Internally vs. Externally Attributed Lifestyle Changes.

27 Nov

This is part of a larger piece of work that I’m building on over here. The inspiration came from an essay on and is well worth the read.

If you’re the first among your friends to make a lifestyle change, a very large majority of them are going to hate you for it, unless the change can be externally attributed.

So you’ve done some reading and decided that you want to try the 30-Day Paleo Challenge?

If your friends don’t know Gluten from Guetta and you all go out to dinner, your food choice just labeled you “that diva” who eats funny.

Forget getting support, your friend eating the cookie in front of you is going to offer you one.

If you accept, you’re weak and “weren’t that serious anyway”

If you refuse, you just reinforced the label of “diva”


Because you made a choice, you just became the enemy. You’re a Villain of the vilest sort.

If, on the other hand, your doctor told you that you had to cut out wheat because you have a gluten allergy?

Your friends will not only support you, they will do everything to make your life easier.

Going out? One of them is going to double-check that the restaurant can accommodate you.

Dinner party? Someone will make a dish just for you.

You aren’t “that diva” you’ve become “that poor thing”.

Because the choice was taken out of your hands, you are now a Victim.

When a lifestyle change is a choice, people get defensive. They feel threaten. As far as they’re concerned, you’ve just said, “What you’re doing is wrong.”

They now have two choices: Either they justify why they continue the behavior, or they can discredit the person not maintaining the behavior.

When the lifestyle change is externally attributed, people don’t get defensive because they  think “They would still behave this way if they could!” No one feels threatened so there’s no reason to act defensively.

It’s ridiculous, but it’s true.

If you’re going to make some lifestyle changes, especially when it comes to health and nutrition, here are three steps to help make the transition easier.

1) Externally attribute your lifestyle change, regardless of the actual reason for it.

“I have a gluten allergy so I have to go paleo.”

“My doctor told me I needed to quit drinking.”

This makes the initial transition easier. You’ll have to face much less social pressure which makes it easier to ingrain the lifestyle change. Once you aren’t worried about regressing to old habits while under stress, you can try step 2.

2) Internally attribute your lifestyle change and ignore everyone who gives you grief.

“Sorry, I don’t eat bread. It makes me feel weird.”

“Sorry, I don’t drink. It messes up my sleep.”

No matter how apologetically you might do it, if you internally attribute your habit change, you’re going to get grief. If you hang out with cool people and everyone is happy for you or at least no one cares? Good for you. The amount of grief will be minimal. Enjoy your new habit and all the changes it brings. If the group of people you spend time with aren’t as cool and they start to bother you, enter step 3.

3) Draw the line in the sand and potentially Get New Friends. (More on this in a later post.)

“I don’t eat bread.”

“I don’t drink.”

You’ve made your lifestyle change, you’ve reaped the benefits, and you’re happy. The rest of the people in your life don’t need to be happy for you, but they can’t make you feel bad about yourself for choice either.

Draw the line in the sand. Tell them when enough is enough. Give them plenty of warning. They might not know that their behavior or comments are actually bothering you.


The moment that a friend knows that what they do or say is a problem and they do it anyway?

Cut them loose and find a new friend.

There are plenty of people who can hang out with you without making you feel like shit for your choices.

6 thoughts on “Internally vs. Externally Attributed Lifestyle Changes.

  1. this rings a gazillion bells – girls learn quick who are their friends and who are their frenemies when weight loss is involved. I’ve had drunk ‘friends’ accuse me of anoriexia/eating disorders simply for successfully losing weight (I needed to lose).

    I’ve also found being paleo this month that people are way more accepting if i mention i’m doing it as a charity movember challenge as opposed to experimenting with a new ‘lifestyle’.

  2. I am open to being ‘the Diva’ or just the Wierdo when it comes to my paleo eating choices. I have learned that eating out with non paleo people means a whole load of frustrated friends…can i swap potatoes for a salad, can i have this with no sauces etc however, i have been paleo that long that my friends are accepting of the fact that i am what they call a fussy eater.

    I do however, use the allergy card in starbucks occasionally when i ask them to use my coconut milk for my latte becuase i am have a lactos allergy 🙂

  3. Good article Phil

    What this ignores though is that part of being a good friend is telling you what you don’t want to hear and calling you out on behaviour that you may think is fine but causes that friend to worry about you

    Replace the word paleo with haribo in this article for example

    PS not a critique of paleoism, more just a devils advocate with point 3

  4. Well i think for starters calling it Paleo is a bad idea. I have just told me friends that thats the way i chose to eat i dont say i am paleo anymore it caused too many questions and strange looks 🙂

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