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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 21, 2008

Dear Mark: Family Dinner

By Mark Sisson
23 Comments

Dear Mark,

I come from a big family that loves food. It’s a cultural thing, in part, but it’s also just the way we’ve always celebrated together. In the last couple years, I’ve really gotten myself on track with healthier eating and working out, but I feel a lot of pressure when I’m with the family. I also worry about their health, especially my parents’.

As personal as a commitment to health is, there’s always a social dimension. Whether you’re more health conscious than your family and friends or simply have a noticeably different approach to healthy living, it’s common to find yourself in some uncomfortable situations and conversations.

Having had some personal experience along these lines, I know it can be awkward. You’re not looking to become a representative for your choices at every get-together. By the same token, you don’t want to come off as picky, ungrateful or “too good” for the way things have always been done. Nonetheless, you have a right to be true to yourself and your health goals.

My own experiences have taught me that if you don’t make a big deal about it, over time they won’t either. Maybe it will become old news. Maybe everyone will just get tired of talking about. Maybe they’ll even get used to it! In the meantime, play up your part in elements of the family life and celebration that don’t revolve around food.

If dinners become a source of tension or division, perhaps you should talk to your parents or any sympathizers in the bunch and let them know how you’re feeling. Let them know that you aren’t trying to tell anyone else what to do. With that said, don’t feel the need to apologize for the changes you’ve made. In fact, because they love you, they’ll likely feel better when they’re convinced that you’re truly happy and feeling good about your health. While you’re at it, make sure they know you made these changes purely for yourself (and not for the sake of anyone else, like a new significant other).

The issue of their health is an even stickier subject. You might want to wait until things die down a bit before broaching that subject. It may not be a bad idea to keep it low key at first. How about inviting your parents over for a casual lunch (simultaneously giving them the opportunity to see that healthy tastes great too)? Once they have a sense that you’re still wholeheartedly a part of the family and its traditions, maybe they’ll feel more comfortable learning more about what’s new in your life. Give them the sense that you enjoy sharing this part of your life with them.

From there, take advantage of opportune moments, supporting any interest in healthy changes they might share. Offer your help, enthusiasm and interest in blending their goals with the traditions and dishes they cherish. Your will can’t stand in for their commitment, but your support and excitement can offer a big motivation boost. Making it a family endeavor might be the best incentive.

What are your thoughts, readers?

basykes Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein

Dear Mark: Pregnancy Diet Tips

WebMD: Family Meals Curb Teen Eating Disorders

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23 Comments on "Dear Mark: Family Dinner"

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Beth
8 years 8 months ago
It’s tricky, indeed. I went through a vegan phase recently and tried some new recipes, one of which was for zucchini bread. The recipe made two loaves, so I shared one with my sister-in-law for her and my brother and their kids. The first thing out of her mouth when I handed it to her was, “Don’t try to convert me.” Nevermind that it might be taste good and also be good for them; she just didn’t want anyone invading her comfort zone. That was a lesson learned. At family gatherings now, I try to make the best of the… Read more »
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[…] Dear Mark: Family Dinners […]

David
David
8 years 23 days ago

I find that eating a small meal before these big events (i.e. spoiling my dinner) helps. It’s much easier for me to resist the peer pressure to eat their food.

As for not offending them, having a full stomach lets me better control just having a couple of bites of their food. Most people who pressure you to eat their junk buy into “eat everything, but in moderation” theory. Say you are eating moderately, and they can better accept it. It is especially good if you can put a pious, Puritanical spin on it.

bonnie sarkett
bonnie sarkett
8 years 23 days ago

Bring a healthy dish to share — a big salad or relish plate of great veggies, or vegetable dish.

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[…] Dear Mark: Family Dinner […]

Esther Anders
Esther Anders
6 years 8 months ago
You could also bring your own dish. When ever we have people over, or go somewhere we bring a dish, or offer to make dinner for the family. Our favorite to start with is, Pizza. Everyone loves pizza, so when they eat it, they’ll wonder who made it, and want to recipe. If they ask why you want to bring a dish, you could say, it’s a new dish (I’d really like to try out: if it’s new), and get your opinion on. Then when they ask what’s in it, you can tell them, and it might be easier to… Read more »
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[…] that you’re facing new challenges to keep up on your Primal eating, workouts and sleep. Maybe you moved to be closer to family, but now host so much that your meals mirror their tastes more than your Primal interests. Maybe […]

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[…] a night when it’s convenient and when everyone has the time to enjoy it together. Make it a real family event. Your parents will appreciate the quality time and obvious effort. As for winning them over to your […]

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[…] all the days in the year, this can be the most difficult to navigate. Particularly if you’re spending the day with family or cooking with a non-Primal partner, your commitment can get some blowback even if it’s […]

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[…] is not reliant on a single feature. It’s not just diet, it’s exercise, stress, sleep, family, community, genetics, infectious burden. Within diet, it’s not just what is eaten, but also […]

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[…] Saturday 111911 What a great week at CFD’ville! Many topics have come Saturday is a good time to review. First is CrossFit and the family. Workouts are less than an hour but the evening classes cause problems with the family dinner time. This is a tough one because there is no perfect answer but three days maximum effort and you need a day off. Rest is healthy. Being chronically tired is not healthy. So, maybe scheduling works with dinners on off days can help at home. Enjoying off time without guilt and being with your family make dinner so… Read more »
stephanieradnan
4 years 7 months ago
Hi mark, Sometimes I don’t think it’s as easy as that. I come from a family that pressure you to eat their food and if you don’t then the finger is pointed at you for having an “eating disorder,” and to prove you don’t have one, you feel forced to eat what they offer. I struggle constantly with my family and find that I am much healthier when I don’t attend family meals. It’s hard to catch up and suggest going for a walk in the park instead because they don’t like that, they just like to eat, and if… Read more »
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[…] Family Dinner Time: Tensions and Struggles […]

cucumber
cucumber
4 years 3 months ago

“You might want to wait until things die … [down a bit]”

Oh dear. I misread it that way the first time.

Rainie
Rainie
3 years 9 months ago

Thanks for living your dream.

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[…] people cite under holiday pressures. For example, when we’re wondering about how to deal with our decidedly non-Primal relatives, there are genuine practical concerns that come to mind. That said, how much time and energy do we […]

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[…] cite under holiday pressures. For example, when we’re wondering about how to deal with our decidedly non-Primal relatives, there are genuine practical concerns that come to mind. That said, how much time and energy do we […]

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[…] people cite under holiday pressures. For example, when we’re wondering about how to deal with our decidedly non-Primal relatives, there are genuine practical concerns that come to mind. That said, how much time and energy do we […]

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[…] people cite under holiday pressures. For example, when we’re wondering about how to deal with our decidedly non-Primal relatives, there are genuine practical concerns that come to mind. That said, how much time and energy do we […]

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[…] the intricacy of Japanese tea ceremonies to the ornateness of holiday dinners, food related customs hold big sway in every culture. They all reflect in some way an element of […]

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