The holiday season can trigger many emotions. My friend who is a New York-based psychotherapist says that November and December are her busiest months. Most of the stress can stem from family relations.
In my closed and close-knit Facebook group, there was a long and heartfelt conversation about feeling odd and unsupported during family get-togethers when we change our diet.
These comments stirred up a lot of emotions and the life coach in me rose up so I wrote the following note this morning; I hope it will help you to think about family interactions in some new ways.
Because really, you should not apologize or feel bad for having chosen to honor your body.
1. Share how are you feeling and why are you doing it
Many of my clients have found it useful to tell a family member: “You know, what I’m doing is not another fad diet to lose 10lb. It’s a way of eating that makes me feel really good – my pain and brain fog are gone and I feel like I can be a better mom/wife/person. I hope you can support me on this journey.”
“I’m dealing with an autoimmune disease which is serious and the latest science shows that targeted nutrition can really help. So, what I’m doing is not another fad diet to lose 10lb, it’s a therapeutic protocol. And, I’m already feeling the benefits — my pain and brain fog is gone and I can be a better mom/wife/person. I would really like to keep going with it.”
Change the wording so that it feels good and natural to you. These are just examples.
2. Ask for help and support
Typically, when we ask someone for help, not many people would say “no.” Right?
This is another angle to explore: “Can you help me with something? I’ve changed the way I’m eating because it makes me feel really good. I don’t want to be on meds for the rest of my life and I am already starting to feel good for the first time in years. I know it’s maybe not what you are used to eating but I really need your support and help on this healing journey. Can you do that?”
3. Validate their skepticism
First and foremost, we all love to give opinions. Every time I post a question on Facebook when I need an opinion, this post will have ten times more replies and comments than any other post. Giving an opinion makes us feel heard and important.
The same human desire for self-importance is what drives people to give an opinion on what and how you are eating. Let them have it. In fact, take it further and validate their feelings. Make it about them and not about YOU this time. Validation normalizes their feelings.
What would validation look like? Here is one example: “I know that this new way of eating might look odd to you and it is normal as you have been seeing a lot of fad diets [or insert whatever push-back are getting from them]. I totally hear you and it’s OK that you feel this way. Having said that, this is what I need to share with you (…)” and then proceed to tell them how it’s helping you and that you need their support.
Don’t use the word “but” after you validated them – it undermines everything you just told them. This means don’t say “I hear you *but* here is how I’m eating” but rather: “I hear you *and* this is how I’m eating.”
4. Bring compassion – because it’s their fear, not yours
Did you know that often times people project their fears on us? The classic example of a husband who is overly jealous and accuses his wife of infidelity when he is the one with a mistress on the side. Sometimes when a person is lashing out at us, they are just projecting their own fears.
What fears? Well, many people know they should change their diets (the doctors told them or they have enough intuition to feel it) but they would not do it. Why? Because changing the way they are eating is one of the hardest things to do (you know that, too!) and many people are just too scared to change their diets.
So what do they do? They project their own fear on you which is a natural self-defense mechanism (just like the cheating husband).
Fear can be a powerful trigger of our behavior. Once you understand and realize this piece, you can bring more empathy and compassion to the table and not let it affect you as much.
5. Become an example and inspiration of health and transformation
Gail in our Hormone Thrivers group (a closed group for anyone who had joined any of my programs) wrote: “People take me seriously now. I have lost 85 pounds and have 35 pounds to a healthy weight for my age and height.”
Sometimes talking about the changes we plan to make can be tiresome for others. “Oh, there she is again, another project or diet. Have we not heard this one before?”
If you have been talking in the past about diets and projects that never happened or produced results, then stop. You need to act and not talk about it.
Do what you need to do, get the results, and let people come to you and say “Wow, you look amazing. What have you done?”
Time and time, I’ve found this to be working wonders with family and friends. They see the results for themselves and it inspires them to either do the same or respect you.
“Well, I got off a few foods that were sabotaging my health and I learned to cook with a few new things and it’s working!” Bam! This will make you the biggest agent of change and inspiration in your immediate and distant family.
Actions, not words.
6. Don’t preach and dispense unsolicited advice
The worse thing is dispensing unsolicited advice like “Stop eating gluten, it will help you with ABC, just the way it helped me.” It just never works with family and close friends. Strangers in online forums are more likely to take your advice than family and close friends. Ironic as it might sound, that is the truth and I’ve experienced it with my own family members. Instead, try approach 5 above.
7. Inspire others with your own food
The worse I’ve seen are people with many food sensitivities who join a dinner party without notifying the host, and then they announce that they can’t eat most of the dishes. That’s passive-aggressive behavior which you should not have to tolerate.
If you are this person with many food sensitivities, bring your own food. And, I don’t mean just your own plate of food, I mean: Bring a few dishes that you can eat and share with others. And! Make them super delicious. This way more people will be inspired by how tasty healthy food can be.
Inspire with wonderful food and many people will follow.
Speaking of inspiration, here is a recipe collection we’ve put together for Thanksgiving. All the featured recipes are free of gluten, dairy, soy, and corn and are [fairly] low in sugar, or so we tried :-).
8. What else are they judging you for?
I find that when someone harshly judges us by our food choices, they most likely judge us on everything else – how we raise the kids, how we dress, how to behave, what we earn, where we work and the list goes on.
What if you use their judgment as a filter to gauge how close you want to be to them? You can’t choose your family but it’s within your power to decide how close you want to be with them. You can use the same filter with friends. The good thing about friends is that we can choose them and true friendships are based on unconditional love and acceptance.
The same thing goes for our life partners. We marry to form a union. What kind of union is that without unconditional support and love? (This is assuming you clearly communicated that you need that support). What else is your partner not supporting you with? Is it just food or other things that feel uncomfortable for him? Is your partner the right person for you in the long term?
These are tough questions but they should be asked as they can be a great filter and create plenty of clarity where you are headed to next.
9. Hold on to your power
We possess incredible power and desire within our hearts and minds to change and thrive. Find that confidence and strength in yourself to stand up for your dietary changes and don’t let others dim these lights.
If the people close to you are not supportive (maybe not yet) and you feel like you need that support, find a partner – in person or online and let them be the beacon of light that you need. Remember, nobody can take that power of change away from you.
10. Stop apologizing
When people go vegetarian, vegan or eat kosher or halal food, we accept their nutritional or religious choices with no questions (other than the ones to clarify what food they can eat). I don’t ever remember my vegan friends apologizing for their dietary choices before coming for dinner.
Why should people question the dietary choices that we adopt not on a whim but to honor our bodies?
Do not apologize for your choices. Explain why you do it (see point 1 above) so it gives them a sense of context (the brief “why”) but doesn’t feel like you need lengthy explanations. Or apologies. You do not.
11. Rehearse before the gathering
Visualization is a powerful tool to prepare for the final performance. I used to be a competitive junior skier until age 15 and our coach would make us close our eyes, focus and visualize the whole race from start to finish. Every turn, every possibility. The results were stunning. Every time I raced, I felt I’m doing it the 3rd time, only way better and with way better time.
Table conversations can get tense and what you thought you were going to say might not come out the way you wanted. This is why it’s very helpful to practice beforehand. You know what each family member’s tendencies and snarky remarks might be. Using the tools in this article, pick one or two that resonate with you and practice. Visualize the situation in your head. Rehearse what your reply (not reaction) will be. Be kind. Be empathetic. Remember, it’s often them projecting their s^&% on you and your family.
12. Be selfish, this one time
As women, we are born givers. We give and give and give. We give to please. We give because we love. We sometimes give to get something back. Some of us give for the fear of not delivering what’s expected. “I will make that pumpkin pie with gluten and dairy as they all expect to have a ‘traditional pie’ and they don’t want gluten-free.”
The problem with giving so much is that we create a habit where constant giving becomes the norm and we lose the sense of self. Running around and cooking for everyone else becomes the norm. And the result? Our sense of importance and respect for self-diminishes. We lose ourselves in giving. Our bodies suffer and we feel bad yet again for not eating the way our body and spirit feel the best.
I will ask you just this one time: when it comes to your food choices, stop giving what others want and be selfish. This one time. Do what your body asks for. Find the time for what your body needs. Learn to cook what you know agrees with you so you heal and thrive. (Which by the way, will benefit the whole family.) You can give in so many other ways. But not this one.