Valentine’s Day Special: How Can You Effectively Encourage Someone You Love To Eat Healthier?

We have all been there, wanting to help improve the dietary habits of those we care about, but not quite knowing exactly how to go about it. Whether it is a spouse, friend, or family member there is no easy way to influence change. 

In today’s article, I will deeply explore how we can encourage people we care about to eat better by understanding their readiness to change. 

Eating is a behaviour just like any other, just as eating better is a behaviour change like any other.  

As with any behaviour change, different people are at  different stages of committing to that change.

 The idea of stages of change is actually derived from a behavioural theory known as the Transtheoretical Model. In this theory, each of the stages of change relates to an individual’s state of mind as it pertains to a particular behaviour. If you have a person in mind who you want to help eat better, this post will help you identify which stage of change they are at and offer some strategies you can employ to help encourage them towards success.

 Stage #1 – Precontemplation: The individual has little to no interest in eating healthier anytime soon.

 How to help: People at this stage are inevitably quite far from changing their eating habits, but the seeds of change can still be planted. The best approach here is to begin to introduce all the benefits that eating healthier would offer them and to let them know that the way they are eating may be hurtful to themselves and those they care about. People at this stage are generally resistant to change and don’t usually fully appreciate or understand the benefits of eating well. They may be defensive, so the best thing to do with this type of individual is to gently introduce them to these benefits (for example: living longer, sleeping better, looking healthier ).

Stage #2 – Contemplation: The individual intends to eat healthier in the near future, but has been facing challenges and may be putting it off. 

How to help: People at this stage are at least somewhat aware of the benefits that eating better will provide them, but they are equally aware of the sacrifices they may have to make to eat better (giving up foods they love, preparation time etc).  They may be procrastinating and so it is important for them to be exposed to other people who are living healthy and eating well so that they may continue to witness the benefits and to help push their eagerness to change above their current hesitations.  You can lead by example and help show this individual that any drawbacks they percieve to be associated with healthy eating are not nearly as significant as the benefits. People at this stage will also be much more open to feedback and suggestions. Continue to educate them on why healthy eating is so much better than eating poorly and encourage them to really reflect on their eating habits. 

Scenario #3 – Preparation:  The individual intends to eat healthier in the immediate future and has already started making small changes aimed towards reaching that goal.

How to help: People at this stage are committed to eating better and have begun to review strategies on how to do so. This may mean reviewing recipes, cooking tips, reading up on various nutrition topics, or even booking an appointment with a registered dietitian!  You can help people at this stage by providing them with any guidance , resources or advice they may need to put their healthy eating goals into action. They should be encouraged to take ownership of their healthy eating goals and ambitions and urged to share these goals with those they are close to.  They are confident enough at this stage to share their goals but still harbour concerns as to their ability to succesfully complete the change. Any support or  positive feedback that you can provide to enhance their confidence would be well recieved at this point.  

Scenario #4 – Action: The individual has recently started eating better.

How to help: People at this stage are carrying out their intentions to eat healthier. They will still have moments where they might consider going back to their old eating habits and so keeping them away from environments that might encourage that is important. People at this stage should be praised and encouraged for their efforts thus far and may require further support and guidance to keep on track. You can help by ensuring that they are, as often as possible, surrounded by people and situations that continue to support their newly adopted eating habits. 

Scenario #5 – Maintenance: This individual has been eating better for consistently for an extended period of time. 

How to help:  People at this stage are on their way to long term success.  They are much less likely to be fighting urges to abandon their healthy eating behaviours but must continue their committment to the new behaviours. You can help someone at this stage by continuing to support and encourage their healthy lifestyle. Engage in healthy eating, healthy cooking and discussions of healthy and nutritious foods, discuss strategies to remain eating well even in difficult and unforseen life circumstances. Most importantly, show them how proud you are. 

These scenarios represent a general guide to determining where an individual is at in the behaviour change spectrum. People may oscillate between stages of change and certainly can fall back to earlier stages or jump ahead unexpectedly. This is why your encouragement and commitment is so important to helping those you care about eat better and live healthier. I hope you were able to find your loved one among the change scenarios I provided and that the tips I provided proved useful. Change is never easy, but with dedication and support I truly believe eating better is possible for just about anyone.

 Until next time,

Andy De Santis RD MPH



1. Lead by example: Humans learn by observation, and although this is no guarantee of success, practicing what you preach will go a long way to help your cause. It will be more difficult for an individual to learn and understand the processes and benefits of healthy eating if they are not able to witness them first hand.

2. Start small: Improving eating habits is a life-long endeavour, so do not expect a health food revolution in the first week. Set small goals and introduce changes slowly and gradually. Cherish and reward small victories, such as trying a new fruit or vegetable. Eating “poorly” once in a while should not be seen as a defeat or failure especially if the trend is generally positive and improving. 

3. Be persistent but not excessive: Be persistent enough to show the person you are genuine and committed to helping them improve the way they eat,  but do not allow this persistence to become potentially damaging to your relationship. Know when to push and probe and when to take a step back. People who are especially resistant to eating differently may be defensive and being overly aggressive could jeopardize the long-term success of your efforts.

4. Let them know what it means to you:  Having a meaningful external force pushing someone to eat better can certainly help to facilitate behaviour change. It is important  the person who you are trying to help understands how much it means to you that they eat better. It will also help to express to them your concern over the potential negative effects of their current eating habits.

5. Make it relevant to them:  A renowned behaviour change theory says that a person will be more likely to adopt a behaviour if they perceive it is of benefit to them. Let the person know exactly how the particular food you are suggesting can directly benefit their health, and why that health benefit has special significance to them in particular. This will help them to see healthy eating in a good light and contribute to improving their attitude towards healthy food, which will go a long way to help them succeed. An excellent example of this is encouraging an individual with a family history of heart disease to eat avocado, which is known to contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats. Because monounsaturated fats are directly related to the individuals disease history, foods that contain them are now of special significance to that individual. 

6. Encourage them:  One’s belief in their own ability to succeed is an important part of behaviour change.  It will be helpful to support this person and enhance their own belief in their ability to make the change successfully. Let them know you believe in their ability to change. This will work better for an individual who is actively trying to change, rather than someone with no interest in doing so. While encouragement alone is no guarantee of success,  discouragement can have serious negative effects, so keep it positive. 

7. Teach them skills and strategies for success: You are acting as external source of motivation and education, but it is important the individual feels in control of their own behaviour. They will need to carry out healthy eating behaviours without your presence and thus  providing skills, strategies and resources to facilitate healthy eating could help improve their sense of control over their eating habits.