Developing healthy new habits can be difficult, but when friends and family aren’t supportive, it can be even harder. Sophie Al-Bassam explains how to get them on side and shares seven ways to achieve your health goals this year.
Does your partner bring home greasy takeaway when you’re trying to eat healthily? Perhaps your bestie persuades you to have “just one more drink” on a night out. It might be hard to admit, but the people closest to you can sometimes sabotage your health goals. We look at three common scenarios where loved ones might be unsupportive, and how you can reach your goals — with or without their help.
Health goal: Cut down on alcohol
You meet up with friends for drinks on a regular basis and have a laugh while you catch up. Even when you can’t meet up in person, you enjoy an online happy hour. And since the pandemic started, like many women, you’re having a few extra glasses. When you decide to go easy on the alcohol and stick to water, they say, “Just one or two won’t hurt!” or “But we’re celebrating my birthday/promotion/moving house!”
May of us are wired to have a drink on social occasions and even at work events. But that doesn’t mean you can’t stick to your goal of cutting back on alcohol. Suggest meeting friends for a walk or morning coffee instead, so alcohol isn’t on the menu. If you do go out for drinks, have glasses of water between alcoholic drinks, or go out for a meal instead of getting stuck at the pub buying rounds for each other. If all else fails, have some handy explainers ready. This could be, “I’m driving” or “I’ve got an early start tomorrow” or, quite simply, “I’ve had enough for tonight.”
Health goal: Eat more fruit and veg
The recommended amount of vegetables to eat every day is five serves, but most of us eat only about half this amount. By increasing your vegetable intake, you not only give your body the essential nutrients it needs to function properly, you also reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke and weight gain.
You decide to cut back on treat foods and processed snacks, and swap salty, calorie-laden takeaways for more home-cooked meals loaded with vegetables and fruit. But your partner seems to snag you at every turn. When you’re preparing a fresh, healthy salad, they decide to order a convenient takeaway. When you put yoghurt and carrots on the shopping list, they come home with ice-cream and sugary biscuits.
Accredited practising dietitian Caitlin Reid says this response may be due to your partner feeling threatened. “Your new, healthy lifestyle choices could be causing them guilt as they lack the self-control to take the same steps you’re taking… they may even feel judged about their choices,” she says.
Explain to your partner why you are changing your eating habits and how you plan to go about it. Explain why this is important to you and how small dietary changes can be more sustainable than big ones, yet still make a significant difference.
Health goal: Exercise regularly
You’ve been spending way too much time on screens. You’ve watched everything on Netflix, scrolled through Instagram and now there’s a permanent, bum-shaped dent in the couch. You’re trying to change these sedentary habits by taking a walk every day and doing a motivating group fitness session twice a week.
But you’ve had to cut back on other things to fit everything in. Your best friend thinks you’re spending too much time exercising. She tells you, “You’re overdoing it” or “You’ll injure yourself” and even “Fitness classes are for younger people.” Unhelpfully, she also reminds you that your previous fitness resolutions were scrapped within weeks.
It’s tough when your usually supportive friend is negative about your health choices. First of all, think about why she might be struggling with your new exercise regimen. Is she missing the time you usually spend together? Or does she assume it’s just about weight loss? Perhaps explain to her the mood and health benefits that come with regular exercise.
Next, ask for her help to get her on side. Tell her that you’d make a great team. That it’s more fun if you can exercise together and, with her help, you’re more likely to hit your target.
Healthy on holiday
With its parties, feasts and frivolity, the festive season can prove challenging when it comes to sticking to your new health goals. Try these tips for navigating the holidays:
- Stock up on fancy, non-alcoholic liquors or flavoured sparkling waters so you can enjoy a drink with friends without any of the downsides.
- Pick your treat. Focus on enjoying just one or two favourite foods, such as chocolate and Christmas cake, so you can hold off on indulging across the board.
- Instead of constant, mindless snacking and refilling of half-empty glasses, keep track of how much you’re eating and drinking.
- On days when you don’t have any social events, maintain your intake of healthy fruit, veg and whole grains to balance out those party days.
How to achieve your health goals
Despite your best efforts at explaining your motivation for developing healthy habits, some loved ones still won’t change their attitude. So, if you don’t have their support, how do you stay motivated? Follow our seven–step guide:
- Set clearly defined goals Make sure your goals are realistic, specific and measureable, and start with small steps. For example, you might commit to doing a short walk every day or cutting out one takeaway a week to begin.
- Track your goals Once you have a measureable goal, find a way to track it. It might be as simple as using an app or keeping a diary.
- Find a buddy If your partner or bestie isn’t being supportive, find someone who is. Ask colleagues at work to share your new health journey or join a fitness group at your local gym or swimming pool. You can even try signing up to a healthy cooking class to find people with similar goals.
- Ask an expert If you’re worried about reaching your goals, speak to your GP. He or she may be able to provide advice on what to do and refer you to a dietitian for further help.
- Stick with it Any new routine is hard to get used to, especially at the start. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t meet your short-term goals at first. Pick yourself up and keep trying.
- Celebrate your progress When someone says “great job” it’s a wonderful feeling. But there’s no reason you can’t celebrate your success your way. Tell the people around you how proud you are of yourself for reaching each small milestone, or simply take the time to appreciate the progress you’ve made.
- Develop a routine It’s easier to form new habits if you make time for them. For example, set aside one night to plan out your meals for the week and even do some food prep. Or block out your exercise sessions in your diary.
When health eating goes too far
Setting healthy eating goals is usually a positive act. But if your behaviour becomes obsessive and you start avoiding social events, or it negatively impacts your mental or physical health, it may be time to see your GP. Accredited practising dietitian Caitlin Reid says balanced eating is important. “It supplies the nutrients, vitamins and minerals your body and mind need to function at their best. Without proper nutrition, you’re more prone to illness, disease, poor performance and fatigue.”