What to do with unhealthy family and friends

Are you one of those frustrated individuals who have fought hard to adopt a healthy lifestyle only to find that you are doing it alone?  Do you have a close family member or friend who consistently makes unhealthy decisions?   If so, we have something in common and I have some advice to share with you.

It’s pretty easy to advise and support those who know that they have a problem and want to be helped, but what do you do when someone you care about doesn’t seem to want to change her lifestyle, even though she’s putting herself at risk? What if she really wants the benefits of eating well and exercising, but has no motivation to do what is required? What should you do?

What You Shouldn’t Do
Most of us have a tendency to try to motivate people with logic and persuasion.  If that doesn’t work, we move to nagging, threats, and manipulation.  Studies show that these approaches tend to be ineffective and are more likely to cause strain on your relationship than anything else.  Until your loved one wants to do something about his situation, your efforts will be wasted and possibly even harmful.

What You Should Do

Try to figure out what benefits the person is getting from the unhealthy behavior.  For example, eating cookies in bed is both relaxing and enjoyable.  People don’t engage in unhealthy behaviors with the goal of getting heavy, out of shape, and sick. Your job is not to persuade, correct, or preach. Most people who are “stuck” in unhealthy behaviors already know what’s wrong and what they need to change.  Your job is to listen and show that you really understand why they are engaged in their particular behavior(s).  When people feel heard and understood, they will be more receptive to helpful suggestions.

The second most important thing you should do is lead by example. The best reason you can give someone for adopting a healthy lifestyle is doing it yourself and letting her see how it has helped you. Share your struggles and the lessons that you have learned on the road to healthier living.  When you share in this way, it engages people emotionally.  People are motivated by emotion, not by logical verbal explanations.  Finally, follow the pleasure principle.  Like it or not, people are motivated by the desire to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Unfortunately, we are often willing to grab the immediate pleasure even if it causes great pain in the future.

The bottom line is this:  You are most likely to positively influence the people you love by being an awesome listener, living an exemplary life, and by demonstrating ways of making healthy behaviors as fun and pleasurable as possible.

Thanks for tuning in!

Dr. C

Uthman Cavallo, MD


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