Changing your eating habits isn’t all that easy, but if you’re part of a family, your new eating habits may also encounter resistance or questions among the rest of the family. Here are some tips on how to change your habits and get the whole family on board.

Don’t force anyone to change

The first step towards creating a positive attitude in the family to the new changes may seem counterproductive, but it’s actually about not putting pressure on family members to make the same changes as you, if they’re not ready for it. You may have realised that it would be good for the whole family to change habits and you might be eager to get everyone involved. However, you risk running into resistance and family members might get annoyed and even thwart your efforts. Changing habits always follows a particular pattern, where the first step is to go from being unaware of a problem to becoming aware of it. Next follows a phase when a decision is made, you do some research and decide what direction to take. You might have come to a significant realisation, had an unexpected test result, or the scales may have brought some bad news. You might also have realised that it’s possible to change what you want to change, you might have been inspired by somebody who’s made the same journey as you. Something has caused you to start changing your behaviour. You might not realise that you’ve gone through those phases of change and you’re trying to get the rest of the family to jump to the same stage of the process that you’re at. Most people react in the same way when they’re forced to make a change they aren’t ready for – they dig their heels in and put up resistance.

This means two things for you. Partly that you’re the person in your family who has to be the strongest. You will need to resist, even if your partner buys sweets and fizzy drinks when you have decided to avoid those things. It’s a bit like the person leading the way in cross-country skiing – they have to make the track in the snow and work harder than those who follow after and can use the existing track.

Also, don’t tell your family what to do, but instead show them what to do. You have to be the one to show everyone that change is possible. They will notice how you get healthier, get a healthier body, become happier and have more energy. You will have to be the inspiration they need in order to change their habits.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t tell anyone about the changes you’re making. On the contrary, share your thoughts and tell people why you’re making the changes that you do. Focus on what you want to achieve and how you want to feel and what you want to look like. Tell them you’d like their support and keep the door open if anyone in the family feels curious and wants to join in with the new habits. Try to talk about the new foods you’re trying, or the lovely walks you’ve discovered, instead of talking about things to avoid or not to do. Think inspiration, rather than force.

How to approach things with different family members

Age 0-5

Children will eat what they’re served and will easily join in with the new habits. It is important to serve good food, but not to get too strict and remove nutrients and too many calories, or to feed them a diet too high in fibre.

Age 6-10

At this stage children have more of their own willpower and have more control over what they eat. Children of this age still eat what is served at home or at school, so make sure that there is plenty of healthy food in the house and only buy things like sweets for special occasions.

Age 11-14

Children of this age may be particularly sensitive to too much negative talk about food and the body. It’s important to communicate that there’s a difference between looking after your body in order to be healthy, and just trying to look good.

Age 15-18

Young people of this age might only eat a few meals at home and have a strong need for independence. Resistance could be particularly strong here, if the young person feels that you are trying to steer their habits. On the other hand, young people of this age are mature enough to understand more advanced reasoning concerning health and the body. It might be useful to have a chat and make sure you listen to what the young person wants to do.

Your partner

Your partner is maybe the most important person in your journey towards a healthier life. You might be lucky enough to have a supportive partner who would make the change together with you. Other partners might counteract, ridicule, or even sabotage your lifestyle changes. This is often a sign that your changes have highlighted your partner’s habits, including bad ones. Carry on with your changes. When your results become obvious, curiosity will probably get the better of your partner, who will then be ready. Remember that your partner might worry about not being good enough as you get more energetic and better looking. So, give your partner a little extra love during this time and show them that you’ll still be there, even after you’ve changed.

By Malin Randeniye, dietitian