Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
5 Feb

Prodding Parents to Get Healthy

Skeptical DadMonday’s “Dear Mark” sparked a great discussion about raising healthy kids, but the conversation really got going (in the comment board and forum) when readers lamented the hard-headedness of their parents.

Yes, we too often paint younger folks as the impulsive, devil-may-care madcaps or hapless Pied Piper targets. Truth is, there are plenty of those qualities in every age demographic. Kids aren’t the only ones who can dig in their heels after all. So, to take on the flipside of Monday’s question, what’s a Primal child (of any age) to do when Mom and Dad are the ones whose health needs a major overhaul?

I venture to say that many more people find themselves in the role of concerned progeny than those who commented Monday. Far too many of us, I imagine, have been grudging witnesses over the years to our parents’ destructive health habits – whether it be crummy diet, complete lack of physical activity, smoking, workaholic lifestyle, chronic stress, or – who knows –  compulsive use of household insecticides. Sometimes it’s ignorance on their part. Other times it’s denial. In some cases, it’s flat out apathy.

We drop hints at dinner. We drop pamphlets, articles or whole books on their coffee tables. At turns, we find ourselves lecturing. We argue. We offer to help – to make dinner, suggest some relaxation techniques or pay for a gym membership. In the midst of the back and forth, some of us deal with the frustration better than others. Perhaps those of us who recently moved out or are in the process of doing so are just glad to be on our own, away from the influence for a while. However, for many of us it’s an ongoing source of disappointment and even an emotional roadblock in the relationship.

The questions nag at the back of our brains and maybe tug at the heart strings a little. Why won’t they listen to reason? Why don’t they value their own health? Don’t they want to live to be there for their grandchildren – for me? How can it not bother them to be giving up decades of their lives or at least the hope of some additional active and independent years? What am I supposed to do here? Will anything I do or say make any difference whatsoever?

Step Back

As difficult as it is, maybe the first step in dealing with the quandary is this: we should all take a step back. (A big breath helps too.) There’s a certain freedom in accepting that you aren’t responsible for another person’s choices. Although you certainly have a big stake in their health, in their independence, in their well-being, in their being in this world period, the fact is and will always remain that you don’t run their lives. If you genuinely worry for them, it’s a painful realization, but at least it can stop you from beating your head against the wall. It’s not your fault. It’s not under your control. It’s sad and horribly unfortunate that they stand a big chance of missing out on some of their good years as well as your life and your kids’, but there it is. Ultimately, it’s out of your hands. Que Sera isn’t a comforting concept, but it can be a liberating one.

Don’t Apologize for Your Lifestyle

Just as they are going to live their lives the way they want, make no bones about doing the same for yourself. Stop feeling guilty for refusing your mother’s pie at Thanksgiving if you don’t want it. Stop apologizing for bringing your own food to their house or turning down Sunday night get-togethers if that’s a good workout night for you. Stop caving to their pushing treats on the grandkids. Maybe the more you stand by your lifestyle, the more seriously they’ll take it. If not, you’ll at least feel more in control of your own life and less swept up by their choices.

Appreciate Small Changes

Just because you accept that you don’t control the ultimate outcome doesn’t mean you can’t leave the door open for them to change or that you can’t make the adjoining room all the more inviting. I’d never say give up encouraging your parents to get healthy. Nonetheless, it’s all about perspective. When you take yourself out of the role of health director or even rescuer, you’re in a much better mindset to encourage, see and appreciate smaller changes. You’re not caught up in the vision of deep and desperate change for them. Once you take the pressure off, they might soften up a bit and surprise you.

Offer Some Healthy Bonding Opportunities

So, your dad probably isn’t going to ever accompany you to a PrimalCon event, but maybe you can convince him to go for a walk on a nice spring day. Though your mother will never give up her carbs, she’ll love spending Sunday brunch at your house (with your food) when she can have fun with the grandkids. Invite your parents to participate in your life – and the lifestyle that goes along with it. Find things that both of you can enjoy and get something out of.

Finally, however frustrating or unchanging your parents’ choices are, enjoy your time with them. Live life to the fullest with them as much as you can. Show them you care and that you enjoy their company. Let them know they’re an important part of your life. In the best or worst circumstances, you’ll be glad you did. There’s an old fable in which the sun and wind compete to see who can get the coat off a man passing by. In the harshness of the wind, the man simply clutches his coat more tightly. In the sun’s warmth, he happily casts it aside. In the best circumstances, perhaps warmth and love provide the best inspiration for healthy change.

Have your own stories and strategies for prodding your parents or other family members toward a healthier lifestyle? Thanks for reading.

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. My mother was getting high fasting blood sugar since last year. Not really into the diabetic range but still quite high. I was telling my parents to give up refined oil and sugar. Refined oil was quite easily dropped. My father will avoid sweets, but my mother has a sweet tooth. It has been difficult with her.

    Slowly and slowly she has stopped that. Also they have started the fish oil.

    Now her fasting blood sugar level has become normal.

    I do tell them to eat more meat and fish, and they do that, but not much. Rest of the food is OK.

    Anand Srivastava wrote on February 8th, 2010
  2. My MIL says that if Dr. Oz says that you shouldn’t eat saturated fats, then she isn’t going to.

    Family Grokumentarian wrote on August 25th, 2010
  3. My parents are so unhealthy, it’s really sad.

    My dad had his first heart attack at 35, and his second a month later.

    He had his third at 40, and this one was so bad that he had to get a heart transplant. Today, he does not really care about his health (although his spouse is a nurse, so she tries to take care of him as much as he can). I cannot even imagine myself trying to talk him into primal food and exercising :(

    My mom is one of those women that has been on a diet for the past 30 years. The one she is on right now (and has been for the past years) is working pretty good and is following a little bit the primal views, so at least her alimentation is not that bad.

    When it comes to sports, I lended her my Wii Fit for a few months, showed her and it worked and realised she was in a worst shape than I thought; she was exausted after a few minutes, and she never used it again!

    I really wish I could do something, but you’re right, we cannot control them :(

    Danielle wrote on January 10th, 2011
  4. I’m trying tog get my obese father to try going primal.

    Scandinavian wrote on February 6th, 2011
  5. The only real way to convert is not to push, but allow them to follow. Be the best example of health you can, in your most humble, modest way.

    Archie wrote on March 1st, 2011
  6. i’m 16 and i do parkour and my parents are always saying i wish i could be that young again *cough* you can be

    Eugene wrote on August 8th, 2011
  7. Thank you so much for this article. Puts things into perspective.

    Anna C. wrote on July 2nd, 2012
  8. Same story here, random health ailments on my side and in-laws as well…heart attack (with continued smoking and consumption of hydrogenated HFCS “creamer”) chronic inflammation, arthritis, candida overgrowth, depression, you name it! But the thing I’m dealing with is…attitude problems.

    Anger, bitterness, short tempers, the “everyone is out to get me” concept coupled with the habit of looking at what everyone else is doing and judging it instead of looking at SELF. There’s a lot to it…but a good start is dietary change. I’ve gifted the copy of Nourishing Traditions, I’ve delivered the homemade sauerkraut, forwarded links, talked until my face hurts (it’s killin’ them!).

    Loved this article because not only can I related to it word-for-word, but the advice is what I needed to hear. I can’t stand seeing people I love be ill, and I’d like to enjoy time wiht them but they spend most of it upset at someone or each other, talking about what hurts on their body and arguing about CW vs. PD…and I also can’t stand the fact that the food industry has caught them like a bug in a web. But, I started with me. I’m transitioning…ditched grain and processed foods a while back, went from 200 lbs (after the birth of my 3rd baby) down to 145…but I’m a dairy lover. It’s mostly fermented dairy, but I know I need to cut back. I’m here to learn the ways of Grok and although I’m tired of “swinging my club” at all of my ill family members, I’m going back to my cave to sharpen my tools! Thanks for the great post.

    Kim wrote on August 3rd, 2012
  9. Thanks for posting. I’m new to paleo, but my parents are overweight and unhealthy. My Mom had a stroke at 68. Every time I think about it I try to eat healthier. I can’t get her even to give up drinking cokes. It’s so frustrating!

    Debbie wrote on March 8th, 2013
  10. Heavens, this rung true. Whenever I visit, my mum frets and says ‘I hope you’re eating real food…’ I feel like smashing my head against a wall. You can’t get more REAL than primal! Not to mention the crap she eats, all labelled neatly with ‘No fat!’ or ‘99% fat free’!
    I think the amount of fat I eat scares her a little. She’s kind of swayed towards the whole idea of the diet, knows that on paper it’s optimally healthy, but doesn’t see it as anything more than her depriving herself of all the ‘good and yummy’ stuff, despite the wonders it would do for her.


    Marni wrote on March 28th, 2013
  11. Many people holding fundraisers have advertised them on Facebook and other social media outlets. The main and the fierce competitors of this brand are Uneek and Jerzee.

    Bobby wrote on February 22nd, 2014
  12. I can’t take it anymore. The preaching and pleeing, they just won’t listen. The worse part is, they think they eat healthy and that I’M the unhealthy one! My parents are way too stubborn to read up on good nutrition and continue stuffing full-fat cream doughnuts down their hole or sprinkling salt all over their processed sodium nitrate sausages. I was personally attacked today by my mum who said I spent too much time alone in my room reading and I will grow into a sad, lonely little man. She constantly references people who ‘eat whatever they want’ and tells me they’re perfectlt healthy, ie., alive, today. Oblivious to the quadruple amount of people who have perished along the way. I don’t understand why they won’t atleast hear me out. They must be pretty weak if they give into temptation so easily…they think the FDA will keep them safe. (If they even know what that is). I asked, ‘would you drink petrol?’ and was met with a sharp ‘No, of course not!’. I followed with, ‘how about petroleum-coloured sweets? ‘. Of course, an excuse in wait for the second. It’s a losing game watching them eat themselves to death. Do they not know heart disease is the no.1 killer in the world? And that poor diet plays a HUGE role in that statistic.

    Lewis wrote on July 31st, 2015

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