Committing to a new healthy diet is exciting. The changes you're making for yourself make you feel good. Really good. You are challenging yourself mentally and physically. You feel euphoric. The healthy changes really have started to pay off big time. You feel stronger and happier. All up until a family member or friend throws some serious shade at you and leaves you puzzled. Saying things like "I don't understand why you eat so healthy" or "You should really eat a burger, you are getting skinny".
These negative comments can actually leave a large impact on you. They make you feel as if you are doing something wrong by choosing a healthier lifestyle. They make you question your decisions and question if the people in your life are really worth it. The thing is, the people around you don't necessarily see it as a negative. They see your lifestyle change as a shift in the status quo. They feel like the experiences your friendship is based around might be threatened. They think through all the memories you've made together around unhealthy decisions and it scares them to think they might be alone now.
The important thing to remember when confronted with negativity is to try to avoid being defensive. There are ways to handle these situations without losing family and friends in the process.
Change is Hard
You may have a perfectly healthy relationship with someone and immediately after you start eating healthier they say something that throws you off guard. Maybe it's a bit more hostile or negative than usual. Maybe it's a new side to them you haven't seen before. Either way, it makes you question if they have your best interest in mind.
You understand that creating a healthier lifestyle for yourself is beneficial. There aren't any negatives to come from taking care of yourself. So why is the positivity you feel towards it not the same energy you feel from others? In the simplest way to explain it: you are challenging the status quo.
Have you ever seen a friend accomplish something really cool? Something they have always set their eyes on. And, as much as you thought it was great for them to succeed, you noticed yourself getting slightly envious with every step closer to the goal that they got. Yeah, that feeling, we all get it. It doesn't matter who you are and how confident in yourself you are. When you see someone doing good for themselves you tend to feel threatened. You feel as if it threatens your ability to succeed as well. Which it doesn't. The first step in combating this negative feeling is to understand where it comes from.
Studies suggest that people tend to show aggression when they feel their self worth being challenged.
Envy is a very common trait in humans. Psychology Today describes this innate feeling "As an emotion that enables survival of the species, envy is related to competition and social comparison between yourself and others that are a part of your self-evaluation. " Whether we want to feel it or not, envy is a very normal feeling to come in contact with from time to time. We shouldn't let ourselves feel overcome by it but we also shouldn't ignore it.
The feeling of envy drives us to become better. It can push us to stop settling and to start reaching for ways to better ourselves. However, it can often get the better of us, leading us to say things that are out of character.
It's important to remember this when you feel the negativity coming from people close to you. While it may seem to be coming from a place of hostility, it oftentimes is just an innate reaction to envy.
How to Combat Negativity
The best possible way to combat any negativity is by being confident. Sometimes you might think that being "positive" is the best way to handle negativity and sure, it's an honest approach. Unfortunately, positivity in reply to negative comments sounds argumentative. Now of course you don't want to respond with negativity as that only creates more negativity. But, the best way to handle it is to stay confident in your choices and react in a neutral way.
Instead of saying "I'm trying to be healthy, you should too!" when someone says "You don't eat very much these days", react in a more neutral tone. Joke around, saying something light-hearted like "You know I just can't keep the donuts off like I used to!" This keeps the conversation light-hearted but also shows that you are confident in your decisions. You aren't here to challenge anyone or prove anything.
Tips for Any Social Setting
The reality is that when you start eating healthier there will be a LOT of unwanted pressure from the people around you. That doesn't mean that you need to drop those people and find new friends. It means that if you want to keep your friendship and goals in place, you need to find a good healthy balance. You don't have to deny a night out with friends but you can be smart about it and not wreck your progress in the process.
Ahhhh, the classic happy hour with friends. You haven't seen them in a while! At least since you've started your diet. They've seen your gym check-ins on Facebook. They "liked" your well-thought-out meal prep photos on Instagram. So by now, they know you've been hustling, hard. So what will they think of your new lifestyle? Maybe tell you about how great you look or how they can DEFINITELY tell you've lost some weight. You head to your favorite restaurant/bar. You already know exactly what you're going to order (the healthiest thing on the menu, duh) and you've decided you want a glass of red wine with it since you tracked ahead for it. So you walk in and to your dismay none of your friends compliment you?
Instead, Larry says, "We ordered beers and buffalo wings but I'm sure you won't eat that...nowadays." Wow. Was that shade being thrown at you? I mean sure you probably wouldn't eat them but you'd rather that be your call not theirs. You sit down and Amanda hesitates to hand you a drink menu, "Maybe you can ask the bartender for a diet cocktail" she snarks. Appalled you sit there not knowing what to say. You think to yourself: Do I throw some shade back? Let Amanda know the buffalo wings are definitely hitting her thighs?
As tempting as it may be it is probably not in your best interest to snap back at them. It is also probably not in your best interest to start any type of "positive life-change" speech. Instead laugh it off, they are still your friends. You still can relate to them on so many other levels (hopefully) and that shouldn't change just because you are taking care of yourself. Proceed to order exactly what you planned to order ahead of time and be YOURSELF. Remind them that you aren't some new human that they can't get along with all of a sudden. You all still have much more in common than buffalo wings and beer.
Remember, people may come off a little hostile when things around them change. People do not always accept change with arms wide open, even when it is something great for yourself! The important thing is to remain as normal as possible, while still keeping your ground on your diet. If you didn't track to eat three servings of buffalo wings, don't. Succumbing to the pressure of your friends will only make you feel weak and disappointed. It will take you to one of two places: wanting to avoid social gatherings altogether or completely losing control of your diet.
Stay confident in who you are and what your goals are and your friends will feed off of that energy. You do not need them to compliment your achievements for you to feel like you have been successful. This lifestyle change is for you. Only you.
Scenario: Office Break Room
As broad of a scenario, as this may be, it seems to be a pretty common "trouble spot" for most of our clients. Unless you work for a nutrition company (lucky us) odds are your office break room is not the most wonderful place to visit while on a diet. So while we're never ever (ever) tempted by unhealthy food at Trifecta, this is how we imagine this scenario to go down:
It's Friday morning and you walk into work with all of your meals ready and tracked ahead of time. You are ready to end this week strong. All up until your co-worker Cooper walks in with a pink box. You know that sight. Donuts from everyone's favorite place down the street. Of course Cooper, being the team player that he is, picked out your favorite donut "just for you". Chocolate bar with whipped cream. Nice play Cooper.
You think to yourself, "How do I get out of here alive". Donuts are your weakness. Cooper totally knew that too. Of course, anyone would know that if they saw you at the last company Christmas Party where you scarfed down six donuts and tried to justify it with the "bulking" season. So maybe Cooper was just trying to be a thoughtful fellow coworker. But in your eyes, Cooper is really crushing your momentum.
Your mind instantly runs through multiple scenarios. One where you yell at Cooper and completely degrade him for the level of disrespect he's showing you by bringing donuts into the office when you're clearly on a diet. The other is of you completely caving: eating not one, but every donut in that box and waking up hours later in the break room in a donut coma.
Any minimal amount of logic should remind you that neither of these two scenarios is the proper way to handle the situation (as tempting as it may be). Instead tell your coworker how much you appreciate the kind and generous thought and that while you aren't hungry right now, you'd love to take it home for later! This provides you with the optimal amount of control over the situation. While you have thanked Cooper for his generosity, it also provides you with the opportunity to do with the donut as you please behind closed doors (aka toss it if you really don't want to eat it).
Once again, the important theme of this is to stick your ground when it comes to your diet but don't be a jerk. You do not want to ruin good quality relationships with people, especially people you have to work with. Thank people when people are genuinely being kind but turn the situation around to a place where you have control over it.
Scenario: The Significant Other who is not Dieting with You
This one probably hits home for most people. Your wonderful, loving, significant other will not always want to give up their cheese pizza for chicken and broccoli. That doesn't mean that you should go find another significant other either. It means creating a very healthy balance at home. Pressure at home is probably the most tricky of things to deal with being that it surrounds you. Here's how you work around it while keeping your relationship intact.
It's Tuesday night and you're on your way home from work. Your significant other calls you "Hey, I was thinking about picking up a pizza." You hesitate. Not really sure what to say. You spent all day Sunday meal prepping and they feel the need to ask if you want pizza for dinner? Instead of either lashing out or caving every time your significant other sweet-talks you (with pizza of course), compromise!
Remind your significant other that you spent all that time on Sunday making meals so you don't want them to go to waste! Then, set a day to go out and get pizza with them as your next "cheat meal". Having a plan in this scenario while creating a very valid compromise can keep you from caving every other day. Also, don't make your partner feel like they "have" to eat what you eat. This is where your own discipline comes in, hardcore. Tell them to grab whatever they want to eat! You are perfectly happy eating what you already have planned.
As difficult as this may be for some, once you've learned how to have the discipline to control your cravings at home. You will be able to master any situation, anywhere. It is not the easiest to watch your significant other eat a Big Mac while you eat chicken and broccoli. However, think of your long-run goals. You know what eating a Big Mac will do for you. You did that in college when your metabolism was ten times faster than it is now and it still wasn't working out for you.
Keeping discipline no matter the situation, will be what really empowers you in the long run. Knowing that you have the ability to say no to things that aren't beneficial to you, will keep you feeling like a boss. Remember, discipline is the bridge between goals and results.
Be True to Yourself
Whatever way you chose to look at it, the number one factor that is going to determine whether you accomplish your goals or not is you. The reality is there will always be people who will have a negative perspective on something. Even your friends and family. There will always be outside influence that makes it seem difficult for you to hit your goals. The important thing to remember is that at the core of it all, people probably don't have the worst intentions for you. While it may seem overwhelming to get even the slightest form of negativity from a friend or loved one, it probably doesn't come from a place of hostility.
They do not want you to fail. They are reacting to the fear of change and the intimidation they feel towards you and your healthier lifestyle. This doesn't mean you should drop them from your life. It means you should recognize the real reasons behind what they are saying and stay true to your goals. Be yourself around your friends. Try to avoid over-positivity. Don't succumb to the negativity. Hold yourself accountable. And most importantly, just relax! All great things take time and the ability to adapt to change. You will not master this whole process overnight. But you can only benefit from knowing how to deal with these situations appropriately.
"If your best friend, family member, or spouse is obese, you are up to 50% more likely to become obese yourself." Read more about How Your Friends Influence You.