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Are you a Health Cop?

Posted Sep 01 2009 5:30pm
I always consider it a positive sign when one of my clients shifts her focus away from her own problems with food and starts complaining that her loved ones don’t listen to her advice.

Why is it a good sign? Because it means my client is beginning to feel secure in her new healthy habits and she’s ready to extend a helping hand to those around her. Her eating style is working well for her, and she wants to share her discovery with friends and family, so they can feel great, too.

Only she finds out that very few people are receptive to health advice, no matter how well-intentioned.

Every family has one: the person who can be counted on to say, “Have an apple instead of those chips!” or “Why don’t you put down the remote and go for a nice bike ride?” If you're your family’s designated Health Cop, have you noticed it’s a thankless role? Have you noticed that nagging people you love to exercise and eat right hardly ever works?

Chances are, your family and friends know what they should and shouldn’t be eating, and they probably also understand that a little exercise might be a good thing. Hearing it from you doesn’t help all that much. In fact, depending upon the complicated nature of your relationship, it might make them even more resistant to change.

Self-care is exactly that: a do-it-yourself project. No matter how much you love someone and want them to be healthy, only they can make it happen. But if you really want to help a friend or family member, here’s what you can do:
  • Bite your tongue when you see them making mistakes. They're probably aware of your feelings on the subject.
  • Be supportive and enthusiastic when you see them taking responsibility for their health.
  • Set a good example and model what healthy behavior looks like. Without being smug about it.
  • Avoid dragging them down with you when you make not-so-wise decisions of your own (which we all do, let’s face it). Don’t coax someone to have dessert, for example, just because you don’t want to be the only one.
  • If you want to go a step further, make up your mind to accept that person just as they are, bad habits and all.
Wait, before you dismiss this last notion, think about it: did you ever feel inspired to do your best by someone who disapproved of you? At work, in sports, or elsewhere, do you tend to perform better when you’re appreciated for your strengths, or when you’re scolded for your failings?

Okay, so maybe there are a few people out there who rise to the occasion when they’re berated relentlessly -- but they’re probably all playing pro football. For the rest of us, the Health Cop approach tends to backfire.

All you can really do is create the conditions that allow folks you care about to care for themselves.
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