Say “No” To Diets and Change Your Lifestyle!
Why don’t we just say “No” to diets this year, and instead consider changing our lifestyle? It’s a simple question. Studies show that diets don’t work. Clearly, changing the way we eat permanently, along with adopting healthy lifestyle changes, can create a lifetime of health, happiness and less disability. So we don’t we just adopt healthy lifestyle behaviors?
Of course the very question presupposes that we did not change our health behaviors last year, and that may not be true in all cases. It turns out that 1 in 5 of us not only begins a new exercise strategy or quits smoking, but continues that new behavior a year later! Unfortunately, that leaves 4 in 5 of us that do not begin or maintain that new goal. So what are the reasons why most of us fail, and take several “tries” before we get it right?
According to one health education model it all begins with perception of a health risk. For example, we realize that if we smoke we could get cancer, and that if we do not stay active it is more likely we will get diabetes or heart disease. Then, we sort of play out a cost-benefit analysis in our mind that goes something like this, “Will walking for 10 minutes, three times daily really help me live longer and healthier?” “Can I start walking more often?” and “Is it really worth the effort?”
Almost all the models agree that it is important for us to believe that we will succeed. Studies agree that if our goals are reasonable and we believe that we will succeed, we are much more likely to succeed in our goals. At this stage in addition to setting and monitoring our goals (for example, drawing on a big calendar a smiley face every time we walk for 20 minutes), stimulus control is important as well. For example, if we normally see the golden arches and yearn for a large sandwich named “Mac”, we have to re-frame that to thinking about how much extra walking we’ll need to do to recover from eating one
Finally, we must reward ourselves and feel the reward of others to most likely achieve our long-term goals. That helps explain why, for example, walking with a friend is so much more likely to help than walking alone, and quitting smoking is so much harder when our spouse continues smoking, and so on.
So what health behaviors are most important to change?
According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, the 10 Leading Health Indicators are, in order of importance:
1. Physical Activity
2. Overweight and Obesity
3. Tobacco Use
4. Substance Abuse
5. Responsible Sexual Behavior
6. Mental Health
7. Injury and Violence
8. Environmental Quality
10. Access to Health Care
For our society as a whole, scientists believe increasing our physical activity and eating right should be at the top of the list (accounting for 35% of all deaths in the US). Consult with your chiropractic physician and doctor regarding your personal situation, which of course may vary from this list (for example, you may already be getting a lot of physical activity, but have other problems that you need to address).
For more reading on the “how’s” and “why’s” of health behavior change, consider using the links below as a starting point. For anyone who might want even more information, there are three theories for which there is more research and stronger support. When doing a literature search you’ll want to check these out: a) Health Beliefs Model, b) the Transtheoretical Model, and c) Social Cognitive Theory (or, Cognitive Social Learning Theory).
Dr. Robert Leach
MSU Extension Service survey of the basic behavioral theories
For information on leading health indicators from the Department of Health and Human Services
Guide to Quitting Smoking from the American Cancer Society that references use of the Health Beliefs Model