Discussions around optimal nutrition and healthy living continue to be at the forefront of our culture and, despite the smorgasbord of niches to choose from, the end goal of all the different movements is the same: to help others improve their health and better their lives. For instance, vegans are helping to shift the world in a more benevolent, ethical, and sustainable direction, during a time when it has arguably never been more relevant or important. Paleo advocates are helping to reconnect people with the primal, pre-agricultural, way of eating, removing excessively processed and industrialized foods. The “all foods fit” crowd aims to teach intuitive eating, combat calorie and body obsession, and cultivate a more balanced relationship between consumers and food. All of these approaches, though contrasting in many ways, are focused on helping people live their best lives in one way or another.
However, as with many causes, those of us who embrace the role of helping others improve their health are sometimes met with friction in the form of societal pressures and stereotypes, long-standing cultural norms and traditions, differing opinions, or other personal obstacles.
As a vegan, people often ask me how to handle health-related conversations with others when the subject matter becomes challenging, and I’ve found a lot of guidance in Dale Carnegie’s famous book, How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written in 1937, the messages still ring true and can be applied to encourage health empowerment in a constructive way.
1. Don’t criticize, condemn, or complain.
Remember that we’re all human. We are creatures of emotion, and our response to criticism is often defensiveness rather than an immediate openness to change. Every conversation should be conducted with inclusion, rather than condemnation, in mind. Converse on an even playing field. Save your activist persona for activism events and your clinical lecturer persona for clinical lectures.
2. Arouse in the other person an eager want.
Figure out how to combine your desire to lead others toward a certain lifestyle with things they want, thereby creating a relationship that is mutually beneficial. Take, for example, a friend who wants to live more sustainably and minimize his carbon footprint. He already recycles and bikes to work instead of driving, but he still wants to do more for the planet. This would be a great opportunity to suggest ways that he can make his diet more sustainable, by reducing his consumption of animal products, and helping him understand the connection to his personal lifestyle goals. You get to spread the word about the environmental benefits of a vegan lifestyle, and he gets to reduce his carbon footprint. Win-win.