We have arrived at the second week of 2018! How are you doing working towards your lifestyle goals for the new year; more sleep, decreased stress, on point diet, and regular physical fitness? Were any or all those examples part of your New Year’s Resolutions? Sadly, 75% of people drop their resolutions within the first seven days of the new year and only 8% make it the entire year.
I recently noticed a few times a week people tell me their diet and exercise struggles. Interestingly, I notice it more with diet than exercise, because even my runners and people I know that exercise regularly will talk to me about their diet. I am not a dietician, nutritionist, medical doctor, or weight loss specialist. I am not licensed to tell people what to eat, nor are many people that do tell others what to eat. What I am, though, is a healthcare provider and somebody whose lifestyle is deeply rooted in an aversion of what I observe in my patients, who are a representation of the general population (who, in the United States, have seen a steady increase in overweight and obese individuals since the 1970s, as well as associated diseases). My lifestyle or diet and exercise choices are referred to in the health psychology world as “well behaviors”. Well behaviors are activities people engage in to maintain and improve good health and avoid illness (Sarafino & Smith, 2011).
Your diet can be a well behavior. Unfortunately, to many, diet changes are as difficult as giving up smoking cigarettes or other addictive substances. There is plenty of research available suggesting there are reward centers in the brain that respond to sugar and why some people have a “sweet tooth”. But many of the diet choices/habits out there are also culturally rooted; ethnically and/or socially. New Year’s resolutions that include a change in diet should include an understanding of social-cognitive theory, which suggests behavioral modification is an interaction between personal, behavioral, and environmental influences (Bandura, 1977).
Dear readers, many of you I know personally and know what your diets include. I am not judging, but if you express a desire to change your diet for weight loss, improved health, sleep quality, and/or athletic performance, please look at your surroundings; the personal, behavioral, and environmental influences that sabotage your dietary goals. How often are you hitting up cocktails with your gal pals or your boys? The rise in overweight and obese individuals in the US parallels the sales of both soda and alcohol. How about family gatherings and work potlucks? How can one control themselves and stay on point with their diet? How about throwing down a plate of vegetables before you get to your favorite, more satisfying foods. A first plate of vegetables will allow for less room for the other foods. You don’t have to give up what you love, but you should look for ways to include foods that can improve your health and they should be your first choice. Make your behaviors well behaviors!
Just to reiterate, I’m not judging anyone! As full disclosure, I will throw out the fact that I eat for pleasure, not just necessity. Honestly, I went to an all- you-can-eat buffet today. As a matter of fact, I went there three weeks in a row! But, my first plate is always a loaded-up salad! My subsequent food choices are always mindful choices, because it would be way too easy just to eat it all because it is included in the price of admission.
Bandura, A (1977). Self-efficacy: Toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological Review, 84, 191-215.
Sarafino, E. P., & Smith, T. W. (2011). Health psychology: Biopsychosocial interactions (7th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.