Making the decision to live a healthier life requires you to change. You can’t commit to eating a better diet without altering the way you shop for groceries, plan your meals or read a menu. Sometimes these choices affect the people who are closest to you. That’s why it’s important to let friends and family know you are making a change and hopefully win their support. And who knows? Maybe you’ll even help them during the process.
Significant Others and Self Concept
In Human Nature and the Social Order (1902), sociologist Charles H. Cooley introduced the term “the looking glass self.” According to his theory, your self concept (the image you have of yourself) is influenced by the “reflection” of yourself revealed to you by significant others (parents, siblings, spouses, friends, teachers, coworkers and so forth) through their behavior—the way they treat and react to you. Surrounding yourself with people who treat you positively can help improve your self concept, while those who treat you negatively can damage it.
Self concept plays a significant role in achieving dieting success. If you and the people closest to you see yourself as a success, your chances of actually succeeding will be much higher than if you view yourself as a failure.
Types of Support Friends and Family Offer
In addition to influencing your self concept, friends and family can help you achieve success by offering various types of support. By accepting and encouraging your decision to live a healthier lifestyle, they provide emotional support when you are challenged or tempted to give up. They can offer information support by sharing news they’ve read or heard about diet and nutrition as well as appraisal support by taking an objective look at your progress and making sure you stay on track.
A study on self control conducted by the University of Georgia revealed that self-control, or lack thereof, is “contagious.” Researchers found that when subjects watched or even thought about someone they believed exercised good self-control, they were more likely to exert self-control, while those they perceived to have poor self-control influenced them negatively. The effect was so powerful that simply seeing the name of someone with good or bad self-control flash on a screen for 10 milliseconds changed the actions of research volunteers.
While other studies have found that people tend to mimic the behavior of those around them when it comes to smoking, drug use and obesity, this study at the University of Georgia is one of the first to show that self-control is contagious across behaviors. The findings indicate that thinking about someone who practices self-control by regularly exercising or eating a healthy diet can make you more likely to improve self-control on your part.
Discussing Your New Diet With Friends and Family
Communicate your new plan with friends and family. Doing so allows them to understand why you’ve decided to change your eating habits and gives them the opportunity to support you. It could also save you from feeling awkward (or derailing your diet) later on if you frequently eat meals together or if they tend to make certain foods “especially for you.”
Choosing to eat a healthier diet doesn’t mean that you can’t go out to the same restaurants you used to enjoy. You just have to be smarter about what you eat. Try to find “lighter” menus or order entrees that offer more nutritious ingredients. Find an alternative for French fries, and drink water instead of soft drinks.
If you do the grocery shopping for the entire family, try to work out a strategy that coincides with your new plan yet continues to meet the needs of others living in your household, unless, of course, they decide to follow suit.
When Family and Friends Don’t Support Your Decision
In an ideal world, your family and friends would support any decision you make that improves your health or well being. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case. If your loved one is less than supportive about changes you’re making in your diet, try to figure out why. Maybe they don’t like the new foods you’re buying for your home or preparing for dinner. Perhaps they don’t understand why you are making the change. Or maybe they fear that as you change you will find fault with their eating habits.
Whatever the underlying cause may be, talk to them about your decision without being condescending or judgmental about the diet they have chosen to eat. The support of family and friends can make changing your diet a success, or seriously get in the way of your new goals. In the end, the decision is yours. Your health is important, don’t give up on it.