Can You Make a Loved One More Health Concious?
When I first became a dietitian over 10 years ago, I made a point to give nutritional advice to all of my family and friends. But after years of resistance to my help, I’ve learned to keep quite and wait until asked. I’ve come a long way from scrutinizing the plates of everyone I know.
When the unthinkable happened over a week ago this topic rushed to the forefront of my thoughts. My father-in-law collapsed at home and died from a massive heart attack. While everyone in my family is still in shock, most of us have been worried about the state of his health for some time. He had uncontrolled diabetes, high blood pressure and was obese. And he showed absolutely no interest in changing his eating habits.
As the nutritionist in the family, I feel like I’ve let everyone down. Maybe I should have strayed from my “say-nothing-until-asked policy?” I did occasionally get my two cents in but I never really sat him down to recommend a plan of action.
I think part of what held me back was his attitude towards food. He viewed healthy eating as a boring and tasteless existence. And I don’t think he felt making those changes would do much good anyway. One time he announced that what happens to someone health-wise is “99 percent genetic.”
I’m just so sad right now. My father-in-law was a wonderful man who loved his family more than anything. He especially enjoyed his two grandchildren (my kids) and was due to have another grandchild in October (not mine). I don’t understand why he didn’t take better care of himself when he had so much to live for.
But how can I sit in judgment when I have weaknesses of my own -- changes I’ve tried to make for years only to end up back on the same path? The truth is it’s hard to change something that feels second nature to you. Do I think it’s possible? Yes. But it takes vigilance and the ability to change strategies until finding the right one that works.
This is why after working with adults for years I have changed my focus to prevention. My goal is to help parents raise healthy eaters so their children won’t have to face eating and health issues later in life. And I make a point to teach parents how to be healthy role models, which just might be the single best motivator to get rid of unhealthy habits.
I may not have been able to help my father-in-law but I can turn my grief into action. I’m going to talk to my in-need family members about positive steps they can make for better health. In the popular book, The Last Lecture, Randy Pausch said, “When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you.”
I now realize I don’t have to be the obnoxious dietitian I used to be – spewing off advice to anyone who’ll listen. Instead, I can be thoughtful and understanding in my approach. I’m well aware that what I say or do may have no impact at all. But I refuse to give up on those I love. My father-in-law’s memory will always remind me of that.