"Crabs in a barrel, crabs in a barrel....."
My client kept repeating this phrase when I asked about the progress of the eating plan we had laid out together.
When she saw I wasn't following her, she broke it down for me. "Every time I try to eat healthy or keep up with my exercise program, my husband brings home a cake, donuts or something I love. Things that he knows I shouldn't be eating. He will ask me over and over if I want it, until I finally crumble. It's like crabs in a barrel, if one tries to get out the other crabs just pull it back down."
When we have a contagious illness, usually we try to minimize contact with other people. We'll stay home from work or school, avoid shaking hands, hugging and similar activities. In more extreme cases a government agency may enforce a quarantine that limits the movement and isolates a person or group of people.
Lifestyle or non communicable disease is the biggest killer of people each year in industrialized countries. But is lifestyle contagious? Not in the most literal sense of the word but if we look at how lifestyle related disease is spread, we can in fact call it contagious. It spreads from person to person, in families, in communities and across our planet.
It's a simple matter of looking at our own lives. If your group of friends is sedentary, how likely is it that they will want to join you for a bike ride, paddle boarding, dancing or a hike? On the other hand, if you have a group of fit and active friends, how likely are they to gather around coffee and donuts and gossip for several hours on a regular basis? If your children are introduced to sugary snacks as rewards, eating as entertainment, and are limited in their outdoor time and activities, how likely is it that they will develop healthy habits later on as adults?
The truth is that what we do deeply affects those around us. Coworkers tend to share eating habits, families share eating and movement habits and even communities tend to reinforce certain habits.
I love to ask "What if" questions. We all have reasons/excuses on why we don't adopt the healthy habits we say we want in our lives. What if everyone decided that whether or not we adopt the habits that we say we want, we make a conscious effort not to sabotage someone else's health goals? How would that "change the game"? What if:
1) We never offered sugary snacks to our overweight or borderline diabetic family or coworkers?
2) What if we decided not to roll our eyes when our partner said they wanted to lose weight, even if we've heard it a thousand times? What if we committed our support no matter how many times they've failed.
3) What if we took the kids to the park, a museum or the beach instead of only out for sugar each time we enjoy free time with them?
Ok, well done. The next level would be "what if instead of sabotage we offered encouragement instead?"
Being supportive of healthy habits could include:
- Be a very careful listener. Ask questions like "That sounds really great, what got you motivated to make changes? How can I help you stay on track? What do you plan to do to reach your goals?" Questions encourage your loved one to do the talking. They need someone to offer encouragement and really hear them.
- Don't buy or offer something that they already told you they're trying to avoid. If you have an office full of overweight people, you can skip the trip to the donut shop.
- Don't assign yourself the job of "food police". They need to be able to develop discipline on their own, not have you watching their every move. Offer advice only when asked.
- Be open and communicate freely. If you have been a saboteur in the past (I'm talking to myself here) admit it, and explain how you plan to avoid repeating the same behavior and becoming more supportive. For example, not making large amounts of food and getting twisted up and trying to make your family feel guilty for not eating all of it. Perhaps you no longer offer someone that last serving spoon of food just because it doesn't seem like enough to store in the fridge even though they're full.
- What if we no longer indulged in sabotage, what if we supported the healthy habits of our children, relatives, partners, coworkers and friends? What would that look like? How would that change the face our community?
Could the following become our new normal? :
- More people outside walking together, families spending time at the park, beaches and hiking trails.
- More bike paths on the streets.
- Less children suffering from obesity, diabetes and behavioral problems.
- More adults with healthy joints, muscles and less depression, obesity and heart disease.
- Less financial strain from health related problems.
- More music, dancing and laughter.
This not only can happen, it is happening in families and communities around the world. Why not include your circle of family and friends in this trend? Workoholics, couch potatoes, sugar fiends, and those addicted to stress/drama, can we stop spreading our virus' now? Let's avoid sabotaging healthy habits. Instead, let's encourage healthy habits and enjoy the benefits together.
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
"Every act of attention and imagination is potentially contagious..it makes a difference whether we attend to substance or junk...use your sensation and experience as a contribution to the tribe. Create meaning that's worth sharing." - Frank Forencich , author of Exuberant Animal
“Be an Encourager: When you encourage others, you boost their self-esteem, enhance their self-confidence, make them work harder, lift their spirits and make them successful in their endeavors. Encouragement goes straight to the heart and is always available. Be an encourager. Always.” - Roy T. Bennett
All the best,
Bodywork, Movement & Holistic Lifestyle Design
Want to take your health to the next level?
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, let's talk about solutions.
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recommended beginner activity: Become aware of what you do to sabotage health goals of those around you. If you don't currently sabotage anyone to the best of your knowledge, ask yourself if you have indulged in any sabotage in the past. Become aware and learn how to spot this behavior in yourself and others.
recommended advanced activity: When you are aware of sabotage in your habits and others, make a commitment to avoid that behavior. Avoid sabotage and control. Learn to mind your own business and focus on your own health goals to set an example for those you love. Walk your talk.
It's not your age, it's your lifestyle.