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How to Motivate Loved Ones to Improve Their Health

Helping loved ones become healthier can be a real challenge. Supporting family members to make diet and lifestyle choices that promote a long and healthy life can require some specific tactics to bridge the uncomfortable challenge of having to address a problem. Motivating people to make better food or lifestyle choices can be hard to navigate. Maybe you want to talk to a family member like an elderly parent who may not eat enough or your children consuming too much non-nutritious foods or a partner who has had excessive weight gain. Using these 6 steps can help you show that you care and support them to live healthier lives;

1. Being a Good Role Model

One of the first things you should always consider is- are you a good role model, making healthy dietary choices and staying active? People are more likely to listen to you and take encouragement from you if they think that you are successfully doing your suggestions. Working with your partner to be healthy can also be motivating to you to make good choices, stock your house with nutritious foods and even have someone support you when you feel challenged.

2. Avoid Preaching Fad Diets

Preaching fad diets to your friends and family is not the best plan- even if you may have temporarily had some success, the same may not work for your family. It is always better to focus on basics like increasing the intake of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains while supporting the reduction of highly processed foods or sugary beverages. Fad diets have been around long enough to have research show that most do not have sustained long term weight loss or health benefits. Plus they are very hard for most people to adhere to for long periods. Find reputable sources for information, facts and statistics to share with your family members.

3. Help Shop and Cook

In addition to being a role model- help develop your family member’s practical skills. Take them shopping and help them compare different labels to determine which foods are higher in fiber, whole grains, vitamins and minerals, while reducing the purchase of processed, calorically-dense foods with limited nutrition.

Have nights where you cook together and can practice making healthy meals. Maybe even one night a week you cook together to make healthy lunches for the entire week. When cooking together, teach them tricks to reduce the caloric density of meals or use healthier choices. Consider basic meal exchanges like using water instead of whole milk or spray oil on pans instead of a whole frying pan of oil. You can always experiment with spices and flavors to help reduce salt consumption for family members who may be salt-sensitive.

4. Motivational Counseling

The basic premise of motivational counseling is that idea that people change behaviors better through free choice and realizing that they want to change. As their supporter, being optimistic and supportive has been shown to work better than to threaten or attempt to scare them into changing. Discuss with them what behaviors they would like to change and help them set realistic goals. However, when you are trying to be a motivator keep in mind that the fear of change is normal and letting your family member set their own goals- not what you want- is very important. Being too argumentative, not listening or shaming can lead to defensiveness and an increase of bad habits in your family member.

5. Recommend Professionals

Sometimes it is hard to hear from a family member that they are worried about you and want you to change. Consider supporting your family member to see a Registered Dietitian/ Nutritionist or discuss some strategies with their doctors to work towards their health goals. Sometimes professionals can have more of an impact on someone, especially if you are worried that you are not a good role model.

6. Stay Positive!

It can be hard to watch your loved ones get sick or have increased challenges resulting from an unhealthy lifestyle. Remember to focus on the positive changes that you are supporting. Sometimes people will still make unhealthy choices but instead of getting angry, look for the little seeds of change that you planted. Most people will not be able to adopt all new healthy choices without a few stumbles along the way.

Other tips;

  • Walk and stay active with your family member
  • Frame the concern on their health and quality of life- not weight or appearance
  • Avoid being judgmental- always try to understand and listen to peoples challenges
  • Speak with empathy, love and respect
  • Keep in mind that this may not be the first time they have had someone speak with concern and that it is likely they already know what changes they need to make

Emily DeLacey MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian and currently working in Jamaica as a HIV/ AIDS Prevention Specialist. She attended Central Washington University for her Bachelor's Degree in Science and Dietetics and continued on after her internship to Kent State University for her Master's Degree in Science and Nutrition, with a focus on public health and advocacy. She served as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in Malawi 2012-2014 working as a Community Health Advisor in a rural village, immersing in the joys of life without electricity or running water. She has been to 20+ countries and 47 of the 50 states in the US. Traveling, adventuring and experiencing new cultures has made her a passionate advocate for the equality of nutrition and wellness for all people.

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