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How to initiate conversation and plant the seed to promote change?


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At work, we often see the dreadful eating habits of many people and I'm sure many can relate when I say I want to reach out to people and get people thinking about change. This year, I did create a poster for our wellness fair and got some ideas from Tom, a Whole30 moderator, for best presentation. We are a company of about 1,000 and maybe 200 people total come. So there are many more people to reach out to. Another thing I do is hang material in my cubile for people to read or to initiate conversion.

To my question: There is a woman that sits in my area, (but actually works for a different department) who is very overweight. Most days I see her walking by with her breakfast bagel and at lunch, I see her toasting her bread in the lunchroom while I'm warming my lunch. While I know her name, we have never spoken. I have been wondering how I could possibly start a conversion that might somehow lead into the topic of eating healthier. My husband thought leaving some reading information on her desk might do the trick, but I thought this would be as offensive as saying "hey, you need to change your diet". I was thinking about leaving some info on the breakroom table as a reference with my name on it, but that would be pretty indirect (although it may reach out to others). I know the whole elevator pitch and that works well when asked so I can't throw this out.

My question is, what are some ideas for bringing about the food conversation without being brutally honest and offending a person, especially when you don't even know the person? I'm guessing the obvious answer is to start small and intiate small talk for some time to attempt to know the person and then try and work it into conversation down the road. Wondering if others have some ideas or experiences they can share?

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If your work involves health and advice (say, if you work with teens who struggle at school, for instance) then I would think that it is appropriate to suggest dietary changes that could definitely help them. Your wellness poster sounds like it was a fab idea, and maybe suggesting a free wellness seminar for your workplace (or your idea of pamphlets in communal areas) would be a benefit for everyone.

However, telling individual acquaintances or coworkers that their diet or lifestyle needs to change - no matter how good your intentions - is not appropriate or polite, no matter how delicate or diplomatic your communication is.

The best thing to do is quietly go about your business and let your nutritious lunches, your glowing skin and your competency throughout the day do the persuasion for you. If this person asks 'what's your secret?' then by all means let them know that cutting sugar and grains makes you feel and look great.

I hope I don't come across as mean, because you seem as though you really care for the health of others, but I would also steer clear of judging anyone by their appearance. I have an overweight coworker who eats bagels for breakfast; I also have an underweight coworker who eats bagels for breakfast. If you do anything to suggest a dietary change for this person then you are basically telling them that you A. think they look unattractive and B. think it's their fault.

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My question is, what are some ideas for bringing about the food conversation without being brutally honest and offending a person, especially when you don't even know the person?
To be blunt, if you don't know the person and they haven't asked you, then it's none of your business.

I would be HUGELY offended if I thought any of my coworkers were judging me or my diet the way you're judging this woman. I'm overweight. I lost 100 lbs a few years ago and gained back about 30 of them last year. I eat healthily and am aware of the choices I make - both the good ones and the bad ones. I also am an adult and responsible for those choices. There are plenty of people who think my diet is unhealthy based on THEIR standards. If one of them who had never spoken to me before were to say anything to me based on their standards and their impression of my diet, I'd have no qualms about telling them to f-off.

Leaving propaganda lying around is just a less direct way of passing judgement.

Until and unless they ask you directly, their diet, their health, and their weight is none of your business.

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I can completely understand what you are both saying. I can see how my question came across differently then I intended by your answers because I would never intentially offend anyone or bring up what they are eating directly because it isn't for me to judge as you said. Never have, never will because it is a slippery slope and not my business. I guess I was more or less asking for more ideas on how to bring about more awareness and and conversation ideas to promote that there are better food choices out there and to plant the seed in their mind to explore other avenues. Having a poster at a wellness fair is one way to reach a small group of people. Leading by example is another, leaving materials and books at my desk for people to look at is another. I guess that that is all I can do as you said. People have to seek out and find out for themselves and there is only so much each person can do. Thank you.

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it isn't for me to judge as you said. Never have, never will because it is a slippery slope and not my business.
the thing is, you already are judging. You said:
There is a woman that sits in my area, (but actually works for a different department) who is very overweight. Most days I see her walking by with her breakfast bagel and at lunch, I see her toasting her bread in the lunchroom while I'm warming my lunch.
You've already judged her weight and her diet w/out knowing anything else about her. There is nothing about a bagel that is inherently unhealthy. There is nothing about bread that is inherently unhealthy in and of itself. (Paleo/grain arguments aside.)

I do appreciate your intent, but as someone who has been on the receiving end of that kind of judgement ... it *is* judging and it is hurtful and it is inappropriate. I can't count the number of times I've had people look in my grocery cart and get "that" look on their faces, or cast "those" looks when I've eaten at a restaurant, or watched me as I bring my lunch back to my desk. If I eat salad, it's automatically assumed that I'm "on a diet". If I choose to eat a cookie or a snack then I'm obviously unhealthy and don't care about my weight or my health.

When you say you don't know someone but the things that you focus on are their weight and what they eat, then you are judging them. And IMO, that's an issue that YOU need to resolve within yourself, not an issue that they need to resolve.

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Perhaps she isn't interested in being any healthier?

I'll echo what the others have said, and in addition, I really think people have to make food and health choices on their own. It's the classic "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink."

You can let it be known that health and wellness is something that you are interested in (it sounds like you have done that) and then if people want to, they can come to you and ask questions.

Imagine how you would feel if someone—with the best of intentions, who really wants to see you be healthy—began leaving high-carb/low fat info on your desk. You've chosen how you want to eat. Others get to choose how they want to eat.

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This is a really difficult discussion, and I appreciate that we all have personal experiences that play into how we react to this topic. I also appreciate how everyone is being polite and respectful - that's how we roll around here.

Angie, I understand where you are coming from, and I don't believe you were being purposefully judgmental. I think there's a difference between passing judgment ("This person is lazy, unhealthy, unmotivated to change, unhappy...") and simply noticing things about your co-worker's life ("She's always saying how tired she is, she's been expressing frustration with her weight, she has been trying to diet by cutting calories way back, her lunches are tiny these days.")

We all want to help those folks who we know could benefit from these healthy changes, but I do agree that until your co-worker expresses these sentiments to you directly, it's just not your place. As frustrating and painful as it may be to watch those you care about (or total strangers, for that matter) not treat themselves as healthfully as they could, it would do more harm than good to insert yourself into her behaviors, even if you did so with the best intentions.

I think leading by quiet example, and being ready to help with information and resources when asked, is as much as you can do in this situation. And, if you are really interested in getting to know this person (not with the intention of "fixing" her, but as an honest attempt at building a workplace friendship), then doing so outside of the lunchroom (and not over food) is going to be the best strategy to open a dialogue.



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if you are really interested in getting to know this person (not with the intention of "fixing" her, but as an honest attempt at building a workplace friendship),
Melissa, I think this is a really brilliant insight.

Taking this away from Angie specifically and more into a generic realm:

We all judge. All of us. I do. Everyone does. I look at someone who loads their grocery cart with junk and weighs 300+ lbs and I judge. Even though I was that person myself once. I judge. But I try very very very hard to keep that judgement internal because I know how much it hurts to be on the receiving end of the "look".

And I know from experience that it's easy to get into the "reformed smoker" mode and want to "help" everyone change their lives.

But I think we all have to stop and ask ourselves .. WHY do we want to talk to this person about their weight/health/eating habits. Is it because we truly CARE about them as people? Or is it because we want to preach our way of life? Is it because we "disapprove" of what they're doing and we think we've achieved some enlightenment that they haven't?

When I first changed my life and completely retooled my eating and exercise, I know I was one of those people. I would give unsolicited advice and tell people that they needed to make changes. I didn't do it out of malice. I did it because I had found something that changed my life for the better and I wanted to share that. But it was still all about mememememe! It wasn't that I cared that deeply about that person - I didn't even KNOW that person. I just wanted to share how I had changed, how I had improved, how I was BETTER ... and how they could be better too ... if only they did what I did. And what I told them.

But even tho I wasn't doing it out of malice, even though I had (what I thought were) the best intentions, what I was doing was wrong. My way was MY way. It worked for me and I still believe it's a good way. But it's not the only way. And now unless I know someone personally, and truly care about them as an individual, and they ask me specifically, then I will never presume to approach anyone about their food or their weight. Ever. (Edited to say one exception to that is if I see someone doing somethign completely dangerous, I will speak out, no matter how well I know them.)

I still judge. I always will. It's human nature and anyone who says they don't ... well, they're fooling themselves. But I will always do my best to keep that judgement to myself and to never ever make someone feel bad for the choices they make.

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I totally get this.

After years of being the "square peg" because of my eating habits, I had to learn the hard way on how to discuss food and health with people. I care about people and their health and wellbeing. Many people I know are sick and have horrible eating habits. Yes, they eat horrible food, but THEY are not horrible people. There's a huge difference between the two. I am fifty pounds overweight and I am sure that there are those who judge ME. So, I work very hard at not judging the PERSON, but I do judge the food. A lean cuisine dinner is not food.

And I think it is okay for you to have an opinion on bagels. I know that I do. If someone is putting what you regard as poison into their mouth, you want to stop them, I understand. Yes, I think that grains are poison. I am entitled to my opinion. I know that may sound dramatic and drastic to some, but everyone has their opinions on what is healthful food. I have done years of research on food, as have many people on this forum, I'm sure. I'm convinced about what is healthy and what isn't, and I'm not going to change my mind on it any time soon.

I'm sure that when vegans see me eating meat they want to rip the fork out of my hand and yell at me. :)

All that being said, I think the best way to share what has worked for you is to be an example. People will ask you questions about what is on your plate. They will eventually get around to talking about their fat-free, 100 calorie snacks, and ask you if you've tried them. They will ask what diet you are on, and you can tell them. When their diet fails, they may come to you and ask you more questions. Other than that, it's best not to get involved. If you want to make friends with that person, make friends with her, but it's better not to talk to her about your diet unless she brings it up

Hope this helps, Angie.

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Thank you Melissa for stepping in without making assumptions about my intentions and judging me while at the same time accusing me of being judgmental.

I know my original post wasn't worded the best, but my intention was pure as I previously stated. I didn't feel I was judging this person, but rather pointing out observations. It could have been worded as this instead: I have a coworker with MS, or a family member with digestive issues or an acquaintance with a child and husband that have allergies to multiple foods, etc that eat foods that may exacerbate their condition. How can I initiate conversion and promote the idea that they can potentially help their issue via the foods they choose to eat in a way that isn't offensive or by coming off as an armchair doctor without a medical degree? People don't hesitate the tell me that they think my eating eggs everyday will give me high cholesterol-am I offended? No, I use the opportunity to educate them. In conversation, people have no issues offering up advice for things like saving money by switching insurance and things of that nature, so it is sad that we can't bring up the topic of eating better for health by changing our foods because it can be so offensive and judgmental. I was simply looking for some conversation starters that may lead into some fruitful conversation and wondering if people had any success with certain approaches. I wasn't looking to say “did you know those bagels may be giving you wheat belly?†Rather something like....â€That bagel smells so delicious. I used to eat them all the time, but now I can't†and see where the conversation goes. Offensive and judgmental? I don't think so. Having some minor health issues, I sure would have loved if I had someone that could have offered me advice to steer me in the right direction sooner. I went to numerous doctors, received no help and I fear that that is the case for many people. I know so many people trust their doctors word 100% and don't look any further to help their condition even when their doctor doesn't find a cause or help them improve. This is my driving motivation. But, I did find my way to health by happenstance and did so on my own. A person has to want to change and most importantly they have to be emotionally ready. When they are ready, they will seek help or advice. So I understand what each of you is saying and value your advice and view points. Thank you.

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