February is American Heart Month. It’s a time to bring awareness to heart disease and stroke, the number one killer in the United States, so you and people you love don’t become a statistic. I’ve been blogging about important topics like lowering your cholesterol, reducing heart disease risk and identifying heart healthy foods all month, and I want to continue the conversation with you by discussing how you can influence change in those you love.
My mom has heart disease and I’ve spent countless hours helping her with nutrition and exercise. So I’m coming at this post as a daughter with experience in trying to get a loved one to change more so than rattling off “book smarts.”
First, let me just say one important thing: it doesn’t matter how much you want someone to change, they have to want it too. Make no mistake. Change is not easy for many people. But I’m concerned that too many well-intentioned people are struggling and frustrated that their loved one doesn’t seem to be able to change. Above all else, they have to want it and secondly, they need support… and that’s where you can come in and can be successful.
So, if you aren’t sure if your loved one wants to change, you need to start there. Here are some tips to help you out.
1. Talk to them. Ask them if they want to change and then how much? Ask them what do they think will be easy and what will be hard? Ask them what they plan to start working on first and what will be easy or hard with that? For example, if they have fast food three times a week, TV dinners three times a week, hate to cook, and don’t love vegetables… that’s a lot to tackle. Ask them to think about what will be easiest and suggest they start with that.
2. Ask how you can help. Based on their responses above, offer some support. Ask if you can prepare some meals for them. Make the meals at their house so you have time to talk about how their changes are going. Offer to go grocery shopping with them. Offer to go on a walk with them once a week. Help them find a water walking class nearby. Poll your friends who know someone making changes and ask them for any resources like websites, recipes, or other tips.
3. Always, always, always let them drive. It can be so tempting to do more for your loved one, but the reality is, you are helping them more by allowing them to take responsibility and move at a pace that works for them. Success builds upon success. So, if it is easier to add in fruits and vegetables, but it is harder to cut back on junk food and salt, don’t panic and think they aren’t doing enough. All positive changes need support and celebration. The body responds on a cellular levels in ways you don’t see every day. Your loved one needs to feel like they are the one making the decisions and “being healthy” is not getting forced upon them.
I think you will find by being supportive and telling them how much you love them you are helping to reinforce their motivation. Be laid back, even if you struggle with it, as long as you know they are taking action… if they aren’t taking action, maybe they aren’t ready for change today, but they may be tomorrow. So go back to #1.