How to Handle Unsupportive People
May 11, 2011
Congratulations! You’ve taken the first steps toward living a healthy lifestyle or maybe you’re already a wellness warrior vet. In any event, you’ve grabbed the unicorn reigns of your present and future, and for that I want to give you a virtual hallelujah! Yet, sometimes making healthy choices can be tough – not only on a personal level, but on a social one.
So how do we deal with unsupportive friends, family, co-workers and strangers? Here are some of my personal tips. (I know you have a slew of suggestions too; so share ’em in the comments, love!)
Step 1: Be perceptive. Understand their motivation. It’s easy to feel angry and frustrated when you’re bombarded with odd looks and questions like “Where do you get your protein?” or “Aren’t you worried about osteoporosis and nutrient deficiency?” To approach these questions and concerns with a clear mind, it’s important to know where they’re coming from. Perhaps your mother only knows about animal-based sources of protein and calcium, and she’s genuinely worried that you’re going to damage your health. Your sister might fear that you’ll never enjoy another night of bonding over movies and vanilla milkshakes, which has always been her most treasured moments with you. Maybe your best friend is addicted to McDonald’s and facing an uphill battle with her weight and cholesterol. She might be defensive about her own diet and taking out her insecurity and ignorance on you. The people you’re closest to might be wondering if they’ll have to change too.
Mostly, a negative reaction stems from fear of change and a lack of education. Once you understand the motivation behind their reaction to your diet and lifestyle, you can build a positive strategy for communication. If your audience is open and ready to receive information and new experiences, then get ready to unleash your hot wisdom, wit, love and compassion.
Remember, judgment sucks. No matter what side of it you’re on.
Step 2: Be prepared. You can’t be a teacher without going to school yourself! When you’re dealing with a skeptic who responds to facts, have some handy research and websites to lean on. If they’re a bookworm, suggest that they read a couple chapters from books like “The China Study,” “Crazy Sexy Diet,” “Becoming Vegan” or any of Neal Barnard’s many books. (Here are a bunch more reading recommendations.) Sometimes only a well-crafted film can bring on an “a-ha” moment. Check out these mind-opening flicks: “Food Matters,” Simply Raw,” “Forks Over Knives” and “Food, Inc.”
If you want to feel confident when put on the spot, make sure you can answer common questions about the plant-based diet. Check out The Vegetarian Resource Group’s website for lists that cite vegan/vegetarian sources of calcium, protein, iron and other nutrients, so that you’re not at a loss for words when asked how you survive without the moo juice. While you’re at it, you may want to ask a few of your own questions. Point out the benefits of checking the ingredient lists on packaged foods, and ask your critics if they’re aware of how preservatives and things like high fructose sugar affect their health. Ask them if they want more energy and a better night’s rest. Certainly Crazy Sexy Diet can help with that – cellulite too (um, but be gentle with the cellulite thing. You may offend. Asking your Aunt Ruth if she wants to lose her jiggly ass fat is probably not an effective go-veg strategy!) Don’t overwhelm them, but a few friendly inquiries about their own choices might help them understand why you’ve chosen to eat more whole, fresh, plant-based foods.
Step 3: Be strategic. Dealing with unsupportive people comes with the territory when we become “Prevention is HOT” cheerleaders. In the health trenches, communication and education are part of our mission, and we have to be willing to take some knocks. If you want to be a visionary, you can’t play it safe or small; but you can play it smart! Before responding to a question or concern, take a deep breath and flash your bright smile. Let your answer come from that space, rather than a negative or defensive place. This small effort can change your entire interaction for the better.
Secondly, believe in yourself, tootsie! You’ve done your homework and you walk the walk, so there’s no reason to think that you don’t know your stuff. You are very smart. Feel it, believe it. Early in my journey, I was faced with moments of brain-freezing panic while at conferences with a bunch of white coats, talking to hundreds of people about their health. Suddenly, I wanted to crawl under the table! In these situations, I have to be my own biggest supporter and trust that my knowledge, research and experience will carry me through. It’s all at my fingertips when I take a breath and trust. If you do that, you can’t go wrong.
Thirdly, during the conversation be a listener, use humor (if they’re open to it) and share your experiences. It’s a two-way street and your companion deserves the same patience, love and understanding that you expect. Laughter, especially if it’s naughty, is a fantastic strategy. Trust me. These interactions don’t have to be a frickin’ drag. If you can get a few chuckles out of them, you might be able to open their mind and heart a little more. The entire experience will seem less serious, annoying and intimidating so that both of you can chat more freely. Also, share your personal triumphs. No one can argue with the renewed energy, clear skin, better sex life (ooh la la), weight loss or lower cholesterol you know you possess as a result of your clean and green diet and lifestyle! Pique their curiosity by sharing how Crazy Sexy healthy and happy you are.
Finally, don’t waste your energy on people who are not in a place to receive information or respect your personal choices. Plant-biased vampires and toxic people are not worth your precious time, so send them off with a smile (or a bite) before they can zap your zing. Recently, I coached a gal who had reunited with a college pal who was still clinging to their long-ago days of debauchery. She wanted the old Sally back and accused her of losing herself. Unfortunately, she couldn’t see the joy and fulfillment Sassy Sally had found in her life after she let go of burning (and boozing) the candle at both ends. Instead of being happy for her, she picked apart her diet and lifestyle over dinner. Sally was exhausted. Her responses were met with blank stares and their visit left her feeling frustrated and unsettled. Rather than spending hours dissecting Sally’s approach to eating and living, she could have identified that the conversation was going nowhere fast and used trusty, holstered responses:
“I appreciate all of your questions, and I’d be happy to email you some resources later so that you can do some of your own research.”
“I totally understand that this lifestyle isn’t your thing. Can we just leave it at that and have a good time?”
“I’d love to just relax and hear about what you’ve been up to! If you’re still interested in learning about my diet, I’d be happy to lend you some books. If not, let’s agree to disagree.”
Step 4: Be proactive. Now that you’re flying high on green juice, you may want to find fellow enthusiasts! It’s so much more fun when you’re swapping tips and sharing positive experiences with people who are in the same boat. There are tons of places online and probably in your community to hook up with these radical radishes. Check out Meetup.com, My Crazy Sexy Life, my Facebook FanPage, your local health store and veg-friendly restaurants, vegan and vegetarian festivals, or join a local vegetarian association.
One of the best ways to educate others is by being you! Host a party and pack the table with your favorite vegan and raw goodies. Bring your juicer or blender with you when you visit friends and family, and treat them to a glass of green goodness. Going to a potluck? Knock their socks off with your best dish. If you are a creative whiz in the kitchen and a master of veg-substitutions, your pals will be wowed by your vegan chocolate birthday cake and they’ll realize that this lifestyle is not about deprivation. Grandma’s butter cookies don’t need to be trashed at the next holiday gathering, but maybe you’ll start your own tradition by bringing a delicious vegan cookie that makes mouths water. Why not bring the recipe too? Holidays, parties, and family dinners are prime locations for strutting your new skills in the kitchen. So get cooking, dehydrating, juicing and blending! Healthy, nourishing, delectable food is love and education in one.
OK, your turn! How do you cope, share, educate, listen and grow with the people in your life who might not be up to speed yet with your diet and lifestyle? Share your knowledge and personal experiences in the comments below!
Peace & patience,