“There’s no easy way out. If there were, I would have bought it. And believe me, it would be one of my favorite things!” -Oprah Winfrey
I always cringe when I see people intently looking at my name badge while I am at the hospital. I know they are going to ask me one of three things. 1. For directions, which I usually am not able to give. I do well to get myself to the places I need to be without getting lost. 2. If I am old enough to be working in the hospital. To which I smile politely and inwardly remind myself I will appreciate these comments when I am older. Or 3. For diet advice, because they see “nutrition services” on my badge. I really don’t mind this last one… I just wish I had longer than an elevator ride to listen to their stories.
This past week, as I was getting on the elevator, a woman asked me this ‘dietary advice’ question. She told me that she knew she needed to lose weight, but her doctor told her she needed to stop eating starchy foods and she just has such a hard time doing this. Well of course she does! Who wouldn’t? I think one of the hardest things about working in the field of nutrition is finding the balance between scientific knowledge and reality. Science tells us that if we eat more fruits and vegetables and less candy bars, we will be able to consume more food with fewer calories and greater amounts of vitamins, minerals, fiber, etc. But here’s where the flip side of reality comes in… those candy bars are our favorite! When we get home from work, we are so stressed and eating that candy bar just helps us relax. We don’t want an apple, we want a Snickers! So maybe we put down the Snickers the first day of our “diet”. We are extremely motivated and it’s not too hard to grab the apple instead. And maybe this will work the next day, and the next, and maybe the next. But what about after that? We are already burnt out on this “healthy” stuff. We have had a really hard day, and the last thing we want is a piece of fruit. What we really want is that candy bar! What do you think will happen? You guessed it… the pear will stay on the counter and the candy bar will be gone. How often has this happened in our attempts to eat healthy? It’s no wonder yo-yo dieting and weight cycling are so common in our society. We try to make unrealistic changes to our lifestyles and we try to make these changes immediately. Unfortunately, there is no instant gratification in regard to living a healthy life. It’s not a one-time fix… it’s a constant effort to take care of the body you’ve been given.
There has to be a way to take our scientific knowledge of our metabolism and health and be able to make realistic changes in the way we treat our bodies. I think the way this happens is different for each individual. There is no trick that will work for everyone. We need to find our own motivation for change and make small changes over time. Unfortunately, since we live in this diet-crazed culture that seeks instant gratification in every aspect of our lives, including taking care of ourselves, it becomes engrained in our brains that we need to look good and look good now. We seem to be taught that making the effort to change our lifestyle will take too much time… instead, we need to take a weight loss pill or go on a diet that will help us lose 20 pounds in one week! (except you can only eat grapefruit). The only problem is, the most effective way to care for our bodies is not a one-time, easy fix. It means taking personal responsibility to care for the body you’ve been given.
So how do we make this change? How do we find the motivation, will, and drive to start treating our bodies the way we are supposed to? I believe there are a few ways that can help make this task a little less daunting. First, make small changes over time. I know I have a hard time with this. I like to set big goals for myself, which have nothing wrong in and of themselves. But trying to tackle a whole mountain before you’ve even been able to get over a hill is probably not the best idea- you will only set yourself up for failure and discouragement. Start slow. Make changes you are willing to make and know you can make. Then, when you feel ready to start something else, do it. Unless your health is facing an immediate crisis, the key is to work slowly in order to ensure the changes you make will last. Next, find someone to keep you in check. If you try to do this on your own, it will be so easy to stray from your goals and pretend it didn’t happen. Also, it makes it a lot more enjoyable and comforting if you have someone to discuss struggles, temptations, and victories with. Lastly, reward yourself! Not with food, but with something that will be an extra motivator to succeed. I heard a patient once say that they were keeping track of every mile they walked and once they had walked the number of miles that would take them to Hawaii they would allow themselves to take a trip to Hawaii. It doesn’t have to be this expensive or elaborate, but designate short term and long term rewards for yourself.
Making changes in your lifestyle is the best way to live a healthier life. Don’t try to find a quick fix when it comes to your health. You wouldn’t take your brand new car to the quickest, least expensive mechanic in town. You would take the time and resources to see someone who you were sure would take care of your car. How much more valuable is your own life? Make the effort to treat your own body the way you would your most prized possession. This is the only way a change will last.