Tuesday 30 January 2018

7 Ways to Encourage Your Parents to Be Healthier

Encouraging your parents to adopt healthier lifestyles can be an uphill battle. My parents are baby boomers, which means the standard meal for them is meat and potatoes. Fresh greens are scarce in their kitchen. And they like it that way.
It’s normal to resist change. I mean, our parents have been healthy enough so far, right? Why change now? But as we age, health is more important than ever as the residual effects of unhealthy habits begin to unfurl more quickly. I love my parents and want to make sure they take care of their bodies. It’s been 5 or 6 years of effort so far, with some periods of intense pushback, but my parents are infinitely healthier than when we first started. And they’re happy about it.
Here are my tips for encouraging your own aging parents to shift towards healthier lifestyles:


Lifestyle shifts take time. It probably did for you if you came from a traditional American household. Once you plant the seed and sprinkle on a little knowledge, give them the same time and space to evolve. My dad, for instance, drinks a green juice in the morning, grows his own sprouts and munches through a box of Cheez-Its at night. And that’s fine. It has taken 3 or 4 years, but that’s incredible progress!
The next step is to find a healthier cheese cracker recipe that can rival and replace Cheez-Its. It’s the long game, but it will pay off. Your parents don’t have to become crunchy wellness gurus, but eating less processed foods and more produce is a pretty big win. Be patient.


No one likes to feel like their favorite foods are being taken away from them. It took me 4 years to transition from being a gluten-fanatic to being at peace with my gluten-free lifestyle, and I wanted to change. Telling your parents that they need to stop eating this, this and that is a surefire way to make them tune you out. Instead, let them have their vices and focus in adding in more healthful foods, specifically vegetables.
Encourage the 80-20 rule, eat good foods 80 percent of the time. Show them studies like this one that show how eating more vegetables, without any other dietary changes, is associated with huge improvements in health across the board. Offer them hacks for how they can sneak more veggies into their day, perhaps through a morning juice or smoothie, a side salad at every dinner or maybe adding a sneaky layer of baby spinach in a homemade lasagna. Hopefully, over time, they will begin to feel better and crave veggies, and along with them, a healthier lifestyle.


My dad likes to joke that pesticides and all the other chemicals in our foods are preserving his organs. Har de har! When I was growing up, he told me that organic was just a bunch of hype that was unnecessarily more expensive. Now that I know that to be false, I know it will take some work to change that pattern of thinking.
Every so often we will have chats about organic foods and I’ll send a study about pesticide consumption for him to read and form his own opinions. Organic can be a hard sell because it is more expensive, so I’m priming the pump. But first, getting more greens and getting off processed foods is more important than going organic. Help them develop a habitually healthy lifestyle first before pushing too hard for organic.


You know your parents. You know what flavors they like. I grew up eating various iterations of meat and potatoes seasoned with salt and pepper. When I visit home and make flavorful, spiced versions of their favorite bland dinners, their minds get blown. So, I send them recipes. The first time my dad tried some guacamole, he mushed it around on his plate, turned off by its vivid green tint. Now he loves it. He and my mom now make homemade granola and hummus, too. Who knows what sorts of healthy foods they’ll be making in another few years!


Your parents don’t have to become Crossfit diehards, but going out for a walk on a daily basis is pretty important. If they live in an area that isn’t very walkable, encourage them to get a weekend walking group together where they drive out to a park and walk while chatting. No, they won’t break a sweat, but keeping the body in motion is more important. For exercise-averse parents, this can be a tough sell. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answers yet for this one.


Having struggled with my own health issues, my parents watched as I took control of my health through diet. Seeing the gains I have made, they are more open to hearing what I have to say. Show your parents how a healthy lifestyle has improved your life. Also don’t be shy of showing them that you’re still human and can be swayed by a good dark chocolate almond butter cup. Knowing that treats are part of a healthy lifestyle can be a big selling point.


Don’t roll your eyes at your mom when she reaches for a third slice of pizza. That’s not helpful. You need to help them reprogram their bodies to crave healthier foods. Making them feel guilty for giving in to temptation will only make the transition harder. After all, who among us doesn’t pig out on our favorite foods once in a while. Offer unconditional support and know that we are all only human.

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