradition or to prevent someone’s feelings from being hurt, take a smaller portion. Hopefully this is not a situation you are faced with often.
When you are in a small-group setting with people who you know a little better, this can be a harder situation to handle if you aren’t comfortable sharing your weight loss goal or feel they may not be supportive. If eating out or grabbing drinks is a ritual or go-to meeting spot, first try to mix it up and do something that doesn’t involve food like a movie, walk, kayaking, grabbing coffee, or going to a concert. If you don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to change your meet-up spot, start by simply ordering healthier or eating half of your normal meal. If no one notices, you’re off the hook. If they do, just say that’s what you felt like eating, or go more in depth if you feel you can without making them feel uncomfortable with their own choices. Start with “I’m trying out this new diet that is really working for me” or “I am changing it up with my diet right now, and I’m liking it so far and want to stay on track!”. This situation is where you are most likely to offend someone by choosing the wrong wording, so be careful not to accidentally offend them by saying their choices aren’t healthy. I usually err on the side of offering at least a little bit of an explanation even if I don’t think I will get support just because being a healthy role-model is something I strive to be in life. Don’t be afraid to do the same!
Relationships can affect us in more ways than we can count. When it comes to dieting, you will have a range of support anywhere from people who shame you for eating healthy to those who support you 100% and even get on board themselves. However, the body you have is yours alone, and what you put into it is ultimately your choice. It may be a lonely journey, but having support from those around you can help more than you know. If you find that you don’t have that support in your life, try to remember your goals and why you are losing weight. If you find it overwhelming, I will personally be your accountability partner! Overall, at home, make sure to communicate and compromise with those closest to you, so you can find support (or at the very least tolerance) for your new lifestyle! When communicating with others about your weight loss, make sure to be tactful and succinct. If you are able to be a good influence, that is great! Your body is yours alone. Respect it by how you treat it and ask others to do the same.
***Next Up: My next post will be on September’s Challenge!
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“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
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