“Cheers” bartender, zombie fighter, and Mary Jane deserter Woody Harrelson is a vegan who eats a mostly raw diet, which may be what’s responsible for the ultra-chill energy he radiates through the screen. But perhaps what’s not as chill? Inside his head when he sees people eating unhealthy food.
“I’ve seen people literally on their deathbed and they’re gonna die, but they will not stop eating what they like eating!” Harrelson recently bemoaned in an interview with radio station WENN. “I don’t think there’s any value in lecturing someone about what they’re eating even though I watch people who are literally eating themselves into an early grave and I just want to say, ‘You should not be doing that. Don’t put that into your mouth!’”
So, his approach is to stay mum until asked. And according to psychologist and psychoanalyst, Dr. Frieda Birnbaum, PhD, Harrelson is doing the right thing. The expert says the only time you should present your opinion is when someone asks you what you think.
“People will say things that are painful without even realizing it. They think they are doing a service to you, but they’re really underestimating your own intelligence,” explains Dr. Birnbaum. In other words, your unhealthy friend already knows French fries and a quarter pounder aren't exactly kale salad, but he's making his own choice to consume it. “Plus, some people are happy with where they are. They don’t want your input, and they feel like you aren’t the authority of who they are," Dr. Birnbaum continues.
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This may be why Harrelson hasn’t taken a bevy of raw-food converts under his wing (despite his assumptive charisma). “I don’t find that people come around to my way of thinking,” he told WENN. “It’s very hard to talk someone out of a burger if they like burgers.”
Understandably so, it can be incredibly difficult to resist the temptation of unsolicited advice when you see someone you care about eating themselves to their next coronary bypass. In that situation, Dr. Birnbaum recommends two strategies. First, compliment them on something else—anything else—for which they merit praise. “Research has shown that when someone has a positive experience, it helps them repeat positive experience in other areas,” says Dr. Birnbaum, who clarifies that if you feel good about one aspect of your life, such as work, it encourages you to improve other areas, like self-care.
Second, Dr. Birnbaum cautions you to remain “in the middle”—don’t attack the person by being aggressive or argumentative, as that will make them feel judged. Instead, open up a discussion. “What can I do for you? What do you want to know? What can we do together?”
Sounds like Woody needs to channel his inner Detective Hart and start asking lots of questions. Or maybe he can get his personal raw vegan chef to make some delicacies for his burger-devouring friends. Proof is in the pudding, after all.
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