I’ve heard this question time and again: “I’m on board with healthy living… But how do I get my family to start eating healthy and moving more? My husband is glued to the couch and the TV, my kids are hooked on video games, and no one but me will eat their veggies!”
My family and I are by no means perfect. We love our potato chips and our dark chocolate and we do own a video gaming system. But over the years, we’ve created a healthy living routine that mitigates any ill-effects these vices may have. Our son is thriving and rarely gets ill, I’m successfully self-treating my mental health issues (depression and anxiety) and autoimmune skin issues with healthy lifestyle choices, and my husband has lost 50 pounds — and kept it off — over the last two years. In my humble opinion, he’s a total hottie!!!
But I have to admit… I instigated most of these healthy lifestyle changes. My family wasn’t always on board!
1. Lead by Example (start with yourself)
Whether you have kids at home who push away their veggies, or a husband who’s not so into healthy living, I encourage you to do something wild and crazy: LEAVE THEM IN THE DUST (for now).
If they’re not into it, that’s okay. Don’t force it… Don’t push. They can do their own thing for the time being. Take care of YOURSELF first. Put on YOUR oxygen mask first.
There are two reasons for this. First, you will naturally lead by example when you make healthy changes and start feeling and looking better. The other — more practical — reason, is that these healthy shifts can be HARD and the last thing you need to do is worry about making it all perfect and fun for everyone. I had a talk with one of our last Lift participants who was stressing about getting her child to eat in a more nutrient-dense way. I said to her, “you know what? Don’t worry about it, at least not for now. Worry about YOU, first. Your son isn’t going to perish from eating a Pop-Tart this week. You need to get YOUR health in place first. Make it a habit and a lifestyle for YOU, and then you can worry about getting your family on board.” This was a radical shift in thinking for her and took a lot of the pressure off.
2. Start Small
Have you ever heard of the snowball effect? Little successes lead to confidence (and realization that it’s not so hard, after all)… Which leads to more and more small changes, and in turn to bigger and bigger changes… And ultimately, a complete lifestyle overhaul.
Start by making simple swaps and taking baby steps with others in your family. We still do this with my son. My husband and I take extra stir-fry veggies and skip the rice, and my son gets white rice with his stir-fry. And we have pancakes on the weekends… Sometimes even chocolate chip pancakes! However, we make them as nutrient-dense and low in sugar as possible, and top them with almond butter instead of syrup.
It’s these simple tricks that keep everyone happy and prevent you from feeling like you need to make two completely separate meals. You are not a short order cook!
3. Remember the 80/20 rule
You don’t have to be “perfect,” and you don’t have to do the “right” thing all the time in order to live a healthy life. This is another important key to creating lifelong, sustainable change. If you overly restrict, your family will rebel (and will probably revolt). The 80/20 principle is useful in many areas of like, but I specifically like to apply it to my food choices. My family and I eat a squeaky clean, plant-based “Paleo” diet 80% of the time and we’ve learned to truly enjoy eating this way. But the other 20% of the time we enjoy foods that don’t fit in the category of “squeaky clean.” My husband and I enjoy the occasional cocktail, I love (love, love) chocolate, and my son has a little treat every evening after dinner. Not the best choices, but life is meant to be lived and ENJOYED — however that looks for you and your family — and overly restricting yourself makes life feel dreary, scary, limited, and lackluster. Overly restrictive diets are a form of eating disorders in and of themselves, and unfortunately, they can often lead to another type of eating disorder: binge eating.
I love living by the 80/20 rule. It makes healthy living attainable, realistic, and something you can be proud of. If you’re eating well 80% of the time, that’s still a heck of a lot better than many other families!
4. Make it Fun
In addition to not pushing too hard, making healthy lifestyle changes FUN is essential, especially with kids. It’s also important to help them understand WHY you’re making healthy changes in the first place. There are some fun books targeted to kids that explain — in simple terms — why they would want to adopt a more nutrient-dense diet. We had great success with Jimmy and the Carrot Rocket Ship by Sarah Fragoso, and Eat Like a Dinosaur by the Paleo Parents.
As far as fitness, don’t stress about fitting more “exercise” into your life… Think of fitting more MOVEMENT into your life! Rather that spending date night at the movie theater with your husband, head to an indoor rock wall and climb for an hour. Or — at the very least — WALK from the cocktail bar to your dinner restaurant! Movement can stimulate libido… Just sayin’.
For the kiddos: rather than spending the weekend playing video games, go on a “walking date” to the nearest park. You’ll get fresh air and exercise, and time to talk and chill out together. Ultimately, our kids just want to be with US… To them, that’s the best treat of all. To make it even more fun, go barefoot, practice cartwheels, bring a bag to collect leaves (or heck, bring a bag to collect garbage!), or bring a ball to toss around.
I have to say, I think we look better in our mid-30’s than we did in our mid-20’s. Over the last 10 years, we’ve turned away from the standard American diet, eliminated processed foods, (nearly) eliminated sugar, cut out gluten and dairy (other than ghee), and we fit movement — especially walking — into EVERY SINGLE DAY.
It’s no longer a chore… It’s a lifestyle. And the best part? It feels great… For all of us! No more pushing and striving and begging and pleading to make it happen. With a little bit of patience and gentle persistence, it can happen for your family too.