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jz1220's avatar

How can I help my parents adopt a healthier diet?

Asked by jz1220 (829points) March 27th, 2008

My parents are into their 60s now, and have long cemented their food preferences and eating habits. They prefer to eat lots of empty carbs because that’s what they grew up eating, and it’s comfort food to them. My mother is also particularly fond of the skin on chicken. At the same time, she is trying to lose weight. I suggested that they both switch out white rice for brown rice, white bread for wheat bread, more healthy fats, less sweets, etc. They tried it out for a little while but had trouble following through and being consistent. They said their bodies just don’t feel right when they aren’t eating the foods they’re used to.

It pains me to see them jeopardize their health when there’s something they can do about. I know it’s hard for them to change because it’s not simple—they have the will but it’s a behavioral condition that they must change.

Does anyone have advice on how they can make permanent changes to their diet?

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5 Answers

osakarob's avatar

Research into behavioral changes has indicated that individuals will make the kinds of changes you describe only when one of two conditions is met:

1. There is a powerful positive motivation for making the change and the perceived benefits outweigh the perceived losses. (External motivation)

or, more likely,

2. Maintaining one’s current status quo is untenable and the change comes from a desire within. (Internal motivation)

Your post surely hits home with a lot of Fluther users. I think your devotion to your parents is admirable and I sincerely hope that they respond to your suggestions. I’m sure you have found from experience however that people are not rational actors and that even if you manage to persuade them in the short term to change their diets and alter the foods that they eat, in the long run those choices have to be embraced and adopted by Mom and Dad themselves. To that end, there is not much you can do.

However, there are plenty of individuals who do make permanent or significant behavioral changes based on seeing results in others close to them. That is why we ask our rich relatives for investment advice and not our poor ones, why the guy in the office with a 32 inch waist is consulted about fitness and why nobody seeks counsel about what University to attend from a graduate of a community college. The best thing you can do to help your parents is to set a good example in your own life. Stay fit, eat healthfully, remain disease free. There is the chance that they may respond to your success.

Is there an uncle or aunt or some other peer of your parents who has made the kinds of changes you describe? Maybe it might be useful to casually point out how wonderful that person looks or how successful they have been in altering their diet. Not in a preachy way, but perhaps with a wistful look of admiration.

Finally, never lose sight of what radio personality Dave Ramsey calls the “Powdered butt syndrome”: Anyone who has powdered your butt as a baby has no interest in your advice on money or sex. (To that, I might add “or nutrition and health”)

Good luck!

cwilbur's avatar

You can’t make them change. They have to find the motivation within themselves to change.

Until they do that, no advice you give will help. Once they do that, no advice you give will be necessary.

gooch's avatar

Cook for them and slowly you may change their palate.

skfinkel's avatar

When and if they develop life threatening diseases, they might change their habits. But no on wants advice unless they ask for it, and I have found that, even when advice is asked for, people don’t always really want it. Or they don’t hear it even though they look like they are listening.

If you want to change people, work with babies.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Prepare them a healthy meal.]
They would love the effort on your part!
And hopefully they copuld see the difference in the taste of the foods (better).

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