I have an acquaintance who, in the past couple of years, has completely revamped her eating and exercise routine and become very interested in nutrition. She sent me the query below in an email.
I am very aware of what people eat around me, especially my family members. I find myself critiquing their poor habits. This is obviously out of love because I want them to live the healthiest lives they can so when my dad reached for the fifth biscotti on the dinner table I moved the plate away. You can only live your own life but is there ever a time where you feel it is important to step in to help? Some may argue it is none of your business but I see it as an obligation at times. I would be interested to know your opinion.
I’ll call this person B.R. (for biscotti remover). I can’t imagine why but she asked to remain anonymous.
BR, as strange as this is going to sound I am not that aware of what people eat around me. With my line of work, I’m aware people expect me to be aware of their eating and in response to that I almost tune out. I don’t want my friends to feel as though they are getting graded based on their menu selections or portion sizes. The truth is, I don’t need to have to say too much because inevitably someone will say something to the effect of “how bad is this?” usually while pointing to something on their plate that they have every intention of eating. Or, they’ll ask about a supplement they are taking or their current workouts. I do not offer advice unless asked and even then I know people still don’t necessarily want the bitter truth.
My feeling is that if someone is in my office, on some level they want my honest two cents about what they’re eating and how they can vary or improve it. I have a friend who’s a facialist and another a dermatologist. I wouldn’t respond well if they lectured me about sunblock outside their offices unless, of course, I inquired. One post I read contained a list of reasons not to offer unsolicited advice of any type. I was drawn to this item “people don’t value advice unless they seek it out. And even then, they don’t really value advice all that much unless they PAY for it.”
Having said all this, if I were to put an asterisk after “do not provide nutrition advice unless asked”. Next to the asterisk it would say *except when it comes to family members. There’s a comfort level with family members and with that comes an ability to say things you might not ever utter to friends or coworkers. I have found “shoulds” are better received than “shouldn’ts” and when you can praise instead of pontificate. It’s better to suggest to my mother she should consider organic produce versus saying is shouldn’t pour an inch of olive oil in the sauté’ pan. And just because it’s easier to advise family members, I don’t know if it’s all that effective. My family doesn’t necessarily heed my advice. I have never heard “that’s a good point.” Or, “you’re right maybe I’ve had enough.”
B. R. I have to say some of what you describe reminds me of me when I first started studying nutrition. I was busting at the seams with my new knowledge. I wanted to cook healthy food, eat as well as I possibly could, take vitamins and hydrate. It was unfathomable that others didn’t share my enthusiasm or foodcentric viewpoint. My healthy bubble burst rather quickly and I learned to share less and less. It’s not the information people need by also the intention to change. I knew my stuff and didn’t need to force it down anyone’s throat, there’s not always room with 5 biscotti in there.
Is it ever appropriate to give unsolicited nutrition advice? Is it acceptable when it comes to family? What’s the worst unsolicited advice you’ve ever received? Do you think a blog is sort of unsolicited advice? Hmn.