Monday, November 28, 2022

The answer to the above question depends upon whom you ask. Most of us do not want to see ourselves as a “nudnik,” someone who regularly “nudges,” or pesters, people, but it is likely that all of us—some clearly more than others—probably dabble as nudniks, especially with respect to family members, from time to time. The real question is, does it make any sense? Is it reasonable to expect that one can facilitate a significant change in someone else’s behavior by frequently nudging that person? And if one cannot change the behavior of another, why do we so often try?

I was somewhat hesitant to write about this topic, as I do not want to seem like an expert on this particular subject, but yet, despite my best intentions, I often find myself nudging the people I love most in the world, usually without achieving the positive results that I am hoping for. Imagine the following imaginary scenario. You are standing at (what has now become) a typical kiddush, and you notice that your dear husband/wife/child/sibling (fill in your own loved one) is standing at the table eating something that will not promote, to say the least, his or her “good health.” You walk over and say (let’s assume it’s your husband), “Sweetheart, I think you should not eat any more kugel/cholent/kishke/rugelach (fill in your own delicacy); there is much too much fat/sugar/salt/cholesterol (fill in your own unhealthy ingredient).” Your spouse responds with complete sincerity, “Of course, darling, you are absolutely correct; thank you so much for your care and concern. I am the luckiest man in the world to have someone like you to watch out for my health.”

Having trouble imagining that scenario? That’s because in reality, if you would tell your husband to stop eating something, he would probably do one of the following: Finish what he is eating and simply ignore you, present the above response in the most sarcastic tone of voice he can muster, explain to you that this is the last piece or plate he is going to have, adding that he hasn’t really eaten all that much anyway, give you those eyes that couples give each other in public places when they are annoyed with each other but can’t verbally express anything, or, as a last resort, throw in the halachic requirements regarding eating mezonot after making Kiddush and the need to consume a specific shiur (amount) in order to recite a bracha achrona.

Many of my clients call me to discuss the negative, and sometimes even dangerous, health behaviors of their parents, siblings, children and spouse. The nudging in which they engage comes from a place of real love and concern. The nudnik cares deeply about the health and wellbeing of his or her loved one, whose behavior exhibits one or more of the following: He or she does not get enough sleep, never exercises, eats too much junk food, drinks too much soda, works too hard, is too stressed, smokes, etc. The nudnik simply cannot stand idly by and allow this loved one to “destroy” his or her health and risk developing diabetes, heart disease, etc. The greatest conflict about healthy lifestyle choices in the home usually occurs when one spouse has made an active decision to change his or her own personal health habits and the other members of the family are not interested and may even feel annoyed. In some cases, one member of the family has always liked to exercise and eat healthy, and over time becomes more and more concerned about the lack of healthy choices made by the other family members. In either case, the health-conscious member of the family may seem like a nudnik to their loved ones.

Research suggests that women have a greater influence on their spouse in terms of bringing about a change in health habits. Men seem to be more receptive to being “nudged” in this area, while women are generally less receptive to the “nudnik” approach and usually will react negatively. In my experience, I have not seen the “nudnik” approach work well either for men, women or children. The decision and commitment to change lifestyle habits is difficult and must ultimately come from the person who needs to make the change. The role of the loved one is to support, provide information and create an environment that supports healthy choices. It can be a challenge for the supporter to monitor his or her responses to the loved one’s lack of progress or success. Try to have an open dialogue that is non-defensive and temper your own feelings during the long process of your partner trying to change what may be a lifetime of poor self-care habits. His or her job is to eat more healthfully and become more fit, while yours is to make sure you are doing nothing to stand in the way of these goals and everything to support them. It may be helpful to get help from a professional; your loved one may be more responsive to a suggestion from a physician or another health care provider.

Try not to be too much of a nudnik (easier said than done!); it is a waste of energy and does not usually lead to change, and can sometimes decrease peace and harmony in the home, and even ruin the chance of achieving the desired results.

Bassie Taubes, RN, OCN, CBCN, certified health coach, served as an oncology nurse and clinical manager for 30 years. She founded Wellness Wisdom, where she motivates clients to engage in improved self-care through healthy eating, healthy movement and healthy sleep. She can be reached at [email protected] or via web site: btwellnesswisdom.com.


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