The way we eat is a central part of our daily routine. It’s woven into our family lives, work schedules, and social calendars. Food can be a source of great pleasure as a reason for coming together or an element of cherished traditions. Therefore, changing how we eat can be challenging since doing so often affects those around us.
Social factors powerfully influence when we eat, what we eat, and how much we eat. For example, when you eat in groups, you tend to eat longer and consume more food. Additionally, your dietary patterns tend to reflect those around you. Adopting a super healthy diet can be difficult if you’re the only one in your house motivated to do so. In fact, research shows that the individual dietary patterns of married couples tend to converge over time.
One of the keys to successful behavior change is creating social and environmental conditions that support your new lifestyle. But when you have a family or an active social life, a lifestyle change may impact those around you and even spur some uncomfortable conversations. Just because we’ve decided to make a personal change doesn’t mean our friends and family are ready to do the same.
Whether eating for metabolic health means completely overhauling or just making minor adjustments to your current practices, identifying your health goals and creating a plan to talk to important people about them are crucial first steps.
Tips for talking about your new food choices
1. Identify your goals.
Start by identifying your core motivations. Why have you decided to adopt a more metabolically healthy way of eating? Is your goal weight management? longevity? balanced mood? better sleep? Having a clear sense of why you’re making changes will help you talk about these changes with friends and family.
If you’re unclear about your motivation, journaling can help. In her latest book Women, Food, and Hormones, Levels advisor Dr. Sara Gottfried recommends creating a values statement. “Think about what you’re hoping to achieve—and, most importantly, why these goals matter to you,” she writes. “This values statement will motivate you as you embrace this new way of eating and living. And it will be a reminder you can turn to again and again over the coming weeks whenever you need motivation.”
2. Choose your audience.
Next, consider whom you need to talk to and what you hope to get out of the conversation. Are you hoping your partner will stop bringing certain foods into the house, that your friends will be available for social support, that your kids will cooperate when you introduce new meals, or all of the above? Identifying your desired outcomes will help you narrow the focus on what to discuss and with whom.
Once you’ve decided what you hope to gain from these conversations, list the people you plan to speak to. Consider who may be impacted by these changes, starting with your household (i.e., your partner, kids, parents, or roommates). Next, think about your social circle. For example, if you go out for happy hour with your coworkers every week, you may want to speak with them. You may also consider finding friends on similar journeys to provide encouragement and accountability.
Similarly, know whom not to talk to. Your boss probably doesn’t need to know about your new habits unless your office regularly eats lunch together. Neither does your sister’s friend or next-door neighbor. It’s also possible that you won’t feel the need to have any proactive conversations, particularly if you don’t see your lifestyle changes having an immediate impact on anyone around you.
Being intentional about your audience will allow you to focus your energy on the conversations most integral to your success.
3. What to say—and not to say.
Regardless of whom you’re talking to, emphasize your personal motivations for change (see #1). This approach can help minimize the chances that others around you feel judged.
“I” statements are helpful here. For example, you might say, “I decided to cut out rice and potatoes at dinner because I notice that when I limit carbs in the evening I have more energy in the morning.” This framing will likely prompt a more positive response than saying, “It’s important to not eat carbs at dinner so that you don’t turn into a couch potato” or simply “carbs are bad.”
Remember, this conversation is about you, so try not to criticize or offer advice. If you point out what you think is wrong with others’ eating habits, they will likely become defensive and less receptive. In time, seeing the benefits of your new lifestyle may naturally pique their curiosity to try your new routine. But you shouldn’t go into the conversation assuming loved ones will change their habits just because you are changing yours.
4. Consider location and timing.
Knowing when to have the conversation can be as important as knowing what to say. Do your best to choose a time when you and your audience are relaxed and undistracted, like the end of the day or on a family weekend walk. If you’re speaking with members of your household, maybe have the conversation on a Saturday or Sunday, before the start of a fresh week.
You’ll likely want to avoid broaching this topic in direct food settings, such as at the grocery store or at mealtime. Explaining metabolic health to someone who is about to dive into dessert will likely make that person feel judged or uncomfortable. Choosing a neutral time and place will help facilitate a calm and productive conversation.
5. Know when to end the conversation.
These conversations may not always go smoothly; part of effective communication is knowing when to back off. If your audience gets defensive or critical, their reaction is likely a sign they’re not open to having the conversation at the moment. People may react negatively for many reasons: fear of lifestyle disruption, feelings of judgment, or skepticism of proposed results. Try to listen and empathize, but don’t let negativity permeate too deeply. You have the right to protect your motivation and journey.
Talking about new habits can feel scary or complex, and the conversation may not always go as planned. But you can still be successful in your metabolic health efforts, especially if you’ve clearly defined your goals for yourself and communicated them empathetically to others. Knowing when, how, and with whom to discuss your new habits will increase your chances of gaining meaningful support as you transition to a more metabolically healthy lifestyle.