Help Others Adopt Healthier Habits

Podcast Episode #015: How to Help Others Adopt Healthier Habits

Someone you love just isn't taking care of their own physical health they way you think they should. Maybe they don't eat right or aren't exercising very regularly. Perhaps they've noticed it too - Maybe they really do want to change.

How can you intervene to help them get on the right track? How can you do it in a way that's sensitive and won't hurt any feelings? Or is it your place to do anything at all?

How to Help Others Adopt Healthier Habits [Full Text]

Today, I have a great question from Laura. Let's dive right in. Laura says,

"I've never struggled with my weight. I guess I'm just lucky to have a fast metabolism, but my sister has a completely different body type. She's always been overweight and has especially been struggling with it over the past year or two. It's a touchy subject between us because I want to help her make some changes. She doesn't really exercise or eat well at all, but she doesn't want to hear it from me because I 'don't understand.'

I want to be sensitive, but I also feel like she's given up. Do you have any tips for how I can help her without being too pushy or without hurting her feelings?"

Thanks for writing in, Laura, and you're right. This is a touchy subject. Probably everyone listening has someone in their life that has some sort of health problems that you'd love to see them work through or you'd love to be able to help them through, but at what point is it time to jump in versus at what point is it time to best just let them have their space and come to you if they are actually ready for some help.

I've got an awesome guest today. I'm really excited to have her on the show. This is her specialty. She is a personal trainer. She's a fitness guru, but she really specializes in the psychological side of fitness and getting in shape, and particularly emphasizes the importance of relationships. She's the perfect guest to answer this question. She's also been named as 1 of the 10 most influential females in fitness and was also chosen as 1 of the 15 fitness gurus that you need to follow on Twitter. I'm really excited to welcome our guest today. Let's all welcome Carla Birnberg. Carla, thanks again for joining us today.

Carla: I'm so glad to be here.

Dave: Just so the listeners get a sense of who you are and what you're all about, I was wondering if you could give us just a brief introduction. I was looking at your profile on your website, and you've got some pretty impressive credentials. I saw 1 of the best things was the top 10 most influential females in fitness.

Carla: Yes, I've kind of metamorphosized. I started off just fitness. I went back to school, and I got my Masters in Counseling and couldn't find a job, and was always very into fitness, did some natural body building back in the day, and became a personal trainer, and opened a training studio because it melded those counseling skills with the fitness. That was my kind of first brand. I was Miss Fit, and I was solely fitness. I've since expanded, but it's like even though I say, "I'm only personal development now," the lens through which I view everything is still fitness, always.

Dave: So many of your credentials are fitness based. You've obviously coded a pretty good niche in the past out of the fitness industry.

Carla: Yeah, I think that it's what you know. If you're healthy, however that is defined for you, then everything else falls into place. It's almost like the first step. I've done some life coaching, but it's the first step in any of this is getting healthy, however you define it.

Dave: Actually, that's why I was so excited to have you on the show today. As you saw the question from Laura is it's more than just weight loss. On this show, we typically talk about health and weight loss strategies, but hers really branches out into the psychological component of health. You're the perfect guest to chat about that.

Carla: It's a tough arena.

Dave: You saw her question. Basically, she was saying that she's worried about her sister. Her sister has always struggled with weight, whereas herself, she said she's never really had that problem. She's kind of going through this internal struggle about what do I do without being insensitive towards my sister's feelings, but I want to help her out? What's your instant thought on that?

Carla: It's funny. I remember getting your e-mail with the question to kind of set up the time to do this, and my first thought, at 46 with all the life experience behind me, was but she hasn't asked you for anything. It almost felt like there's no real question there. I know she's worried about her sister. It didn't seem, and correct me if I'm wrong, that there was any real reason for the worry. It wasn't based in any kind of health issues, correct?

Dave: It just sounded like she was worried about the fact that her sister was unhappy with her continual weight problems, maybe nothing like no disease or anything like that that's immediately worrisome.

Carla: I think it's hard because unless someone asks you for help, the conversation you can lead by example. I say this all the time with my 9-year-old because she's now starting to realize, "Oh, not everybody eats chia out of the bag and cacao nibs by the spoonful." My preaching at her would probably backfire, so I just never say a word, and I just practice, don't preach. I know that with friends, with family, and especially when I was a trainer, unless someone was my client, I never said anything.

Unless someone asks you for help, just lead by example.

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Dave: Being in a relationship, because they're family members, for sure that comes up, like you know how it is when you're close with someone. It's pretty tough to avoid the topic of health and wellness, particularly when you're so into it. I know that Laura mentioned that as well, that exercise and healthy eating is a big thing to her. Do you have any tips because I know a lot of the listeners will struggle with that as well? What do you do in those situations when it's a topic of conversation, but you know someone who's in that conversation? It might be a little bit of a sore point.

Carla: It's funny because about to say this, I thought, "Oh, is that passive-aggressive?" Personally, I don't think ... I wouldn't say anything. I might share what it is that I do, but I wouldn't bring anything up specifically targeted at that individual unless they ask. I might ask probing questions which goes back to my counselling degree, "Hey, is this something you guys have thought about trying? We're now walking 5Ks as a family," or something like that, which I guess could be a little passive-aggressive. It's tough.

If someone's constantly lamenting the weight and they wish they could lose weight, I really might just ask, "Is this something that I can help you with, that you want suggestions on," and then sit with the silence and see what they say.

Dave: It sounds like it's pretty important to get that permission to be invited into the conversation before just unsolicitedly giving advice.

Carla: That also opens the door, and I think this is key. What is their language of encouragement? It's been really eye-opening for me. I've lifted weights with my husband for almost 24 years now, and he knows that saying to me, "Come on, 6 more," means that I'm going to quit at 3, like screw it, when I'm done, I'm done. That doesn't encourage me. I think that's the next thing is she says back to you ... What was the e-mailer's name?

Look for others' "language of encouragement"...How will THEY best receive encouragement from you.

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Dave: Laura.

Carla: She has said back to her, "Yes. I've been struggling with this. I'd love any suggestions." The next question really is not how can we change your diet, but how can I support you? What motivates you?

Dave: That brings up an interest point because to use your analogy of exercising with your husband, my wife and I, we used to run together. Just by nature of having longer legs, I think I was always a little bit faster. We'd always come home from the run in a fight because I was "running too fast".

The funny part is since then, she's gone on and become this ultra marathon competitive runner and would leave me in her dust. We don't run together just because it didn't work out. How do you go from that point of someone's identified that they are actually looking for some help? What's sort of that next step?

Carla: For me, the next step would be making a connection with someone else. I would not want to take on my sister as a client back when I was a trainer. I'm a big reader. It depends on ... I think people know whether they are ready or not. If the response is, "Yes, I'm ready to make a change," it's, "Oh, great, this is what I'm doing. Do you want to come with me or how can I encourage you? Do you want to start walking a few mornings a week? Do you want me to go with you? Do you want me to just text you and see how it went after? Do you want me to nudge you in the morning?"

It really comes down to once they've owned they want the change, when you're not their hired professional, it's, "How can I support you in this?"

Dave: Even what you said there is giving a bunch of different specific examples because sometimes saying like, "How can I help you?"; an open-ended question like that isn't actually that helpful.

Carla: Oh, my gosh, and hearing something that wouldn't work for them is really helpful. When they think, "Oh, I had never thought of that. No, I do not want you texting me in the morning. I will let you know when I'm done." That's a good point is that they're just getting into that mindset they might not know, but they'll know what they would dislike.

Dave: Speaking to the other end of the conversation, so to Laura's sister, and I know there's going to be people that are listening to this podcast that are thinking, "I'm in that position. I'm just getting started and don't really know how to start." What would you say to them?

Carla: You cut out for one second. I don't really know how to ...

Dave: How to get started, like I don't know who to ask or sort of what the best way for me to get started. What would you say to those people?

Carla: I think it's really trial and error. If they know where they want to get started as far as, "Oh, I know I want to do crossfit," then it's much easier. "I know I want to do weights. I know I want to be a runner." I really didn't know.

I did, this was back in the day like in the 90s, step aerobics a couple times and realized I hated it. I tried swimming, and I realized I'm never going to maintain this because it was too time-intensive with the water and the wet and the dry. It really took me trying a bunch of things to see what I liked. I know that's what I tell friends and family now is just start. You're not committed to anything. You can change the course, but if you start by doing a weights class, you might realize, "Oh, I hate classes. I love the weights." You'll find out something no matter what it is you start with, even if that's not what you stick with.

Dave: I love that you say that. One of the previous episodes, I think it was Episode #002 of this podcast talks about the best exercise for weight loss, and basically, spoiler alert here, it's whatever you like doing.

Carla: It's what you will do. It's like the cardio before weights or weights before cardio, which is best? I'm like what will you do?

Cardio first? Or Weights? Answer: Whichever YOU will actually do!

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Dave: For those people that are looking for that bite-sized starting piece, because even saying, and I know that this as a personal trainer as well, like you've been saying, "Okay, go to a class or go out for a walk." To someone who exercises a lot like Laura, that might sound like you can obviously do that, but for someone who's not in that routine, that's huge.

Carla: I know. You know what I really do suggest to a lot of friends, especially my peers who have office jobs, and they haven't worked out in years since before kids, is go to the drugstore. Buy a pedometer. Wear it for a day. Don't change anything. See how many steps you have at the end of that day. It could be just a thousand with some of our sedentary lives. Kick it up by 500 for the next day, whether you're pacing the house, walking outside. It starts small.

Set yourself up for success. It's something tangible. You can see the numbers. Go from there. Do that for a month and nothing else.

Dave: I love that, very bite-sized. Don't bite off more than you can chew. That gave us a little bit of a segue where we talked a little bit about exercise. What about the diet piece because I know Laura mentioned that as well, and she said she watches what her sister eats and kind of cringes at some of these food choices. What's a good way to do those little steps?

Carla: It's interesting because when the, and I don't remember the e-mail verbatim, but just the cringing at someone else's food choices, to me, not knowing either woman, it's not about the other person. It's about yourself. There's some layer of ... I hate to use the word because it's so heavy, but judgement there thinking that what you're currently doing to maintain your health or whatever your food choices are are better, not simply different.

I used to focus a lot with clients on from day one, don't change anything. If you were going to Wendy's for the biggie fry, the hamburger, the shake, don't change anything, just add in the salad, starting by adding in health. Don't change anything. I'm looking at my chia on the counter. Add in some chia. I love flax, chia, cacao nibs, easy ways to add in some super foods. Don't change anything the first week or 4, whatever it takes for you to do those baby steps to changes you'll maintain.

Dave: To just challenge you on that then, if someone's going to Wendy's and eating those biggie fries, is adding in some chia or whatever, eating some broccoli, is that going to make a difference?

Carla: I really believe it will because it's the slow steps to change. We all know when we're exercising, invariably we eat better because we don't want to sabotage ourselves. You start it slow by adding in the side salad with your fries. I've watched it happen as crazy as it sounds. Slowly the fries go from biggie to large to regular to I am not giving up my fries. I'll take the small. It's incremental changes because this is what it takes to maintain lifelong. We're not competing. I think if we wanted to be competitive athletes, then it would take bigger changes much more quickly.

When you start exercising you will invariably eat better too. You won't want to sabotage yourself.

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Dave: I love your message. We are speaking the same language here because that idea of thinking long-term is so powerful but at the same time really hard to do for someone who wants to see change quickly.

Carla: It is hard, and I think the biggest life-changing realization for me with everything, health and fitness, but life is you're only as far from where you want to be as your next choice. If you eat the whole package of cookies, that wasn't what you had planned, but your next choice can be a good one, one that brings you back to where you want to be.

You're only as far from where you want to be as your next choice.

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Dave: I'm going to quote you on that. I love that quote. Can you say that again?

Carla: So true, and it's true with my world of work. It's really true. I don't think you have kids, do you?

Dave: No, no kids yet.

Carla: It's true with parenting. If I snap at my daughter, and I was like ooh, that is not who I want to be. I'm never as far from the parent I want to be as my next action. It's true for every part of life.

Dave: I love that. Right there, everyone who's listening, we just got a big win just from that quote.

Carla: It's altering. Yes, it really has helped me.

Your "10 in 4" Takeaway

Dave: We like to keep this show really short and very actionable. One thing that I like to do at the end is give what's called a "10 in 4 takeaway". This is just something that's immediately actionable for anyone that's listening. Maybe we can do even two because there's sort of two groups we're talking about here. Let's start with someone who wants to start to change, maybe like Laura's sister who's voiced some discomfort or displeasure with how they currently are. What's their takeaway for today? They can ...

Carla: It sounds easy to me, feels easy to say start tomorrow. Get the pedometer. Get moving. I also believe we can get where we're going alone ... This is not my quote. I can't remember who said it, but we get there faster when we go together, so for me it will be bringing in the sister as the accountability partner. I don't know how I'm going to do this, but I know I'm going to need help telling somebody.

Dave: Again, you're right on. The weight loss program that I run, people always ask like how are people getting such crazy results from this. My answer is always there's no magic secret here. All we're doing is bringing together people who are on the same path. Once you have that accountability, it does itself. That's great advice.

For the other side of it, for anyone out there who has someone in their life, and they're genuinely worried. I know we talked about the difference sort of between being judgmental and being concerned, but for people who are genuinely concerned about the health of someone in their life, their 10 in 4 takeaway today, they should ...

Carla: Invite. Invite them to come along with you when you take a walk. Invite them over to help you prepare a healthy meal. Invite them, and if you're really concerned, like you said, it's much more of a health issue, don't stop.

Dave: Again, just not to dive right in. You need to have that invitation to be part of the conversation.

Carla: Yes, and people know intent. With people, with everything, it's about intent, and when you love someone and that's why you're making the offer, they may bristle at first, but when it comes from a place of love, I think you've got to keep doing it.

Dave: Words of wisdom. Carla, that's it. Nice and quick and so helpful. This is why I asked you as opposed to me giving advice. You're the expert in this field.

Carla: I loved it. I can't wait to listen to the rest of your podcasts, too.

Dave: Awesome, and hopefully we can have you back sometime.

Carla: I would love it.

Dave: Thanks.

Carla: Thank you.

Dave: Thanks so much to Carla, again, for joining us. She had some amazing tips, and you can definitely tell why I invited her on this show. She is just full of knowledge when it comes to getting in shape and sort of combining that mental and physical aspect of health and fitness.

If you're interested in hearing more or learning more about Carla's fitness journey and some of her suggestions for others who are interested in getting into great shape, I highly recommend that you check out her book. It's called "What You Can When You Can", and it goes along with #wycwyc (again, What You Can When You Can).

I love this so much it actually inspired me to create a bunch of workouts based on this principle just do what you can when you can. It doesn't have to be a full-blown workout. It doesn't have to be an overhaul of your diet.

Like we talked about today, it's all about starting with little bite-sized steps that are leading us in the right direction. In the show notes, I'll have a link in to her book, and it's definitely worth checking out. Thanks again for joining me, and I'll see you again next time.

Thanks for joining me today!

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