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Wellness Friends and Foes

How to create your own support system and be that for your friends

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2 Friends high-fiving while holding a plank
Photo by bruce mars on Unsplash

I’m doing so well! I’m eating “on plan,” I haven’t had a drink in a while, but today I have plans with my friends from college. EVERY time we get together, it’s lots of booze. They’re going to say, “C’mon, have another? What’s wrong with you? It’s just one day.” I want to join in the fun but I also don’t want to derail my progress. UGH! Sigh.

Our relationships, friendships, and wellness are often a complicated dynamic. Many of us have been on both sides of this equation. We’re focused on our health, maybe for weight loss, and there are those friends who just make it harder. It’s simpler with our new friends from the gym; when we have planned it’s usually easier because we’re all focusing on our health in some way. Or perhaps your friends are the ones always trying on a new fad diet, spending more time with their “new” friends, rather than you, who they’ve known since childhood. It’s not an easy pill to swallow.

Let’s make this easier! When you or your friends are crushing health goals, knowing there’s a supportive community can help push you/them to take those next steps and stay consistent. These friendships are beneficial to both the wellness warrior and the wellness ally. Here’s how to do it. 

Tips for the Wellness Warrior

Lifestyle changes aren’t easy to make. They take time and require consistency. Often those we surround ourselves with make a huge difference in whether this feels like climbing Mt. Everest (daily!) or like a walk in the park. Choosing who we enroll in our journey, who we share our victories with, and who we see on occasion can make all the difference.

In 2014, a study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine showed that even the smallest amount of support helps people’s wellness journeys. The participants who succeeded the most were ones who received guided support throughout their weight loss process, opposed to people who took the self-guided direction. Right off the bat, this shows how important that sense of support is in our lives.

  1. Confide in a health coach
    I have been on both ends of the stick! I understand that feeling of not wanting to make a big deal out of your food choices, not wanting your friends to watch everything you put on your plate (or in your mouth!). At the same time, you want to share your victories and celebrate progress. That’s where a health coach can come in! They can not only provide emotional support around victories and challenges but can help you cultivate the tools through education and practice to keep you going and create health for life!

2. Find fitness and health buddies
Support from people who are on a similar path is incredibly helpful. It reminds us we’re not alone; we can do it. We can borrow each other’s strength, commitment, and energy when needed and share ours with others as well. You might meet this crew at the gym or it could be the people following the same program as you. These people understand the journey, the struggles, and the triumphs, more than most. They can encourage you, even if they don’t necessarily “know” you the same way our childhood friends do. Not to mention, when we make friends at the gym, they’ll wonder where you are if you don’t show, and when our workouts become a social event, it’s something more to look forward to! Who doesn’t love a little multitasking when it benefits your health AND your happiness?

3. Decide who you share with 
This is key! Not all of your friends need to be on board, but they should be supportive and non-sabotaging. Metaphorically, they can act as a lighthouse. Constantly there and waiting to be approached for guidance. They are steady and not reactionary, your greatest cheerleader and your most supportive confidant, in turn. Who we enroll in our journey is important to consider. Not everyone is capable of this role and that’s OK! We don’t have to cut-off old friendships, we just intentionally choose who knows about our health goals and progress. This could be only one or two people, it doesn’t have to be every friend unless you want it to be. This is all about what works for you and your goals. 

Tips for the Wellness Ally

So maybe you’re that person? A friend shared with you that they’re focusing on losing weight. Or, perhaps your friend hasn’t said anything but you’re noticing a difference in their choices and behavior. What if you could be a wellness ally? But, you ask, “what does it look like to be ‘supportive?’” Here you go! 

  1. Let the wellness warrior drive the conversation 
    This may sound obvious, but we often are the ones asking them about what they are doing, eating, and experiencing. This could be a cause of stress. Instead, simply let them know that you are there for them if they ever want to talk about it. Then leave it alone! This way, they know you are coming from a place of support, grace, and compassion, rather than judgment.  

2. Make plans that aren’t “food-focused” 
Focus on experiences. Maybe add an activity to your social plans before the meal or cocktails? We don’t want friends to feel like they have to opt-out of life’s fun just to stay on their wellness track. When plans are made solely around food, it might be an added challenge.

And when you do sit down to eat, don’t stare at their plate! You don’t have to watch what they’re choosing unless they’ve asked. Trust me, we can feel the judgment laser beams coming from across the table. Rather, if you want to make comments, come from a place of curiosity and seek to understand, not to change their actions. 

“…be indifferent to details and supportive of the energy, effort, and commitment.”

3. How and how not to compliment 
Sometimes our compliment, intended to acknowledge and give credit where credit is due, has the opposite effect. We know we can’t control how someone else receives what we share but this a bit of perspective for wellness allies. Sometimes, carrying extra weight is a subconscious effort to be invisible, or to not draw attention to oneself. The compliment, demonstrating that you are truly seeing the person, could make them uncomfortable. For others, the compliment, evidence that their hard work is paying off, could inadvertently give them permission/used to justify less healthful choices.

When we want to acknowledge the wellness warriors in our lives, focus on the energy behind each compliment. For example, you could say “wow, you are glowing!” or “your energy is on fire!” This offers positive feedback while allowing the recipient to decide if they want to make it about weight loss or not. 

4. Avoid being the subtle saboteur       
We’ve all done it. Trust me. Our friend says they are trying to be healthy and we push, we nudge, we offer a couple of extra times; it’s just splurging this ONE day! By doing this, we put our friends in a potentially awkward, likely challenging, situation. Before replying to you and likely even after, your friend is having an internal dialogue…Do I want it? Do I not want it? Is it just one day? I don’t want to feel gross later or give myself a reason to beat myself up. At the same time, I don’t want my friends to think I’m not fun anymore.

Imagine, for the three times you offered them some of your desserts, they had a conversation with themselves and mustered the courage, strength, and will to say no, each time. The key is just to be indifferent to details and supportive of the energy, effort, and commitment.  

Overall, decide what kind of person and friend you want to be as a wellness ally. If you are the wellness warrior, prioritize that! Evaluate the people around you and make sure your boundaries are set to hold yourself accountable with relative ease. Remember, at the end of the day, the community is a critical piece of our lives. It can support us to be our best selves when we allow it and when we create that for ourselves and each other. When we come together, we are stronger and more successful. Here’s to your health~

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