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The process of adopting a healthier lifestyle is just that, a process. Give your loved ones space to learn, adapt and grow into themselves. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
The process of adopting a healthier lifestyle is just that, a process. Give your loved ones space to learn, adapt and grow into themselves. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Four tips for helping a loved one make healthier choices Add to ...

You can’t force people to make healthier choices, and you can’t do the work for them – no matter how much you love them.

You can lecture your loved one on the benefits of making a health change, but until he or she is ready to change, logical information just won’t stick. Health is a process, and in order for long-term changes to occur, the person must want – and be ready – to be part of the process.

I speak from personal experience. I was an overweight, unhealthy teenager. It wasn’t until I decided to start holding myself accountable for my actions that I stopped lying to my family about my food and activity choices.

I am not arguing that you should stop caring about your loved one’s health; there is nothing more important than health. But here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. Be patient and supportive

The process of adopting a healthier lifestyle is just that, a process. Give your loved ones space to learn, adapt and grow into themselves.

Avoid making “jokes” that are actually veiled critiques about eating and exercise habits; usually, they just make people want to assert their independence by eating more and exercising less. When I was heavier, I knew it. My pants were tight. Your loved one knows that he or she could lose some weight. Critical jokes or comments are not helpful. They are just infuriating and demeaning.

2. Be a positive health model 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.

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. Instead of regularly asking, “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 or that they seem to be sleeping better.

3. Communicate

Ask how you can support their health. Don’t assume you know what they need. What you find motivating isn’t necessarily what motivates them.

4. Abandon judgment – of your loved one and yourself

Stop wasting time judging and start doing. Instead of criticizing other people’s choices, stay in your own health lane. When you find yourself critiquing other people’s choices, turn those judgmental thoughts into productive ones. Get up and go for a walk; as you walk, brainstorm how you can make healthier choices.

The main take-away is that judgment and criticism are not helpful. 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.

Kathleen Trotter is a personal trainer, Pilates equipment specialist and author of Finding Your Fit. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter @KTrotterFitness.

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