Making time for exercise or choosing healthy options at a restaurant isn’t always easy. Obstacles may derail the best laid plans, but what happens when the health saboteurs you’re facing are family and friends, the people you most thought would be in your corner, supporting your healthy and fit lifestyle?
According to Michele Kerulis, Ed.D., LCPC, CC-AASP, Professor of Sport Psychology & Counseling at the Adler School of Professional Psychology, family and friends may sabotage your health goals for a variety of reasons, including jealousy, fear and the belief that you’re being selfish by taking time away from being with them.
“However we know that we can only be as good as we feel on the inside so, if we’re not feeling well, it’s hard to take care of the people we care about,” says Kerulis.
Dealing with Fear of Change
Studies show that people have a better chance of sticking to a health and fitness regime if they have support from their social circles, usually family and friends, but that can be difficult when you encounter negative reactions such as:
- Are you going to the gym again?
- You’re too old for all this foolishness.
- Here have this brownie. I made this especially for you. You can just exercise it away tomorrow.
.A family member may see your refusal to accept the brownie as refusing their love and fear that you will distance yourself from them. Kerulis says that your family or friends may not understand the science behind exercise and nutrition and believe that if you eat that brownie you can just exercise it away later.
“One solution to that is to kindly accept the food that is being offered to you, but only take a small portion of it and then let the family member know this is so absolutely delicious that you want to share the rest of this with somebody else,” she says.
A second option says Kerulis, is to be honest and tell the family member that you’re not going to eat that brownie because you’re focusing on your health.
A woman over 40 who’s trying to be healthy should try to get family and friends onboard by explaining what she’s trying to do. Kerulis says sit down with that person and say “Listen, this is what my goals are; this is what I have to do to accomplish them and that includes exercise and eating in a different way, so please be supportive of me in doing that.”
Dealing with Jealousy
What about friends who say you’re going overboard, working out too much? “The best response to that is: ‘I can never be too healthy. I want to be around long enough to see my grandchildren, see my great-grandchildren grow up,’” says Kerulis.
Unhealthy family or friends may also be jealous because they see you as getting healthier while they don’t. “Invite them on a walk or some kind of physical activity,” says Kerulis. “Make it a weekly thing or twice a week thing where you’re going out and doing something active together. This way you’re inviting that person to participate in some type of healthy behavior and that might encourage the person to do it on her own as well.”
Dealing with “You’re Too Old”
When family or friends say you’re too old to either start exercising or continue exercising, point to athletes Diane Nyad (long-distance swimmer in her 60s), Olga Kotelko (track and field athlete who competed in her 90s), Philippa (Phil) Raschker (masters athlete in her 60s), Ernestine Shepherd (bodybuilder in her 70s), Kathrine Switzer (marathon runner in her 60s).
Kerulis says another issue for women over 60 is family fears (or their own fears) that they will suffer a fall during exercise. A woman should consult with her doctor before starting any fitness regime, but since a woman’s life expectancy is now 81 years, a woman in her 60s still has many years ahead of her and should make exercise part of her daily routine.
“If we can encourage women to work on balance exercises, work on cardiovascular health and fitness, work on muscle strength, bone density, that is something that will help with some of those stereotypes that encourage women not to exercise when they’re in their golden years,” says Kerulis.
Changing Your Behavior
Kerulis says that the most important thing to remember in dealing with saboteurs is not to focus on changing your family or friends’ behavior but rather changing your own.
“The only things we can control are our own thoughts and our own behaviors,” says Kerulis. “So as much as we wish somebody would change, and we wish that their attitudes towards our exercise would change, we cannot control that. We can voice our concern about their attitude towards our exercise, we can voice our desire for them to jump on the healthy training with us, but in the end they need to want to change their own behavior. So what’s important to do or what somebody can try to do is talk about the reasons why they want to be fit. A woman can say I want to be healthy; I want to have a healthy heart… So by explaining those types of angles to our friends and family they might better understand why you’re acting a certain way or why you’re changing your behavior or appear to be changing your behavior drastically.”
What about Toxic Relationships?
Kerulis says that when people continue to sabotage your efforts, it’s important to give yourself some distance. Kerulis recommends telling the person: “the comments that you’ve been making about my healthy lifestyle are hurtful to me. I’m doing this because I want to live a long, happy, healthy life and your constant negative attitude really hurts my feelings. So either please stop doing that or we can’t be around each other anymore.”
Kerulis adds that it’s important that women not internalize negative feedback that will make them doubt their dedication to health and fitness. If they can’t find the support from family and friends, Kerulis recommends connecting with like-minded groups. Try to find support from either online or local groups who share your love for health and fitness. “People make lifelong friends in those groups because there are other folks who are in the same situation looking for positive support.”