One of the hardest things to face when you are taking your first steps towards health and fitness is a negative or judgmental attitude from friends and family. It can be even harder to face when you are living together and sharing groceries and food expenses. Stepping out and away from how the rest of your tribe has chosen to live can dramatically upset family and group dynamics, and in some cases cause rifts in relationships. In an ideal world everyone would respect and applaud you for your choices around fitness and health, but in reality it seldom plays out that way. In this article I want to outline some of the more common reactions and responses that friends and family typically have towards you embracing a new lifestyle centered around fitness and health, and then open it up in the comments to discuss strategies for dealing with each reaction.
1. You share your plans with your family and friends to be more health conscious. They respect your choices, and offer their support and encouragement. If you are living together, you discuss what the new approach to food and grocery shopping will be and how you will organize your fridge and pantry. You begin to inspire those around you with your dedication and results, and pretty soon it is a group effort and focus.
2. Your new lifestyle receives a mixed or lukewarm reception. Those around you are not interested in health or fitness as a general rule, and as long as your exercising and eating habits don’t disturb them in anyway they are happy to leave you alone. There might be some grumbling now and then about all the fresh veggies in the fridge crowding out the cans of beer and pop, but other than that no one is interested enough to take much notice. This can be frustrating at times, because you often wish that your partner / family members or friends shared your passion for self improvement so that you would have someone to share the journey with. Other times you shake these feelings of isolation off and are grateful at least that while you may not have their active support for your new lifestyle, at least they are leaving you alone to pursue it.
3. Your new lifestyle is met passive aggressively by friends and family. If you have been down this road you know that it is not pleasant. Just short of open hostility, you find yourself dealing with off hand and snide comments whenever you mention your exercise or eating habits. Changes that you have made to your approach to food and taking time out of your day to exercise may be met with little off the cuff jokes that leave you feeling hurt or insulted. Underneath it all you can sense this vibe of resentment simmering to anger, and this confuses you because you never expected this from your closest friends and family. You stop talking about exercising and diet because the reactions, comments and jokes it sets up makes you feel uncomfortable. You may not enjoy eating in these groups anymore, and your new lifestyle becomes something that you almost feel you need to hide. The pull to give up and normalize your family and social relationships makes it easy to cheat your diet and skip workouts – especially when the reward is acceptance.
4. Open resentment and hostility. Those around you are only too happy to ridicule you for even thinking about fitness health and exercise. They make it clear that they won’t be changing their diet or habits in any way shape of form just because you have decided to make these “ridiculous” changes. Instead of supporting and encouraging you or at the very least staying neutral, their pep talks consist of trying to talk you out of being active and they try to sabotage your diet at every turn. It starts to get nasty – they bring home deep dish pizza’s and make fun of you for eating your chicken salad. You might hear from those around you that there is nothing you can do about your body shape because “that is just the way you are” and you “might as well accept it”. There is no flexibility with the grocery list and they resist making it easier for you in every way possible. Teenagers often find themselves locked in these types of situations, but it can happen in any family or group. Fighting against all of this pressure to conform is exhausting and when you add it to the discipline necessary to make the shift to daily exercise and a focused diet, it’s a mountain that most people find too difficult to climb.
Of course there are many other possible scenarios, and some of the above ones may be blended together depending on your particular circumstances. I want to open it up now to a discussion in the comments below so that you guys can help each other by sharing your experiences and strategies for dealing with friends and family. I will chime in again in the comments with some of my own thoughts and experiences.