DAY 24: Enablers, saboteurs and asserting your right to live the way you freaking want to live
Enablers, saboteurs and asserting your right to live the way you freaking want to live
Maybe saboteurs are just enablers with a fancier French spelling; either way the effect is the same.
These folks come in many forms, each with their own set of challenges. Let’s look at who they are, what their strategies are for undermining your stated goals, and why they do what they do.
First let me say, I like to give saboteurs the benefit of the doubt. I like to assume that they’re unaware of the destructive nature of their behavior, probably because they’re not tuned in to their own motives.
While that may be true, it doesn’t let us off the hook. Just like everything else having to do with food addiction recovery, we need to be aware of negative external influences and have a plan ready to thwart them.
And frankly it’s not their responsibility to ensure that we maintain our recovery. It certainly helps if others are supportive and we have a right to ask for what we need to be successful, but ultimately we must be accountable for what we put in our mouths.
So who are the usual saboteurs? They could be:
- Your spouse
- Your kids
- Your grandma (or other relatives)
- Your co-worker(s)
- Your BFF (or other friend you indulge with)
Let’s start with …
- Your spouse. What the hell do you do if you and your husband (or wife) aren’t on the same page as you move toward overcoming your food addiction?
Again, let’s assume that they’re unconscious of how their behavior undermines your efforts.
Maybe he brings unhealthy treats home because that’s always been the custom in your house and because he still wants them. It’s totally reasonable to ask that he either leave these treats at his office (or even in his car) or that he enjoy them away from home.
If the temptation is too great to have your trigger foods at home, then don’t.
I can’t tell you how many years I played the guilt card on myself, telling myself that I shouldn’t deny my husband and kids the treats they loved simply because I couldn’t control myself. Screw shouldn’t! It really doesn’t matter whether I should be able to or not; I can’t. Simply acknowledging that fact and then establishing an “unhealthy food does not cross my threshold” policy at my house means that I don’t have to struggle when I’m at home. My home is 100% my safe haven.
What about the husband or wife who continues to cook unhealthy meals, even though you’ve stated your intention to eat in a way that’s healthy for you? If you’ve been clear about the fact that you can’t eat meals loaded with salt, sugar and unhealthy fat anymore and your SO is still cooking this way, it’s time to do some edu-macating. Do meal planning together, go grocery shopping together, maybe even take a cooking class together. Now’s the time for you both to learn some new, healthier cooking methods and familiarize yourselves with healthier ingredients.
Finally, what if your husband or wife continues to eat unhealthy food in front of you, knowing you can’t have it, knowing you don’t want to be tempted by it? I’m gonna be completely honest here, this just pisses me off. This is type of defiant, childish behavior is utterly disrespectful and should not be tolerated under any circumstances.
There, now that I got that off my chest, let’s agree that there’s still room for compassionate dialogue in this scenario.
It’s entirely possible that your husband or wife feels threatened. Your decision to eat healthier may stand in opposition to the choices they’re making, which makes them feel like you’re judging their choices as inferior. They fear that your rejection of their behavior is, by extension, a rejection of them.
It’s also possible they fear you’ll leave them if you get trim and healthy, or you’ll leave them because you’re dissatisfied in your relationship. Though these fears may seem groundless to you, they could be very real for your SO. Make sure you provide lots of reassurance that your relationship is very important to you and offer support if s/he wants to make changes with you.
- Your kids. Pushback from kids is to be expected. Depending on their age, you’ve got options.
Young children are the easiest because you’re educating them about good nutrition and let’s be honest, they basically have no choice but to eat what you serve them and what’s in your house.
Middle school age children are more challenging but not impossible. Even though they eat meals away from home, most of those meals are either with you (e.g. Saturday lunch out while running errands) or under your control (brown bag lunch at school) and therefore easy to influence. Middle schoolers will likely push back to radical change, but small changes in conjunction with your positive attitude and lots of open dialogue about why good nutrition is a family priority will improve the odds of success. At my house we’ve swapped out brown rice for white and cut back enormously on the amount of cheese we put on food.
No surprise, high schoolers are the most challenging. (Sigh. Isn’t that always the case?)
If you’ve been feeding them unhealthy food their whole lives they may be overweight, but even if they’re not this is our one last BEST opportunity to teach them good nutrition, so buck up. Ignore their grumbling and stay strong. Monitor what they’re eating outside of home and talk about why good nutrition is important for everyone, not just for people who are overweight.
Having raised four kids, three all the way through the teen years, I can attest that even through all their grumbling, mine were listening. Yours too will understand that this is important to you, and ultimately they’ll learn that good physical and mental health come in large part from a healthy diet.
What absolutely will not work is caving to their demands for all the foods they enjoy at their friends’ houses.
See this is an opportunity to flex those self-care muscles and assert appropriate boundaries. You have every right to ask for what you need and expect your family members to comply. (Maybe not quietly, but comply.)
- Your grandma (or other relatives). My personal feeling on this is that we make this more complicated than it needs to be.
Certainly there are plenty of holidays and occasions when we’re gathered with our extended families there are abundant special foods. Grandma makes her specialty: apple fritters or maybe strawberry-rhubarb pie. Whatever it is – or whomever it is (cough, cough mother-in-law) – you know it’s going to be there and you need to decide ahead of time whether you’re going to eat it or not. I’ll just say that for me the safest plan is to not eat it. Inevitably these are trigger foods for me and that first bite unlocks the gates to my “well-the-cat’s-outta-the-bag-now-so-I-might-as-well-go-for-it” thinking, and before I know it I’m knee deep in addictive eating.
But as I said, I think we make this harder than it needs to be. There’s really no reason to get into a discussion of why you don’t want a particular food, just a polite “no thank you” is enough. If they press the issue? Explain what you’re doing in a matter-of-fact way. (No need to get into a discussion of food addiction if you’re not comfortable with that, but simply that you’re trying to make healthier food choices.) Be upbeat and positive about your new way of eating; talking about any fears or anxieties you may have about it only gives others the opportunity to exploit those worries.
Finally, ask for their support. Most people are flattered to be asked to be a support person, so enlist their willingness to be helpful. It’s amazing how the same person who might have once undermined you can be your biggest cheerleader if you simply ask them!
- Your co-worker(s). Unless it’s your work BFF that’s leaving M&Ms in a bowl on her desk, I suggest you don’t confront the person. Work places are shared spaces, which means your co-workers have just as much right to have mini-Snickers bars on their desk as you have the right not to have them on yours.
What is totally fair game though is to enlist the help of your Human Resources department (or your boss, if you work for a smaller company). Because companies are keenly aware of their own medical and insurance costs, many promote workplace wellness programs. A private inquiry to HR might yield new healthier policies with regard to treats in communal spaces. (Can we please nix the candy dish on the reception desk already? Sheesh.) And specific guidelines about monthly birthday celebrations, Halloween candy in the break room and the obligatory cookies / muffins at meetings can put the onus on HR rather than you. Not to mention just generally drawing attention to the fact that that nobody – I repeat nobody – benefits from having this garbage around.
So frankly you’re doing them all a big favor.
- Your BFF (or other friend you indulge with). After the saboteur spouse, this may be the hardest one. Why? Because you each fulfill an important role for each other. And if indulging in unhealthy treats is part of that relationship, you’re about to disrupt that role for him / her big time.
Be willing to talk honestly with your friend about the concerns you have for your health. Enlist her help to make better choices, just like you did around the holiday dinner table with great aunt Martha. Seriously, people love to be asked to help.
Understand it’s possible, maybe not likely, but possible, that your friendship will not withstand this test. Depending on your commitment to the friendship and your friend’s willingness to make this transition with you, it’s possible this friendship might fade. I know, it sucks.
But the truth is, you’ll drastically improve the likelihood of your own success if the people around you support your decision to change.
At first it may feel like there are saboteurs and enablers everywhere you look in your life. But think about it for a moment and ask yourself: What role have I been playing in this dynamic? Am I complicit in their shenanigans? Have I allowed myself to be led astray because there are times when it sounds pretty damn good to indulge?
This is the ambivalence we’ve talked about before.
I can tell you, once I made my decision to change there wasn’t anybody who could talk me into anything. My mind was made up and that door was closed.
Saboteurs and enablers only get in if we let them in.
We are the gatekeepers of our own recovery.
More tomorrow. Until then, stay strong.