Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What Do You Do When You Are A Vegan and/or Changing to A Healthier Lifestyle & Your Spouse/Family Won't Join You?!

After reading the comments from some of my previous posts,  I was struck by the fact that a lot of you out there are concerned about the health of those around you and not sure how to convince those you love to make healthier choices!  Some of you are operating as solo vegans in your household (your spouse and kids are committed omnivores).  And some of you are married or parents to compulsive overeaters or anorexics or bulimics or just unhealthy people.  My husband posted on this problem after his father had some heart issues on Christmas Day, but I'm going to delve into it a bit further.  

What can you do to change your loved one's behavior and help them make good choices?  

I don't think you are going to like my answer!  

(Small caveat, my answer applies to adults only--for your kids under the age of 18 I'll refer you back to my posts on Dr. Leo Galland's book:  SuperImmunity for Kids.)

The solution is very simple, very frustrating and a little scary.  And the heart of it is something I've heard money management guru Dave Ramsey say a hundred times:  "Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still."  The thing I have learned in my 12 step compulsive eating recovery program is that you cannot change anyone's behavior but your own.  

If you want to stop those around you from harming themselves with food, the best thing you can do is focus on your own recovery & let go of trying to control theirs.  In my 12 step program, we call it "a program of attraction and not promotion."  You attract people to your serenity, your honesty and your physical recovery far more powerfully than trying to convince them that any specific program is right for them! 

Now of course, if your loved one is seriously under or overweight or has significant mental or physical issues that require emergent treatment, you may need to hospitalize them.  But I'm talking about someone who is not emergently ill from their disease, I'm talking about someone who is still practicing eating behaviors that are unhealthy despite your best efforts to change their behavior.    

I see patients come in all the time who have made poor lifestyle choices.  Oftentimes the burden of their care falls on their spouse.  It breaks my heart every time.  It isn't fair, it isn't right but no matter how much we try, no one can make anyone else choose to change.  If you really struggle with this, I've heard that groups like Al-Anon can offer good support for relationship issues such as these.  

Unfortunately, I can share from personal experience that nothing you could say can change another's behavior.  No matter how much I loved my parents, my sisters and my friends, I couldn't stop eating compulsively just because I knew the pain I was causing them.  I remember my Mom sitting me down at one point to have a conversation about how concerned she was about my health--she was crying and saying that it was heartbreaking to see me killing myself every day.  As I passed the 200lb mark, I remember my sister (at my request!) trying to design a workout program for me and motivate me to exercise with her, but I kept being "too busy."  I wasn't wiling to change and sadly, no one could make me willing until I reached my own bottom!

Ironically, I was on the other side of the fence last year trying to deal with my husband, The Happy Nurse's unhealthy food behaviors.    I encouraged, I pushed, I prodded, I guilted, I begged & I yelled but guess what--no behavior change.  Only a lot of resentment and anger.  So my very wise sponsor told me to stop trying to sponsor my husband against his will and focus on my own recovery, in other words: shut up.  So I did.  

I lost another 40lbs and my husband kept noticing (and commenting on) the weight loss, the increased energy, the change in attitude.  Then one awesome day, not long after I stopped bringing up anything to do with weight loss, food or exercise, he came home and informed me that he'd started working a recovery program with his own eating habits.  And I smiled and said great but didn't make a big deal about it.  I shut up.  I let him work through his own process.  I focussed on me.  And it worked--when he was ready he became willing.  

Now my husband, The Happy Nurse is amazing me with his commitment to establishing a healthy lifestyle!  Like me, he is imperfect (who would want a perfect husband??!!) but the point is progress, not perfection--he inspires me every day to keep working my own program! 

The point is, the best advice I can give you is focus on YOU.  In a quiet moment away from a meal, tell your spouse/family how you feel about their behavior ONCE and then let it be.  You don't need to actively endorse your spouse/family's unhealthy behaviors by cooking fried food or massive meaty meals, but you should step away and let them make their own choices.  When they ask you to help them, then you can share what works for you.  Until then, step back and let them do what they decide to do.

The more delicious your own food is, the more they will want to "try it."  The more physical, emotional and spiritual changes that they see in you, the more they will want to join you!  Keep up the hard work!  You can be an inspiration by choosing health one day at a time!

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  1. Totally agree - I have a relative who is an alcoholic & I've had to walk away to save my sanity (& my Husband's) & protect our kids... I am lucky in that Sime & I are both keen on being vegan & getting as healthy as possible. Already we're being asked more about our diet - because we are changing for the better & others are wanting a piece! So it's definitely - lead by example & hopefully others will follow...

    Kay :)

    1. Awesome job Kay! Living it, inspiring others--I love it :-) You two keep it up! :-)

  2. Such a wonderful reminder. It's not easy to step back and watch your loved ones make poor health choices, but we can only control our behaviors. attraction not promotion. :)

    1. Thanks jessi k! I need this reminder all the time! Thanks for commenting!

  3. As a LONG TIME 12-stepper from AA and Al-ANON...I went few yrs to OA and it simply dawned on me this year--tis time to address the food and weight issue. NO ONE in my family could make me do it, but I also have a spouse and 2 sons who only thing I CAN DO IS BE A GOOD EXAMPLE to them and MAYBE -- just maybe it will open their eyes...BUT I HAVE TO DO THIS FOR ME. THANKS for your sharing it is so validating.

    1. Thanks so much Granny Lindie :-)) (Linda I think:-)) You are doing awesome work--keep it up! One day at a time!!:-)

  4. dr cat------

    that "attraction not persuasion" is where it is at...
    i keep slipping back into my teacher mode..
    you are very helpful.....thanks from

    1. Thanks Harry! I'm very familiar with the teacher mode as I do that myself!!:/) it's funny how much more powerful the attraction method is--I'm glad to have learned it in program and am happy you see it's value too!

      Happy to be of service! Thanks for commenting!:-))

  5. Loving kindness at work! Thank you - you are such an inspiration!


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