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Talking to Loved Ones about Unhealthy Lifestyles

When someone has an unhealthy lifestyle, their habits don’t just affect them personally, but can affect the people around them as well. It’s not only hard to tell someone that they are hurting themselves, but it’s also hard to be the one hearing it.

Habits that seemed acceptable a few decades ago – smoking, consuming cholesterol heavy foods, failing to regularly hit the gym – have been openly denounced by medicine and public health. When the Surgeon General reported on the negative effects of smoking in 1964, it took the world by storm. People realized for the first time that with every match they struck against their cigarettes, they were making their lives a little bit shorter. As research on cholesterol gained traction in the 1950s and 1960s, people realized that their dietary choices might not be ideal for increasing their lifespans. The 21st century then brought with it the adage “sitting is the new smoking” – a sedentary lifestyle is doing us no good.

With science bringing forth these new and well-publicized findings regarding just how unhealthy our lifestyles really are, it may come as a surprise just how few people are willing to change. It’s difficult to plead ignorance with the dawn of social media, so it seems to hurt us more when we see that our loved ones are reluctant to make changes. How then can we, as individuals, call out our loved ones on their self-destructive tendencies without causing offence?

It isn’t easy to get a smoker to quit. The last time I tried, I didn’t get the results I was looking for. It’s far less easy to tell someone they are gaining an unhealthy amount of weight. How do we tackle this then? Here are a couple of tips to help you talk to your loved ones:

  1. DO wait for the right moment: Chances are that your loved one has already been exposed to the negative consequences of their unhealthy lifestyle. If they bring these up, there is no better opportunity to start a dialogue.
  2. DON’T shame them: The more you criticize and degrade your loved one, the more likely they are to get defensive and not listen to you.
  3. DO use empathy: Acknowledge how difficult it can be to change. Remind them that you are not perfect. You can use personal stories of a difficult adjustment you may have made in your own life. The concept of reciprocity can go a long way.
  4. DON’T monitor them: No one likes to be constantly watched. Instead, help your loved one make a plan of action and keep providing support and encouragement.
  5. DO exploit the media: Tread with caution when you do this. You want to use comprehensive and helpful resources to help your loved one move in the right direction. Make use of documentaries, self-help articles, and YouTube videos, but only after vetting them to make sure they are appropriate for your loved one’s needs.
  6. DON’T give up: Chances are the changes you want to see will not be immediate and your loved one is bound to slip up every so often. The key is to suppress your urge to express disappointment and frustration, as these are the moments they will need the most encouragement.
  7. DO provide incentives: People love incentives and prizes. Reward your loved one for their efforts, but don’t punish them for their transgressions.
  8. DON’T be a hypocrite: If you are committed to helping your loved ones, now is the time for introspection. You may have unhealthy habits that are different from (or the same as!) theirs, so you can work on them side by side. Seeing you make the effort can help mobilize them. If you love them enough to help them change, they probably want to do the same for you!

By: Sumayya Saleem

Sumayya graduated from the University of Toronto in Psychology. She is about to begin her Masters in Education in Developmental Psychology and Education at OISE. She is interested in counselling and increasing access to mental health services in third-world countries.

About Sumayya Saleem

Sumayya graduated from the University of Toronto in Psychology. She is about to begin her Masters in Education in Developmental Psychology and Education at OISE. She is interested in counselling and increasing access to mental health services in third-world countries.


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