Being healthy is hard…
And in more ways than one.
Sure, exercising every day and staying away from those pesky sweets and unhealthy eats is tough enough in itself, but you might find that following a meal and fitness plan isn’t your only worry while traveling along that path to wellness. So here’s the real truth:
Living a healthy lifestyle can be pretty darn lonely.
In fact, it’s downright ISOLATING at times.
Until now, I haven’t openly discussed this dirty little secret on the blog– but I feel as though it’s a worthwhile topic to address because I know I’m not the only person who can relate to this feeling of isolation. With so many social activities out there revolving around eating and drinking, it’s a struggle to find the appropriate balance between friends, family, fun, and fitness– heck…I’m still working on it every single day. Throw an even more specific lifestyle choice into the mix– such as veganism, vegetarianism, gluten-free, raw, Paleo, and/or alcohol-free diets (etc…)– and forget about it. Things just got way complicated for you social life.
See, as human beings it’s natural to WANT to fit in. This can help explain why we feel so much discontent when people place unwanted attention on our differences or make us feel like the odd one out in a group (for more information about the psychology of conformity, check out this link). When you make the decision to embark on a personal wellness journey, you may find yourself internalizing this even more– especially if the people around you have different lifestyle plans or agendas for themselves (just check out this post about how I first navigated going vegan).
The point is, whether good or bad all change is pretty uncomfortable at first– for both you and the people you surround yourself with. If you’re cutting back on unhealthy foods and alcohol because you want to revitalize your body and lose a few stubborn pounds, you can expect that your best friend might get a little ticked off when you suddenly don’t want to go out for “Margarita Monday” anymore. In the same vein, your mom might be pretty offended when you turn down her famous made-from-scratch red velvet cake, and your boyfriend might be bummed out that Mexican night has died because you’re trading in cheesy nachos and sour cream for a Whole Foods run and a spin class after work. No wonder you’re stressing girlfriend–talk about pressure !
When you reach this uncomfortable juncture, your brain gets busy trying to make everything feel alright again. I find that one of two things will typically happen in this situation:
You throw away all of your progress and hard work altogether by giving in to peer pressure for the sake of fitting in, making things “easier,” and avoiding the dreaded “guilt-trip.”
You isolate yourself completely and avoid all social situations that make you to feel judged or require you to fall off the wellness wagon.
Now, neither of these situations are ideal. In fact, they both have the potential to carry some pretty heavy consequences. First of all, you’re apt to feel an overwhelming sense of guilt when you don’t follow your healthy lifestyle plan–not to mention you may partake in some unsafe measures to negate your slip-up (like drastically restricting calories or binge exercising). Second of all, your relationships with your friends and family are bound to suffer if you keep playing the “excuses game.” This will only leave you feeling more lonely and depressed as time goes on– especially when your friends stop calling you to hang out altogether because they assume you’ll just say no (I know I’ve developed a serious case of the “FOMOs” (that’s short for “fear of missing out” for those wondering ) once or twice after seeing a friend’s photo from ”Girls’ Night Out” pop up on my Facebook or Instagram feeds sans little old Ashley).
The point is, many people– myself included– struggle with this “all or nothing” attitude when it comes to health and wellness.
Some people fall into patterns that are a bit more extreme and they attempt to protect themselves from social situations and negative judgements though isolation, while others feel as though they’re in a constant cycle of self-sabotage and failure because their wellness plans keep getting interrupted or postponed. So what’s a girl to do? You want to get healthy, hot, and fit so you feel and look amazing inside and out, but you don’t want to sacrifice fun or friendships. First thing’s first–you’ve got to put things in perspective…
Here’s what’s really happening when the people around you learn about the lifestyle changes you’re making…
Your friend/boyfriend/family/coworker is feeling threatened:
1.) Put quite simply, your friends and family are afraid you’ll change too much. Remember, these are the people who love you for WHO YOU ARE NOW–vegan, Paleo, 10 lbs heavier/skinnier, fit or not–and they’re afraid you’ll go find new people like you to accommodate your new lifestyle, or you’ll suddenly think you’re better than them altogether. As long as these relationships are not toxic to your health, you and I both know that this isn’t going to happen– so remind them !
2.) There’s also a chance that specific people in your life know deep down that they should be thinking about getting healthy and fit themselves– but perhaps they’re not ready. Your lifestyle change is only serving to reinforce what they already know they should be focusing on. As a result, these people might (unintentionally) take their inner angst out on you by putting down your new lifestyle or making you feel bad.
3.) Lastly– in many cultures people (especially family) show their affection and feel a great sense of pride through cooking food for the ones they love (Italian families, I’m looking at you!). It makes sense then, that much of the frustration your loved ones may express regarding a new dietary plan/lifestyle change could really be the internal fear that they won’t be able to take care of you or provide for you anymore. Explain to your loved ones that just because you don’t want grandma’s lasagna anym0re…it doesn’t mean you don’t LOVE your grandma! Remind them that you can bond over all sorts of things–movies, photos, lunch or dinner out at a restaurant so you can pick your own meals (etc…). And if you really need some extra ammo to prove being healthy CAN be fun and taste good after all…just whip up a batch of your favorite vegan cookies and win them over that way .
Your friend/boyfriend/family/coworker doesn’t understand– and they don’t want to:
1.) You have to accept that you’re going to run into people who just don’t get it, and no matter what you do or say…they aren’t going to have a magical revelation and whip up green smoothie for breakfast or accompany you to Friday night yoga. Try not to take it personally. More importantly, don’t shove your healthy agenda down their throats– it will only make them resent this “new you” or the healthy ideas you have even more (plus–the last thing you need to hear while embarking on a new wellness journey is someone else putting down the choices that aim to make you a happier, better version of yourself).
2.) Likewise, if you sense your colleagues want to roll their eyes every time you start talking about kickboxing or cross-fit– don’t talk about kickboxing or cross-fit ! It sounds silly to have to censor yourself and not talk about the things you’re passionate about, but if doing so will strain your relationships sometimes (sadly) it’s best to just keep mum. Remember, you can choose your friends but you probably can’t choose your boss or your co-workers. Stick to business in the office or try engaging in conversation about different topics–after all, health and wellness is just one facet of your beautiful, wonderful self. If someone is truly interested in your protein shake regimen or daily lunch runs, they’ll ask you! Do your health and wellness thing and let them do theirs–who knows– maybe someone will surprise you and you’ll meet a new fitness buddy that way.
3.) If you’re vegan/vegetarian (etc…) and your Dad still insists on asking whether you want a hamburger or a hot dog at the next family cookout– laugh it off or ask him to grill you up the BEST veggie burger you’ve ever had. Some people may not acknowledge that you’re eating habits are here to stay (remember, you’re making lifestyle changes, not starting a crash diet), but you can humor them by not letting it get to you. Instead of focusing on the things you CAN’T eat…focus on the things you CAN. For example, you could simply say something like this:
- “Thanks anyways! I’m really looking forward to a tasty veggie burger, a HUGE salad, and a baked sweet potato YUM!”
And/or change the subject…
- “Did you SEE that unbelievable baseball game last night! GO SOX!”
4.) It can be quite challenging– not to mention frustrating– when your significant other is not on board with your healthy lifestyle changes. When the person who is supposed to love and cherish you no matter what doesn’t agree with something that’s truly important to you, it hurts! First, try explaining the reasons for your shift:
- So you can feel more confident/sexy, so you can be a happier person for your significant other.
- So you can love yourself as much as you love your partner.
- So you can live a long and healthy life with your loved one
5.) SAY YOU’RE HAPPY . The next time someone starts getting cheeky about your healthy lifestyle– stop the conversation before either one of you gets heated and just say “You know, this is really working for me and I’ve never been happier!” (end scene!). Oftentimes this is the best way to get people off your back. I mean, what kind of person will argue with that response?? (And if you find someone who does— they aren’t worth your time anyways. TRUST me).
Now you understand what’s happening with the people around you when you make a big lifestyle shift, so what’s next?
Make a (Healthy) Game Plan!
1.) Revamp Girls’ Night Out:
Evaluate your goals and situation accordingly. Can’t bear the idea of missing a GNO? Make a plan ahead of time! There’s no need to cut off your important friendships because you’re afraid of self-sabotage. If you know you are going to feel terrible about yourself after an evening of fruity cocktails and late night drunken pizza–SET BOUNDARIES FOR YOURSELF SO THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN! I personally love using the myfitnesspal app on my iPhone to plan out my day when I know I have an event of some sort where I could be tempted to stray away from my healthy meal plan. This way, you can allocate yourself a glass (maybe two ) of red wine, a healthy veggie-based dinner, and perhaps a light appetizer without throwing calorie caution to the wind.
Another tip? Make sure you are the FIRST to order! Studies have shown that when ladies dine together in a group setting, if the first person orders a healthy meal, the others are more likely to follow suit. Coincidentally, this goes the other way too! If someone orders and unhealthy meal first…the other ladies in the bunch are more likely to order in a similar fashion. While it’s certainly okay to indulge every now and then, there’s no need to go overboard and tax your body when it’s been doing so well! Perhaps you can even suggest the restaurant spot and pick a place that has a range of healthy options on the menu already.
2.) Date Night!
When people are in love, the last thing on their minds are calories and (most ) cardio. Along with all the fancy dinners, comfort food, and sharable desserts for two, morning snuggles and breakfast in bed often take precedence over working out when you’re in a relationship. Suddenly, you might find yourself getting a teensy bit soft and fluffy– just like that amazing cinnamon roll from your fav brunch spot down the street…oopsie! Again, while there’s a time and place for indulging, it’s not healthy (or sustainable) to do this all the time. Use the same strategy that you devised for your girls’ night– seek out healthier menus, come up with a meal plan accordingly, and opt for a nice post- dinner cup of coffee or tea at a cute little café instead of splitting that molten lava cake. There’s no need to write off date night altogether– just be smart about it. Remember, if you truly love someone, you should want them to be healthy and happy too. Who knows, your behavior might just rub off on your significant other and open the doors for all kinds of new and healthy date night activities! (Picnic in the park, star-gazing, daytime road trips…the list goes on!)
3.) Work Events:
Ah work events. These can be a bit tricky– especially when you have no choice but to attend. It doesn’t help that corporate dinner parties are best known for their extravagant spreads of not-so-healthy foods. And in addition to the artisan cheese platters, bacon-wrapped scallops, and greasy steak frites, you can usually count on some pretty tempting dessert trays and plenty of alcohol to boot. Be cognizant of the fact that you may need to exercise some serious restraint with all this free food hanging around. But no need to panic my prettyfitlifers! The best way to combat unhealthy cravings is by filling up on healthy, filling, food before hitting the buffet.
My suggestion? Have an organic apple and a small garden salad squeezed with lemon prior to your event. The fiber will fill your belly right up and help you to stay away from overindulging. Once at the event, scope out the food situation and pick a couple of healthy appetizers to nosh on. If the meal is a sit-down dinner, check out the menu and try to select the smartest dinner option– you don’t need to worry about eating the whole thing. If you feel comfortable, ask the waiter/waitress to make a few changes (steam or grill veggies instead of sautéing them, ask for dressing on the side, and hold the sauce etc…). It’s also quite common for people to become anxious at fancy work events and eat mindlessly. Be aware of yourself when this happens and practice focusing your attention back to the interesting conversation and surroundings. Grab yourself a vodka soda or a seltzer with a lemon wedge and enjoy the night.
On the other end of the spectrum, if there are really no healthy or appropriate dietary options available at your event, you may worry about being scrutinized for not eating anything at all (after all, the rules of society say “social events are for eating!”). This is the situation I find myself in most often– and it is definitely a huge source of stress and discomfort for me to this very day. The fear of unwanted attention and judgement is enough to make me want to skip out altogether (and sometimes I do) but I know that’s the easy way out and not always the best way to handle these uncomfortable situations. The first thing to do? STOP worrying about what you think other people think!
Personally, one of my biggest concerns when it comes to my vegan diet is the fear that other people will assume I’m stuck up or high maintenance. What I wish people would see is that I’m friendly and outgoing and love to chat and make new friends when I don’t feel anxious about people passing judgement. So, let that person shine through! Get out of your comfort zone and engage in conversation, because that’s really what most events (work or social) are all about– networking and making connections! If someone calls you out, explain that you’re vegan/vegetarian/trying to be healthier and you ate before the event so you could still attend and enjoy everyone’s company. If you don’t feel comfortable with that, just say you have food allergies and they’ll most likely step off. Another trick? Fill your purse with some healthy snacks (trail mix, granola bars, apple wedges, cucumber slices, dates etc…) so you have something to munch on every now and then and plan to make yourself a nice, healthy dinner when you get home (or whip up a quick protein shake if it’s too late to prepare a full meal).
4.) Try something new!
There are so many fun things to do with your friends, significant other, and family members that don’t involve dirty martinis and cake to the face (I know, shocking right? ). This is your time to be creative! Get outside and go exploring, take a long walk, go for a run, hit the beach, get a massage, or try a trendy fitness class. Go to the movies, visit a museum, sign up for a painting/cooking/belly dancing course, test out a vegan restaurant, or host a healthy dinner party/potluck at your place. The options are endless! And don’t be afraid to pick an activity that doesn’t revolve around food!
5.) Cut toxic ties/Create new relationships:
As I mentioned before, if someone in your circle is consistently doing more harm than good, it could be time to let go. That doesn’t mean you have to cut off all communication with this person forever, but if their mere presence is triggering and stressful– that’s not a positive or happy relationship to be in. Remember, relationships are about being with the people you care about, enjoying conversation, and connecting on a deeper level no matter what you do (some of the best times I’ve ever had with friends involved sitting on a couch in our pajamas while doing absolutely nothing at all except being with each other). Forget about the people who don’t understand and instead, surround yourself with positive people who do! This is also an excellent opportunity for you to meet new people and make some new friends who share the same passions as you. Chat up that cool girl who totally rocks it in your fitness class, or reach out to some fellow bloggers or Instagrammers. Do a search online to see if your city hosts any health and fitness related conferences, networking opportunities, meet-ups, or free activities in the area. I know my city (Boston) hosts all kinds of vegan events and I’m sure yours does too .
Now, I hope you understand that this post is NOT meant to steer you away from a healthy lifestyle by any stretch of the means– if anything, I hope it serves as a reality check that YES, being healthy is pretty damn tough when we’re living in a not so healthy world– BUT IT’S NOT IMPOSSIBLE!
Yes, you WILL have to try harder.
Yes, you WILL have to plan.
Yes, you WILL be uncomfortable.
And YES, you will have to work to strike a proper balance between your healthy lifestyle and your social life.
In the end, however, you are the only one who is capable of gauging what works best for you. And you know what? No matter what you do, if it feels right it will pay off in the end– I promise. In the meantime, if you’re looking to meet another BFF who loves kale and cardio as much as a kid loves candy…REACH OUT TO ME! I’m always looking to expand my network. And if you live in the Boston area, a lunch date to Life Alive is in order. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Keep on keeping on my prettyfitlifers!