Have you ever started a healthy eating plan only to find that the people who are closest to you sabotage your efforts? Is this passive aggressive? Do they feel threatened about the change you are making? Do they feel guilty about their eating when you are eating healthy? Is it all unintentional and they are unaware of what they are doing?
Truth be told we can never be sure what is going on in other people's minds. It's hard enough just noticing our own thoughts. Rather than figuring out the motives of the people around you, I think it is best to focus on their behavior and make a request. Since these are not necessarily familiar ways of communicating I will talk about the 2 issues separately –1) focusing on behavior and -2) making a request.
Let's say you start eating healthy and your partner brings home a dozen donuts. Not just any donuts but your favorite donuts. He didn't bring just a couple for himself but an entire dozen. Just let that one land. How does it feel? How do you feel towards him right now? What are you thinking about your healthy eating plan? How do you feel about the donuts that are screaming your name?
It is second nature in our culture to talk to people as if we know their motives. We say things like: “Why are you undermining my efforts?” “You never support me.” “Just because you don't want to eat healthy doesn't mean you should try to stop me.” All of those statements assume what the other person is thinking and the motive that is driving their behavior. If you imagine these statements as part of a conversation and play out the conversation in your head, it probably doesn't turn out well. I can imagine the person getting defensive or angry. I can see the conversation escalate and ending with no resolution or understanding.
But what if you focused on the behavior - bringing home donuts and how that behavior made you feel. You might say something like: “When you bring home donuts, I feel anxious that I won't stick to my diet” “When you bring home donuts, I feel defeated like I will not be able to succeed in my eating plan.” “When you bring home donuts, I feel hurt like you don't care about my goals.”
When you focus on yourself and your feelings, the conversation that follows allows both people to have respect. No one is bad or wrong so no one starts on the defensive.
The second part of the conversation is making a request. Again, rarely do we communicate by making requests. For the most part we make complaints. We focus on the problem or what we don't want. We say things like: “I don't want you to bring home donuts.” “I don't want to see junk in the house.” “Stop tempting me.” The last one is particularly difficult because your partner now has to guess what is tempting you.
Making a request focuses on the solution rather than the problem. This doesn't require the person to figure out what to do, it simply allows him to agree or disagree.
A conversation that focuses on a request that is solution-oriented would sound something like this:
“Would you be willing to eat your donuts at the donut shop or in the car on the way home?”
“Well, I wanted to eat them later this evening for a snack.”
“Okay. I understand. Would you be willing to leave them in the car or put them on the top shelf so I don't see them?”
“To clarify I'm not asking you to hide your food from me because I disapprove of you eating it. I'm asking you not to allow me to see it because I find it tempting and it triggers me obsessing about food.”
“Okay. I'm not trying to wreck your diet. I just wanted donuts.”
“I also have a second request that you not buy extra donuts. If you wanted 2 or 3 donuts and then ate them I can deal with that. If I know there are 9 donuts remaining, I don't think I have the willpower to resist them right now. It would help me if you wouldn't buy extra snacks.”
“Okay. I won't. But don't be upset if there aren't any for you.”
“I can't promise I won't be upset. It is hard to watch other people enjoy food when you have decided not to eat it. If I get upset, please remind me of our agreement.”
“Sure. I can do that. I am proud of you. You have more discipline than I do right now.”
Remaining focused on your goal can be of great benefit when you hit a rough patch, like donuts in your kitchen. It is easy to slip into blame and anger but this is likely to derail your efforts. Take a deep breath, focus on the solution and make a centered request. I think you may be surprised how your peeps may turn out to be more supportive than you think.