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Setting Up Rules for Family “Normal” Eating

  • Eating

I’ve been talking with a client about moving herself and her family away from unhealthy eating to a more “normal”, healthy lifestyle. As I told her, it’s quite simple but not quick and easy. What I mean is that there are concrete actions to take, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will be on board right away. Here are my suggestions for making the transition from a way of eating that doesn’t serve your family to one that does.

Be clear on your goals: If you’re generating the transition, think long and hard about your goals and how you got to the place you’re in with food. Notice that I’m not using the word “switch” which implies going from here to there quickly. It’s better to think in terms of transition over time. Write down five goals for your family, for example: Eat together as a family X number of times/week, slow down eating, no eating in front of screens (large or small), focus on health goals not weight, and have weekly check-ins to see how things are going. You want to be clear about your goals for the family, so give yourself time to make sure they’re what you want and that they’re doable.

Set family goals: When you’re clear about your goals, present them to all family members and ask for feedback. Plan at least 30 minutes for this discussion. Ask forand make sure you get each person’s opinion on how these goals sound to them. Fish for ambivalence. It’s there and it’s your job to bring it out. Change goals to fit your family’s needs and make sure everyone buys in. Stress consistency over perfection.

Discuss benefits of and barriers to change: Often when people think about improving their eating, their thoughts turn to what they’ll be giving up. Focus on what you’ll be getting such as pride and better health. A sense of accomplishment. Group health and happiness. Ask what barriers would prevent the family from reaching their goals as a team and come up with ways to overcome barriers, especially how to find pleasure and reduce stress. Without alternative activities, you won’t succeed.

Make a plan: Schedule weekly activities for fun and stress reduction as a family. Make these “no excuses” activities (except for illness). This is particularly crucial for families in which there is chaos and everyone is doing their own thing and the unit lacks a sense of cohesiveness. Make a stiff enforcement penalty. Lay out a weekly schedule each week on when meals, fun, and physical activity will happen.   

Plan and adhere to weekly meetings: Agree on a time when the family (all members must be there) will meet for 20-30 minutes to share positive changes and problem-solve. Continue these meetings every week until new habits are ingrained.