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Encourage Healthy Eating Without Becoming the “Food Police”

By Karen Asp , ,

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You mean well. Your aim, after all, is to support and encourage your loved one with diabetes to adopt healthier eating habits. So you suggest that slice of pizza might not be the best way to celebrate the end of a long workweek. Or you hint that a doughnut is a big no-no. But what you intend as support may come off as intrusive or nagging to someone who’s managing the many demands of living with diabetes on a daily basis. And that can be frustrating for both of you.

The truth is, change is hard. For caregivers, “it’s not only close to impossible to change somebody, it’s also disrespectful,” says Jill Weisenberger, RDN, CDE, a dietitian and diabetes educator in Newport News, Virginia, and author of Prediabetes: A Complete Guide: Your Lifestyle Reset to Stop Prediabetes and Other Chronic Illnesses. “Telling people what to do often makes them feel like they’re being shamed or not smart or responsible enough, and guilt and shame can hold people back, even make them rebel.”

Instead, approach a given situation with compassion. Your goal isn’t to police, preach, or pass judgment but rather to encourage. Read on for five times you may find yourself playing food police—and strategies for encouraging without judgment.

Situation:
Your husband’s dietitian laid out a diabetes-friendly eating plan, but at the end of a long workday, he seeks out your stash of cookies and snacks until dinner.

Strategy:
Ditch the cookies—or at least hide them so that it’s all but impossible for him to succumb to temptation—and stock your kitchen with healthy foods. Research shows that having nutritious foods in plain view can encourage healthier eating, so place bowls of fresh fruit on the counter and move fresh veggies to eye level in the fridge. Consider meal timing, too, as a late dinner could be driving your husband to nosh until dinnertime. And be a team player. “You’ll have more luck getting somebody to do something if you model that behavior,” says Elizabeth Snyder, CDE, a certified diabetes educator at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Diabetes Research Center in Columbus. That means joining your husband in having veggie sticks as a snack or a piece of fruit for dessert.

Situation:
Your son with type 2 is struggling to follow a healthy eating plan. You can serve nutritious meals at home, but you can’t keep tabs on everything he eats at school or with his friends.

Strategy:
Before you criticize your son for straying from his eating plan, put yourself in his shoes: He can’t eat what he used to, and that can seem wholly unfair. Rather than preaching about why fairness doesn’t matter when it comes to his health, validate his feelings by acknowledging that it must be difficult to change, especially since his friends don’t have to watch what they eat, Snyder says. Then teach him what healthy eating means and how he can do that around his friends without feeling like an oddball.

Weisenberger suggests doing some role playing. “Ask your child what ideas he has to deal with this, as he may be aware of more opportunities for change than you are,” she says. But know that you can only do so much. “You can’t always dictate what your kids will eat,” says Weisenberger. Parents have greater influence over younger children’s meals, regardless of whether they have diabetes. But that can change as your son ages and starts making meal decisions for himself. In the end, Weisenberger says, “you have to accept that [kids are] going to eat things you wish they wouldn’t.”

Situation:
Your significant other, who has type 1 diabetes, seems to eat whatever she wants, regardless of carb content. But when you talk to her about reducing carbs, she gets defensive.

Strategy:
What you intend to be loving concern may sound like scolding or condescension to her. After all, perhaps she’s covering those extra carbs with insulin, so her blood glucose remains within goal range.

If her high A1C has you worried, pick your words carefully before you give advice. Try expressing your emotions using “I” statements. “Rather than saying, ‘You shouldn’t be eating that,’ say something like ‘Because I care about you and love you, I’m worried when I see that you’re not following the diet plan you’re supposed to,’ ” Weisenberger says.

Even more important, know that what your partner eats isn’t your responsibility. As hard as this may be to swallow, it isn’t your job to fix somebody but rather to offer support, something Weisenberger has learned in her career as a dietitian. “My job isn’t to make somebody eat healthy but instead help them decide what to eat,” she says. The same theory applies here. Provide support for your partner. You might suggest she meet with a dietitian or a support group where she can get recommendations on how to eat healthier. But don’t fall into the trap of trying to dictate your significant other’s diet.

Situation:
Your mom wants to lose weight before your wedding in six months, but she continues to follow old eating patterns, which is why you find yourself blurting out things such as, “You’ll never lose weight if you keep eating like that!”

Strategy:
Ask how you can help. This is the one thing people often forget to do, but it’s crucial, says Weisenberger. Mention that you want to support her in her weight-loss journey but need her input on how to do that. Would it help to plan a week’s worth of meals together? Go grocery shopping together? Finding out how you can assist your mom could move her closer to the changes she needs to make.

Also talk with her about her motivation for losing weight. Beyond looking good on your wedding day, what other benefits does she hope to achieve? To prevent complications? Live without medicine? Be there for the grandkids? Rather than focusing on what she’s eating, look for ways to remind her of what’s motivating her, especially if she slips back into old behaviors. “It can be hard for a person with diabetes to remember their motivators, largely because they have so much to do in a day’s time to manage their condition,” Snyder says.

Situation:
At a dinner party, an acquaintance with diabetes has loaded his plate with high-carb foods such as pasta and pie.

Strategy:
Keep quiet. “You may think that something is off limits, but your friend with diabetes may have worked out a suitable way to eat those foods,” Weisenberger says. What you may not realize, for instance, is this acquaintance ate a low-carb breakfast and lunch to indulge at dinner without straying from his daily carb goals. On the other hand, if you think your friend is struggling with his diabetes and/or what to eat, it’s okay to say something when there’s no food around. You might ask if he’s having trouble making his eating plan work and if you can help make it easier for him. “Be curious and supportive, not judgmental,” she adds. “But don’t assume you know best.” 

 

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