its you

With Friends Like These…

Last summer, we were at breakfast in San Diego at one of our favorite restaurants – The Mission. While we did not indulge in their famous French toast on that trip, the table of four women next to us were sharing one large portion. All but one of the women were taking bites and pronouncing it delicious, but one was politely declining. (I stole a look at her plate – eggs, avocado, side of salsa, no toast. Mmm-hmm.)

Her casual “no, thanks” prompted a strong response from the group – everything from, “Oh, come on, you can have just one bite, can’t you?” to “This stupid diet you’re on is making you less fun.” Finally, the woman gave in and helped herself to a few forkfuls of the sweet stuff, and conversation and laughter carried on.

Now, why would her friends peer-pressure this woman to abandon her healthy pursuits and “treat” herself to something processed, sugary, and less healthy? You’d think friends would be the first to encourage her in her healthy eating efforts, right?

Think again.

Frenemies

This situation is, unfortunately, all too common. We’d assume that those closest to you—your friends and family—would be the most supportive of your health and fitness efforts. Often, however, it’s strangers on message boards, co-workers, or health and fitness bloggers who cheer your success, while your “friends” may remain staunchly tight-lipped, subtly disapproving, or even go so far as to sabotage your efforts.

With friends like these, who needs enemies?

While their actions may confuse you (why wouldn’t your BFF want to see you lose weight and feel better?), there are emotional motivations behind your friends and family members’ actions. Today, we’ll explore five reasons why your friends and family may be reacting to your healthy pursuits in a less-than-graceful manner.

Concern For You 

First, those who appear to be trashing your new healthy pursuits may actually be coming from a genuinely good place—concern for your health and well-being. Maybe you’ve been on less healthy crash diets or exercise plans before, and your friends and family have watched you unhappily yo-yo for years. They may lump something health-focused and sustainable (like the Whole30) with the unhealthy programs they’ve seen you take on in the past, and feel the need to look out for your best interests.

Saying things like, “Cutting out entire food groups is unhealthy” or “Being that obsessed with the gym” may be their ways of saying, “I want to see you happy and healthy, and I’m worried about you.” Give people the benefit of the doubt, and assume they just don’t understand that this time, you’re building a new, healthy lifestyle. Patiently and carefully explain exactly what you’re doing, how it’s different from crash diets or “extreme” plans, and all of the ways in which this new lifestyle is benefiting you.

However, if that careful explanation (and your obviously positive results) aren’t enough to cut the criticism, you’ve got a different motivation to contend with. 

Feeling Left Behind

One reason your friend may not be so happy about your new healthy eating plan or your commitment to the gym is the fear of being left behind. See, the two of you were buddies. When one ordered dessert, the other was happy to share. When one wanted to watch a Lord of the Rings marathon, the other bought the popcorn and the peanut M&Ms. When one complained that their belly was getting bigger, the other was there to say, “No way. Look at my belly!”

Now, you’re passing on dessert. You’re bringing carrot sticks and jicama to the movies. Your belly is shrinking before their eyes. And this scares the beejeesus out of your friend, because what will happen to your friendship if you no longer have chocolate cake, lazy Saturdays, or muffin tops (the waistlines, not the baked good) to bond over?

So, they have two choices. Either join you in your health efforts and rise up right next to you (hard), or do their damndest to keep you down at their level (easy). Hence the constant encouragement to cheat, the eye roll when you call it an early night, the snide remarks about how you’re no fun since you started this new healthy lifestyle. It all comes down to fear that you’ll change, and they won’t, and then they’ll lose your friendship.

Jealousy 

This one is closely related to the above, and often follows on the heels of feeling left behind. In the beginning, the jealous friend may be super supportive of your efforts to lose weight, join the gym, improve your health. After all, you’ve said you’re going to do it before, and frankly, it’s never really gone anywhere, has it? It’s easy to be supportive if you believe the person won’t succeed—and your friend is counting on you not to succeed, for fear of being left behind.

But then you discover the Whole30. You really do it, by the book, 100%. And you start to see results right away. Your skin clears up, you lose some weight, you feel happier. People notice, too. They complement you, ask you what you’ve been doing, encourage you to keep it up. And this changes the game for your formerly supportive friend.

Suddenly, you’re getting all the attention, and it’s not so easy to be supportive. Your jealous friend thinks, “I want what you have, and thus until I have it, you shouldn’t have it either.” As with the “left behind” friend, the focus is not on moving forward together, but on holding you back.

Defensiveness

We have said this to Whole30 participants for years now—you have the ability to make people feel bad about what they are doing, simply by doing what you are doing. You don’t even have to make a big deal out of it—just rolling up to the lunch table at work and pulling out a giant salad (instead of your usual leftover pizza) is enough to start tongues wagging. Your healthy meal makes them re-evaluate their own lunches—and all too often, they know in their heart of hearts they could be doing better.

When people feel challenged or threatened by perceived criticism, their responses range from somewhat testy to downright hostile. And even though you are not actually criticizing their habits, the contrast between your new healthy efforts and their behaviors can feel like outright criticism. So they react negatively, go on the offensive—and now you feel attacked, just for quietly trying to do something that makes you feel better about yourself.

Feelings of Rejection 

This last motivation often comes from family members, but can also come from friends. Many of our relationships are forged (and held together) through food. You and your Mom relate best over a breakfast pastry and coffee. Your wife bakes your favorite cookies when you’ve had a fight. You share a pint of ice cream with your bestie when either of you has a bad day.

The trouble is, your passing up the pastry, cookies, or ice cream feels like a personal rejection to your Mom, wife, and best friend. These were ways that your friends and family showed you love, and they feel hurt when you no longer want to accept their love in that form. Perhaps without the lubricant of food, you’ll realize you don’t have much in common, or you’ll find it hard to communicate. Your new healthy lifestyle puts these relationship in jeopardy, in the eyes of your friend or family member. And their negative comments, unsupportive attitude, and efforts to sabotage your efforts is, in their eyes, simply an attempt to save your relationship.

It’s Not Me, It’s You 

Understanding the motivations behind your friends’ and family members’ criticism and lack of support for your new, healthy lifestyle is the first step in dealing with the situation. Next week, we’ll share our best tips for responding to less-than-supportive frenemies in ways that (hopefully) will allow you to preserve the relationship.

Is there another reason friends and family may be less than supportive of your new, healthy habits? How do you manage to stay committed in the face of negative feedback and criticism? Sound off in comments.


Thanks to these two articles for inspiration on jealousy and defensiveness.

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Comments

  1. says

    I was actually just talking to my husband the other day about this. I was telling him that I don’t understand why people react so negatively to healthy eating. This post explains it. Before changing my diet I didn’t realize how social food was. Some of my relationships depended solely on food and have drastically changed since.

    I can’t wait to hear how to deal with “frenemies”.

  2. Jacki C. says

    Another response is to simply fail to invite the person to social activities. Assuming that since you aren’t drinking you won’t want to join the gang at the bar, they simply don’t invite. It takes a little convincing to reassure friends that even though you are abstaining from certain foods and beverages, you aren’t abstaining from social interaction. It helps to have a good attitude while sipping the club soda and lime. Rather than bemoaning all that we can’t have on the Whole 30, we can be positive about the changes (without taking a superior attitude).

  3. Melissa A says

    There’s another reason: they may just not GET it. My husband’s brother and his wife are thin and active. They think that if my husband and I are active, we should be able to eat anything we want “in moderation” — and their view of moderation is anything but. We cannot. Really. My husband’s brother and his wife are HAPPY with what they eat. It’s easy, they enjoy it, and they think we’re limiting ourselves for no reason. They’re not remotely jealous or defensive. They just don’t get it.

  4. says

    I have been in a community of Faileo (faux Paleo) eaters for the last couple of years – eating semi-Paleo and falling farther and farther away from my goals. It was ok when we were all falling away, but I feel the tension now that I am ACTUALLY doing Paleo – not just saying I am doing it or doing it 70/30 or 40/60. I want them to do it with me so we honestly know what we are choosing to add back in vs. making up our own eating plan, which really isn’t a very successful eating plan.

  5. Mike says

    I want to begin the program and change my life but my wife is not on-board with it at all! I have, in the past, read several books on life-changing methods of eating and, due to her skepticism, I have not followed through. I am 66 years old and I hope that it’s not too late to change. I guess I’ll need to focus on myself. Wish me luck!

  6. Victoria says

    The “you used to be fun before you started this diet” comment really irks me. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize that the amount of fun you have is determined by the food I put in my mouth. I’m lucky to have very supportive friends, or, at least, friends who have the sense to talk about my whackadoo diet when I’m not present. :)

  7. says

    And here I thought the girls who were splitting the french toast four ways were the ones with the obsessive health problem…but it gets worse! Not one nibble of famous french toast, huh? Maybe your friends just think you’re boring now.

  8. says

    @Kristen: Food is SO social… and so personal.The key is to change those friendships so they thrive independent of shared desserts and ice cream binges.

    @Jacki: Excellent point. If we’re all grumble-grumble about not being able to drink or not being able to eat gluten, well, that doesn’t make us very fun to dine with, does it? Being positive (or, even better, simply making your own food choices a non-issue) is the best way to convince your friends it’s all about hanging out with them – not the food you share (or don’t share).

    @Melissa A: You are spot-on here – well done. Your job now is convincing them that you’re not missing out or depriving yourself! If they understand YOU are truly happy with YOUR diet, things might get better. Perhaps if you gave them an example – “You know how you don’t like eggplant? You’d never say your diet is deprived because it doesn’t include eggplant – you just don’t like it, so you don’t miss it. Same with me and bread! I don’t miss it, so it’s a non-issue.”

    @Bethany: Next week’s article is for you, then – how to handle these tricky situations with less than supportive (or understanding) friends and family. Stay tuned!

    @Mike: It is not too late – but it’s definitely more challenging with your spouse not on board. Find ways to eat together as much as you can during your transition. Make the same meals for both of you, but maybe she prepares her own side of bread/pasta/rice. Try preparing new foods together, and discover new meals you both enjoy. And rely on friends, our Facebook page (http://facebook.com/whole30), or our Whole30 forum (http://forum.whole9life.com) for support! Best of luck to you.

    @Victoria: Yeah, that one bothers me too. I used to hear it (back in the day) when I chose not to drink. Like I’m only awesome with a few margaritas in me? False, people. False. You’re just mad because my actions are reminding you that maybe you could be doing a little better with the booze-a-pa-looza. Yeah, I guess I’m still a little bitter too. (I’m talking to you, Gina.)

    @Julia: Their french toast really is amazing… but we don’t always think it’s worth it. ;)

    Melissa

  9. says

    I just got back from a big family camping trip, and after about a day of trying to stick to my guns, I failed miserably with my healthy no-sugar no-grains diet I had all of June. By the end of the week, I was back to terrible sugar cravings and un-controllable snacking. I really had two problems here, I think. The first is that Paleo is rather difficult when camping. Sure, you can put meat on a fire, but cooking veggies outside is harder. Just doing the chopping of the veggies can be a pain in the butt if you don’t have the time/table space/kitchen equipment for it. The second is that my family is full of already picky eaters. My brother hates a variety of vegetables. His SO hates eggs and cilantro (not just together, but in anything else). My mother has battled IBS her entire life and can’t eat a wide variety of food: dairy, raw onions, salad greens, etc. My father has type 2 diabetes and has to eat a specific amount of protein and carbs to keep his blood sugar level with his medication…. In the end, it’s just hard to make meals that everybody will eat! I felt so bad going through the grocery store saying “That has sugar… that has sugar… that has sugar…” that I just gave up and decided to eat what everybody else was just to make life easier. :(

  10. Deidre D says

    I have friends that say things like that to me but I think they just think that I am missing out on something amazing by not partaking in the non-paleo “treats”. I don’t think my friends are jealous, trying to sabotage me, don’t respect me or anything like that. I think they genuinely enjoy what they are consuming and want me to enjoy it too.

  11. says

    I was someone’s frenemy once, and never realized what I was doing until I started the whole30. At the time, I knew that I was making unhealthy choices and gaining a lot of weight, and it was difficult to watch my friend staunchly making the best choices for her health everywhere we went (carrots and cauliflower while I dined on a chili-cheese “salad”, for instance).

    Unfortunately, it was too easy to poke fun as she scavenged around a menu for little side-orders and toppings she wanted to eat by themselves, and to giggle at her for her very detailed ordering at restaurants (this sushi roll but can you wrap it in avocado instead of rice and substitute creamed cheese for… etc). It’s no wonder she stopped going out to eat with me! Now that I’m the one studying menus like textbooks and talking my waitress’ ear off with my order, I know exactly how that joking and chiding feels coming from your friends. What helps is to remember my own motivations when I was that “frenemy,” and how little I realized I might be affecting my friend with my remarks.

  12. says

    Deirdre D, I think you hit the nail on the head. I kinda think sentiments like some of those expressed in this article are off the money and seek to make oneself feel better and less lonely- a “they’re the one’s with the problem, not me” kinda mentality.

    I think we can all agree that eating healthier, whole foods in general is the way to go. But when your best friend suddenly can’t see beyond her designs on a super slim waist to realize that a bite or two of a delicious dessert or savory snack won’t wreck them, it just seems like they’re taking it too far. Genuine concern for their whole wellness, not just the wellness of their weight, is often how friends and loved ones react. That’s all!

  13. Michelle says

    My experience with a frenemy is slightly different. A friend of mine lost a lot of weight last year (30kg). Our circle of friends have been really supportive and are super happy that she has done so well and that she is so happy with herself. And of course she has received many compliments. So, a few months ago, I began a Whole 30, which has now turned into a Whole 60 (just a few days to go). I feel incredible! And I have noticeably lost weight.

    You would think my friend who lost weight last year would be thrilled for me, right? As it turns out, she is now barely speaking to me. She is the only one of my friends who hasn’t had anything positive to say about my weight loss or the fact the fact that I am feeling so well (I have fibromyalgia and many of my symptoms have improved out of sight over the last few months – yay!). If I see her at school when I’m dropping my children off, she’ll barely acknowledge me. At a social funtion last week, when a mutual friend said to me “What are you doing?! Seriously, you look so…. vibrant!”, my ‘frenemy’ rolled her eyes and walked away! I’ve kept what I’m doing to myself (unless asked), so its not as if she is sick of me going on about it all the time. I suspect its jealousy and I just feel so disappointed by it all.

    I am very fortunate however that my husband and sister are also eating the same way as me, and all my other friends are happy that I’m feeling so good. So I feel very grateful for that!

  14. Nicole says

    I have fight club like rules when it comes to work/friends and Whole 30…

    1st RULE: You do not talk about Whole 30.

    2nd RULE: You DO NOT talk about Whole 30.

    and I eat my lunch outside. No questions on what I am eating or why.

    My coworkers are crazy nosy. Today someone asked me why I was eating outside, easy red onions and garlic stinks and also none of your beeswax on what I am eating) I have friends all over the food rainbow, vegan, vegetarian and full out SAD eaters. I don’t hate on their diet and I doubt they would hate on my diet but I am not ready to talk about it just yet.

  15. says

    @Kate: And sometimes, that’s the strategy you choose to take. It doesn’t make it right or wrong, only what you decided to do in that particular circumstance. Unfortunately, now you have to reap the consequences – but if the cravings now aren’t anywhere near as bad as making that camping trip that much more difficult because of your food choices, you made the right call.

    @Deirdre and Julia: Those are good points. People often think others have the same tastes/likes/preferences they do (or should, at least). You have to do your best to explain that to you, you’re not really missing out on anything, but thank them for being so sweet as to want to make sure you’re happy.

    As for your example, Julia, I think the person’s motivation makes a difference. If they’re white-knuckling their way through a calorie-restricted diet to try to fit into a pair of skinny jeans, that’s a different story than someone doing a Whole30 to try to fix a medical issue, regain energy, or sleep better. But it’s often hard for people to understand why even a bite of something not allowed on the Whole30 could have potential consequences to health and the process.

    @Michelle: That sucks. Jealousy is hard, and obviously your friend enjoyed being the one in your group that got all the attention. Have you tried asking her about it directly? Something like, “I’ve noticed you go really quiet when people start asking me about my weight loss – have I offended you in some way?” Call her out on it, and maybe it will spark dialogue. (Or maybe you”ll have to ditch the friendship – but at least you’ll know you gave it all you had.)

    @Nicole: I love that rule! Talk about it if and when you are ready, sister. No rush.

    Melissa

  16. Isabelle says

    @ Mike – I have the same issue here – my hubby is not on board 100%. But it does workout for us. When we go out to eat I modify my order – two sides of veggies instead of the usual potatoes/veggies. He always cooks veggies but also rice or other starch, which I skip. When I do cook, I rarely provide no-compliant starch and he either skips it or makes his own if he really wants it. He still drinks crappy drinks which he thinks is better than soda and he still eats really bad food once in a while. I gave up advising him. He knows all about the choices he is making and still chooses those. I decided I am on my own to success.

  17. Jenny says

    “Concern” is the refrain that I hear all the time with my family and in-laws. In addition I do get a surprising amount of pressure at times because some don’t believe in “paleo.” The earth is only so many thousand years old after all. This was an unexpected road block. Even if I avoid discussing any anthropological reasons for this lifestyle, and instead focus on real-world, here-and-now evidence for the benefits of eating Whole30, I still get some push back. (And trust me, if they would leave me alone I wouldn’t even bring up what I’m eating.) The hardest part about the conflict is they have drawn a moral aspect into it and thus by the evangelical “code” feel obligated to try and save me from my choice. Argh. :(

    My response in general to both run-of-the-mill concern and this moral crusade is to COOK. My refrain is “I never feel deprived, always feel great, and here’s why.” Mouths talk less when full of the most delicious paleo recipes I can muster. I will spend a lot of energy gearing up, planning the food so I always have something that we can still share, and conveniently pushing most concern/morals out the window, to be replaced with jealousy. “What? We eat like this all the time.” ;)

  18. Mike says

    Thanks, Melissa, for your encouragement. I discussed it with my wife and she is willing to “watch” me for 30 days and see if there is any improvement. I have set a target date for August 1. We will be on vacation from July 14 until then so I thought that the 1st. would be a good time to start.

  19. Mike says

    Isabelle, It’s a struggle that, with success that’s obvious, will bring our spouses on board. My hope is that with my success it will bring my two grown daughters into the “fold”. I hope to see it happen before they crash and burn with their chosen lifestyles. Preaching doesn’t work and is resented. The proof is in the actual success.. Good luck to you!

  20. says

    @Jenny: This stinks – even when you don’t bring the whole “evolution” argument into it, folks still want to discard the recommendations based on their religious beliefs? I really like the way you choose to handle it, though! Show them you’re not missing out on anything – and that you’re eating natural, healthy foods (and they can too). And perhaps try this line out next time someone comments at the dinner table: “Let’s not talk about food over this delicious meal! How was your weekend?” I’ve found it’s always best not to argue about X while you’re in the middle of X.

    @Mike: I think that’s a cool idea! Now it’s your job to kick the Whole30′s a$$ so she will be so impressed with your amazing results that she will jump on board too. We’re starting our “official” Whole30 on August 1st here on the site, too, so you’ll have tons of support on the forum and Facebook.

    Melissa

  21. Chris says

    Honestly, that type of response from my friends would cause me to dig in my heals. Good or bad, I’d probably throw out something passive aggressive, like “No thanks, I’d like to pass on diabetes or at least the sugar crash this afternoon.”

    @Nicole – I love your fight club rules. I don’t talk about what I eat either and my own mantra is “eyes on your own plate”.

  22. says

    Nice post!

    It isn’t just friends that will attempt to sabotage your efforts either… co-workers (even when they are not specifically friends) will do the same.

    At my previous place of employment, the owner was forever bringing in cookies, chocolates and other non-paleo sugary snacks and pressuring me to eat them. I always declined or just pretended that I had had some.

    I think it was a combination of jealousy and defensiveness as she wasn’t exactly the slimmest woman.

    But in the end I ended up loosing my job over it…. Her husband (she was very possessive) commented that I had lost loads of weight and suggested she ask me how I did it… and all of a sudden, 2 days later they “no longer needed me and didn’t have enough work for 3 therapists”… when all along we were busier than we had ever been. I can’t prove that my loosing 50lb in 5 months was the reason but I strongly suspect that it was. She didn’t even give me any notice – just a final paycheque and hustled me out of the door. Couldn’t get rid of me fast enough.

  23. says

    @Salixisme, maybe she thought you were suffering from an eating disorder. A steady ten pound per month weight loss exceeds general recommendations. That coupled with watching you claim to have eaten snacks you hadn’t may have made her uncomfortable and worried. I’m not saying she should have fired you, but sometimes people aren’t jealous. Sometimes they’re worried and uncomfortable.

  24. Dorg says

    @Julia, I think, from reading all of your comments throughout this chain, that you might be the only non-supportive person on this entire website. Just sayin’!

  25. says

    I do trust all the ideas you’ve introduced on your post. They’re really convincing and will definitely work. Nonetheless, the posts are very quick for starters. May just you please prolong them a bit from subsequent time? Thank you for the post.

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