When I trained in New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C. there was a notable absence of family obligations for many of my clients. These coastal cities tend to be more transient* than a place like Dayton, Ohio, so to the extent that people had social obligations, they were more likely to involve friends and coworkers than family.
Here in Dayton many of us are surrounded by sometimes several rings of extended family, so it’s not uncommon for a weekend to be consumed by a cousin’s wedding or a childhood neighbor’s graduation party.
I’ve noticed in recent weeks my own struggle to balance the routines that I’ve implemented to make my life work for me against things like Sunday family dinners, invitations to social outings, and holiday gatherings one might otherwise ignore if not for family tradition.
It’s a lot easier to say no to happy hour with work “friends” than it is to the aunt who practically raised you and has invited you over for brunch. So what can you do to stay organized when a family obligation happens to fall right in the middle of your usual grocery shopping, food prep, or workout time?
The standard answer of course is you have to plan around these things. You have to know your calendar well in order account for a family command performance.
But that feels like glib advice to me. Sometimes bad timing is just bad timing, and no amount of calendar preparation and planning ahead can make up for the fact that Sundays are your grocery shopping days and going to the cookout will get in the way of that.
This is one of those areas in which my best advice is to give yourself permission to do the best you can most of the time and good enough the rest of the time. What I mean by that is if you have a well-established grocery, cooking, and workout routine and you get invited to a family gathering, then you ought to go. (I’m assuming here for the sake of discussion that you have a healthy, non-abusive relationship with your family. If you don’t, then this advice doesn’t really apply. Don’t put yourself into situations that are bad for you–family or no family).
Uncle Joe might not serve the healthiest food. And the spread at Sunday dinner might not have the best composition of macronutrients. But you’ll be glad that you spent that time with family, and you’re more likely to remember those Sunday dinners than you would the extra rowing workout you squeezed in. The people you love aren’t going to be around forever, and it’s best that you keep that in mind.
Here’s another thing to consider. The more authentically and openly you live your life, the more likely the people around you will be to consider your healthy choices when they decide to invite you over. Don’t proselytize–nobody likes that fitness guy–but be you. People will notice that you tend to always add vegetables to your plate, even at breakfast. And when they invite you over for Sunday dinner they might ask you what kind of vegetables you’d like, or even what you’d recommend. It’s then that your lifestyle choices begin to rub off on the people who matter most to you.
The other thing living authentically will do for you is allow you to say no sometimes. Don’t be insecure about the fact that you love to work out, love to eat well during your work week, and love the yoga class you’ve been attending. Set the precedent right now that these things are important to you so that you can say no to some things and not hurt anyone’s feelings. If they love you and care about your health, they’ll understand when you don’t come to everything.
*When I say these cities are transient, I don’t mean to suggest that there aren’t longtime residents for whom generations of families have called, say, the District of Columbia home. These cities are transient insofar as there are a number of residents moving in and out–but that’s not true of everyone living there. We tend to ignore the longtime residents who form the backbone of places. I don’t mean to do that in this case. For more on transience in American life, check out this helpful report from the U.S. Census Bureau.