Anne Ricci recently posted a list of 10 beliefs that she believes keep people from eating a healthy diet. Although the author highlights important subjects to address, her approach gives me pause. Some of us respond to a take no prisoners, tough love, or authoritarian approach to food, diet and lifestyle. However, I instinctively approach these same issues differently with my clients.
Here’s my stab at tackling the exact same client challenges. Check out both approaches and consider what support would work better for you.
Very little in our culture honors the time and energy to purchase, prepare, and eat food that contributes to good health. We have grown to expect to eat on the run: at the sink, at our desk, and in the car. In addition, convenient foods often deliver a hearty dose of highly processed, refined and adulterated ingredients that keep us less than healthy. Choosing to eat more nutrient dense foods means greater attention in the marketplace and in the kitchen.
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Determine if your health ranks high enough to change your ways. If yes, your greatest challenge will be to stay mindful. When you are ready and willing, make better decisions at the marketplace, allow more time and and energy into preparing food at home, choose carefully when eating away from home.
2. Nutrition is too complicated.
While nutrition science is complicated, eating better doesn’t have to be. Basically try to stick with a balance of whole foods. That means enough protein to feel satisfied, sufficient vegetables, fruit, beans or legumes to provide the energy you need, and adequate fat to feel content over time.
The trickier part is figuring out what balance of carbohyrate, protein and fat works for you. Do you need more animal protein to feel satisfied, or more plant foods? How much fat do you need to help you feel content over time? Remember that the balance of food that works better for you is not necessarily what works for your best friend or neighbor, and sometimes professional guidance can help.
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Eating better allows you an opportunity every day to feed yourself well.
3. Cooking is a chore.
Cooking takes time, energy and skill. However, preparing better food is also a statement. It says, “I care about my health and well being”. It says, “I like having the energy to accomplish the tasks and enjoy the activities in my day”. It also says, “I’m worth the time it takes to eat better.”
If you want to learn how to cook, try asking a friend or neighbor who does to teach you. Take a class or workshop–a great way to create community if you don’t have one in place. However, if you truly don’t like cooking, there are a myriad of resources to help.
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Taking time to purchase, order, and/or prepare better food shows how much I value my (my family’s) health and well being.
Quieting the sweet beast takes fortitude as well as readiness and willingness. It also helps to understand why we feel so addicted in the first place. In 2011 I wrote a guest blog for Appetite for Health to address how to navigate sweet’s slippery slope (which is no longer available on that site, but available on my website)
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Would you like to regain true control over when and how much you enjoy a sweet treat? Taming the tiger is tough, and only you can determine if the effort is worth it. However, the number one word my clients use after they successfully learn to manage sugar in their life is liberation. You can be liberated, too.
5. Eating healthy is too expensive.
Fruits, vegetables, protein rich foods and dairy are more expensive per calorie than bread, cereals, grain based snacks, and sweet treats. But how much is “too expensive” depends on each individual and their circumstances. Research from Harvard School of Public Health found “the healthiest diets cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy diets” (that’s $45 a month for one person, $550 per year, and $2,200 more for a family of four). The authors of the study consider the economic burden significant.
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Healthful eating is more about progress than perfection. Do what you can to allocate more dollars to healthier choices. After all, prevention costs much less than disease. It may be cheaper in the long run to pay the farmer instead of the doctor.
Eating healthy isn’t nearly as challenging as finding the willingness and readiness to change. Health scares can catapult people into eating better, but reaction is rarely as effective as pro-action. Ideally we eat well to give ourselves the best chance to navigate whatever comes our way.
If you don’t have a support system, or worse, if those who could support you actually sabotage you instead, you may want to cultivate a new team or join a different tribe of support. Multiple organizations are available, or you might find the support of your health care team and a nutrition professional to be more effective.
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: You have an opportunity to cultivate a support team, whether a formal group, a team of professionals, or new friends with a like-minded goal. In the long run, you will need to be your own best advocate, but it always helps to build a reliable support network.
Most of the time we don’t need to eat the perfect diet to enjoy good health. A healthy diet allows some indulgence, an occasional sweet or treat. Moving beyond black and white thinking, the kind of thinking that tells us we are bad if we eat chocolate and virtuous if we stick with a piece of fruit, presents the toughest challenge.
Ironically perfectionism often backfires, allowing anyone the perfect excuse for abandoning themselves and their health goals. The inevitable splurge is called “what the hell effect.”
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Learn what it takes for you to enjoy good health. If you have perfectionistic tendencies, learn to tolerate a good enough effort without beating yourself up. Adequate attention to what you eat in the moment will take care of the outcome. (see #7 above re; self regulation and resilience)
9. I love my high-calorie comfort foods too much.
Comfort foods gain their reputation for a reason. They are often tasty and satisfying on many levels, regardless of the number of calories involved. They may also remind you of home, grandma’s cooking, or some other nurturing experience.
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Food in its rightful place is both nourishing and nurturing. Allow yourself the full experience of that pleasure when you are hungry. Try to honor how much is enough, especially since most of us will have another opportunity to eat tomorrow. Ideally we cultivate many ways to nurture ourselves when we aren’t hungry, as well.
You don’t need to exercise to improve your metabolic health, but you do need to move. Physical activity allows the body to burn both fat and glucose better or fuel, the very foundation of metabolic health. Thankfully, physical activity takes many different forms–all good. From neighborhood walks to exploring the wilderness, from gardening to dancing in the living room, from biking to work to cycling for a personal best.
REFRAME THE CHALLENGE: Take an inventory or explore ways that you enjoy movement. Know what you don’t enjoy. The gym is not for everyone, so allow yourself to move when it works for you. Ideally the physical activity you choose also feeds your soul, takes care of a few errands, avoids the traffic, or any other reinforcing benefit.
COMPARE AND CONTRAST
Do you respond better to an authoritarian approach or an opportunity to cultivate an approach based on what works for you? After reviewing both approaches, let me know what you think.