Originally posted in February 2018, updated to be even more awesome in November 2019.
It’s astonishing just how relentless the pressure to eat poorly!
While we are consciously trying to make good choices for ourselves and improve our well-being, those around us are often making ridiculing or cajoling comments like:
“Oh, come on, one piece of pizza won’t kill you”
“You only live once”
“Don’t be such a kill-joy”
“You’re wasting away”
It can be so frustrating! The sad part is that often these derogating and seemingly judgemental comments come from our friends, family or coworkers – those who outwardly say that they support us, but their actions say otherwise. Throughout several years of navigating the social streets of a clean lifestyle, I’ve developed a few tactics to politely, but effectively deal with some of these frustrating situations… situations that ultimately can have the power to sabotage your hard work. But don’t let them!
Know that you are not alone in what you might be going through with your friends or family, and know that in time, with a plan in place, you can mitigate the social sabotaging – and ultimately pave the wave to reaching YOUR wellness goals.
WHY DO OTHERS HAVE A PROBLEM WITH YOUR DIET?
Unfortunately not everyone wants you to succeed. They may say they do because they know it’s the right thing, but at the core some people may have difficulty accepting the healthy new you. You will inevitably come in contact with haters, naysayers, and people who want to put you down – and they will go out of their way to comment on your life choices. Understanding the reasons why they do this might help you to effectively establish boundaries with others, so that ultimately you can stay focused on what’s important to accomplish your health or fitness goals.
They might be worried about you.
Sometimes people might be genuinely concerned that you’re getting too thin, too consumed with your weight loss or fitness goal, or generally jeopardizing your health (physical or emotional). If someone makes comments insinuating this or if you suspect this is the reasoning behind their negative comments about your new diet or exercise regime, educate them. Let them know exactly what you eat or what your workout program is. I remember a friend expressing concerns that I wasn’t eating enough because I was “getting too small”, so I shared my menu plan with her. I pointed out how I was regularly consuming more calories each day than she was! I also dispelled her presumption that I must’ve been doing hours of cardio each day – she’d assumed this because I was looking so lean and fit! I not only was able to put her concerns to rest, but also show her the power of consistent optimal nutrition and smart training in achieving and maintaining your wellness goals, rather than by starving or doing excessive cardio.
They might be feeling judged by you.
I had to take an honest look at my own behaviors regarding food when I first started changing my lifestyle. I genuinely wanted to understand what might’ve been behind a particular friend’s negative comments about how I was eating. I was able to take a step back and see that my actions may have been offending those around me. It would never be my intention of course, but when I stopped to think about it, I recognized that my enthusiasm and exuberant comments about food as it pertained to ME could easily come off as being judgmental toward others. For example, the bread bowl comes around and I proudly exclaim “Oh no thanks, I don’t eat that kind of processed, refined carbs”! Meanwhile, my friend beside me is on her second dinner roll! Uh-huh, I’d inadvertently just criticized her. Or I pass on dessert claiming “I don’t eat that, there’s so much refined sugar in there” (and go on to passionately share my knowledge of the dangers of refined sugar)! Again, others at the table may have just ordered desserts and might now be feeling judged by me.
Lesson learned. As wonderful as you are feeling since changing your habits, and as excited as you are to share the good-food news with the world, usually they don’t want to hear about it. Be mindful of the comments that accompany your food choices when around others who may not share your food philosophies.
They may be embarrassed.
They might feel self-conscious about their own choices. Most people at some point have tried and failed to accomplish what you are doing right now. For some of these people, seeing you fail will make them feel better about themselves, because it allows them to rationalize their own failures. For an insecure person, someone doing something they perceive as better than how they may be doing it, will make them feel bad about themselves.
Psychologists agree that this is human nature, a small flaw we all have to some degree! Jealousy, insecurity… even those who don’t need to lose weight or are already super fit may feel threatened by your success. Know that this is their issue, not yours. Dwelling on their negativity towards you will only zap your energy. Instead surround yourself with people who have accomplished what you are trying to accomplish.
Maybe they miss the old you.
Your lifestyle changes may have directly affected their lives.
Let’s face it, we tend to surround ourselves with people whom we share commonalities. If you can’t sit through musical theatre, you’re probably not going to enjoy dating an opera singer. If you’re a vegan, you likely won’t be attracted to a fisherman or cattle farmer. And if you’re an athlete or health-conscious clean eater, you’re probably not regularly hanging with friends into the wee hours of the night eating pizza and drinking beer. Your friends may be missing your company at the pub or around the dinner table where your spot used to be.
This is a tough one, I know. Yes, food is such an integral part of our social world. Initially, it will be in your best interest to avoid situations that are tempting for you, but as you create new lifestyle habits, it will slowly become a non-issue. When your body and mind are in balance, foods that once called your name no longer do, making it easy to hold your resolve in any situation.
In time, when you’re more at ease with your new lifestyle and no longer feel awkward having to consciously refrain yourself around the nachos, cheese and wine, then your friends can start to feel more relaxed with it too. They will be better able to still feel the old you’s presence. I remember a time that I was [still] the one up dancing on the coffee table at midnight and a friend shouted, “No more perrier for Yvette”! Over time, drinking soda water instead of wine didn’t change who I was at the core.
Furthermore, a solid friendship is based on much more than wine and cheese, beer and wings. You can try suggesting to your friends that you spend time together outside of those occasions that no longer support your goals – such as going shopping, daytime coffee dates, walks or bike rides in the city. Some of your friends will fall off the wayside despite your efforts to maintain the friendship in new ways, and it can be hurtful. But again, this will be on them – not you.
They may not know how to act around you.
Sometimes your friends are super supportive, to the point that they don’t want to tempt you or disrespect you by ordering their favorite dish in front of you. They don’t know what the etiquette is now – do they have to eat or drink differently when you are present? Maybe they’re not ready for that, and they’re afraid that in order to support you, their lives must now change. Firstly, thank them for their support. Secondly, let them know that you are okay and they need not feel bad for you. Albeit in the beginning it can be a challenge, and not being around temptations is a good idea, eventually it is on your shoulders and your shoulders alone to make dietary choices for yourself to support your goals – no one else’s. If your friends know that you are okay with it, so will they be. After several years now, those around me just know now that I eat what I eat, they can eat what they eat, and there’s no judgment or awkwardness.
DON’T DESPAIR, WE HAVE TOOLS TO MITIGATE PEER PRESSURE!
Peer pressure doesn’t end at adulthood and learning how to handle it when it comes to your weight loss, health or fitness goals will serve to help you stay strong and committed to your plan. You don’t have to let others derail you or berate you into making decisions that don’t support your goals.
It can be very difficult to achieve success without the unconditional support of friends and family. Nothing ruins motivation than when success is not rewarded. We’ve all heard the expression “Surround yourself with those whom you aspire to be like”. Don’t be intimated by others who may be fitter or healthier or thinner than you (like others may feel around you now!) Those are the people who will inspire, motivate and support you.
Keep a sense of positivity and humor.
If those who make negative comments only ever see you as happy with your physical and emotional self, they will only appear more unfounded in their comments.
Remember your why.
What are your core values, your whys? What are the true reasons behind your desire to make changes? Staying focused on your reasons will be crucial, but don’t feel the need to always justify those reasons to others. I found that people often asked, but it almost became exhausting answering the question, and I often felt it didn’t seem as compelling when I tried to explain to others. Feeling better, having self-confidence, feeling sexy in your own skin, improving bowel function or skin health… whatever your reasons may be, they are very personal and you’re not obliged to share or justify them to others. I also often had people make comments like “But you’re pretty healthy already” or “You look good”. In this case, simply let them know that while that may be true, now you’re striving for optimal!.
Remain neutral and non-defensive whenever possible. If you sense hostility or negativity from others, just remind yourself it is their “stuff”, not yours. Just like kids are often counseled to ignore bullies, ignoring people who are pressuring you takes away some of their fire and desire.
One therapist encourages his clients to “mirror back” what they hear, so that the person can hear how insensitive or unreasonable his/her comment might have been. He also recommends following it up with something like “If you meant that as support, I’d appreciate it if you could just say: Keep up the good progress, you look amazing.” (www.nola.com/health)
On the other hand, sometimes a more direct approach is warranted. I’m not good at this one, but once a friend was berating my diet choices, among a larger group of friends and specifically commented that it was “not normal”. These types of comments had been ongoing for several months by then, and my subtle responses had done nothing. Finally, I asserted in a very firm voice that it may not be her “normal”, but it was mine.
There’s no need to defend your food choices. Do not engage or get into a nutritional debate with someone who clearly wants to disagree. If someone is genuinely interested in nutrition, they’ll ask you about it – they won’t publicly criticize your clean eating. Sometimes it can be very empowering to let someone know that you are working hard for your goals and that their insensitive comments will not be tolerated.
Change can be difficult, for you and for those around you. Understanding some of the possible reasons behind the challenges is an important first step in mitigating those situations that can sometimes derail your good efforts. At the end of the day, [hopefully] you are doing this for YOU and whatever issues those around you have are just that – their issue. Avoid taking that on as your responsibility and instead, stay focused on your health and your goals 😁
At the end of the day, you’ll either be closer to your goals or further from them, and that is fully within your power regardless of how others around you behave. Hold yourself accountable. No one has the ability to distract you from your goals unless you let them. If you’ve decided on a well-deserved treat that will feed your soul, have it and enjoy every single bite without guilt! But eating out of food peer pressure only leaves you feeling full and defeated.