african american women exercising

For many of us who have evolved into more health and fitness-conscious people, we’ve found ourselves becoming that way because of what we see in our families, and what we’ve experienced growing up.

Perhaps you got fit after feeling trapped and sentenced to an early, predictable death after hearing about how your aunt, her father, his mother, her other daughter, and two out of six of her children were all taken out by heart disease, or stroke, or myriad other diseases that seem to be passed on in the same way that one might inherit brown eyes or freckles. It’s part of what passively fuels the “I’ma eat what I want; I’ma die eventually, anyway. Why fight it?” mentality that people use as justification for not taking on what feels like a daunting task.

Even a little scared, we still fight to change ourselves. We become enthusiasts for health, inspiring people from home and onward.

Well, everyone except for those we love the most – our families. To them, our efforts seem like an anomaly; like a far-off, distant thing that you’re doing because you “want to be white.” It might even seem like you’re turning your back on your culture. It doesn’t always mean they believe that dying early of a mostly-preventable disease is a fate determined by blackness; more than anything, it implies that they believe they’d have to abandon everything that connects them to their culture to help them survive, something they’re unwilling to do.

You want to do something. You want to help. But what? And how? I think I might be able to help, there. Here are a few tips that have  helped me change not only how my loved ones think about health and fitness, but also how they approach it themselves:

1) Avoid being forward at all costs. Don’t be pushy. Don’t be a braggart, either. No matter what benefits you’re getting from living healthier, no one will be able to see it because they’re too busy being blinded by your attitude and behavior. People have eyes; they are observant. Let your loved ones recognize that you’re glowing, and let them ask you what you’re doing. And, when they ask…

2) Don’t judge. Give an honest answer. Remember that you were once where they were, so making statements like “You know that, right?” or “How could you not know that?” only challenges their intellect, and rarely ever is it positive. It could actually compel them to turn away from you, deciding that you’re “too rude” to talk to.

3) Be compassionate. It takes true vulnerability to admit you may need help learning how to take care of your own body, and people don’t want to be taken advantage of or disparaged in that moment. If you wanted them to live healthier, then realize that employing anything but compassion shuts that door permanently. Relate to your loved one, let them know that it was hard for you in the beginning too, and that those initial growing pains happen for everyone.

4) Be a resource, not a crutch. You don’t want to be the end all be all of the learning process for them. Love them, encourage them, and connect them to favorite books, websites, organizations, facilities and companies that will help make fitness more accessible for them. Besides, having someone calling, texting, or tugging at your shirt every time they have a question is a fast way for you to get burned out.

5) Put your positive energy where your mouth is. I wouldn’t say this – or most of this – for a stranger, but for a loved one? A kind, encouraging word goes a long way. Compliment them on the small things they might not notice, like glowing skin or getting sick less often, or not heaving when they finish a flight of stairs. Talk about what it was like when you achieved those goals, too.

And, most of all, encourage them to keep going! Remember what it was like when you were out on your own, and don’t let them succumb to the same. This can be just as good for you, as it is for them. Encouraging others in your family can help heal any anger you felt for being ostracized, and can make it a more encouraging space for family to get healthy. As I always say, your body – and your loved one! – will thank you for it!

Erika Nicole Kendall is the writer behind the award-winning blog, A Black Girl’s Guide to Weight Loss. Ask her your health and fitness-related questions on twitter at @bgg2wl.