There are around 250 million Americans 18 and older. More than 117 million have to contend with a chronic disease or disorder that's diet-related, according to researchers from the National Center for Health Statistics. That's what recently led the scientists to explore folks' use of specialized diets for conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Their findings clearly showed that despite the abundance of advice about healthy nutrition that's available, it's rarely followed.
The NCHS study, published as an NCHS Data Brief, found that only 10% of adults said they're sticking to a weight-loss-oriented diet on any given day. An antidiabetes diet is followed by only 2.3% of adults; a low-fat or low-cholesterol, heart-friendly diet by a mere 1.8% of adults.
Bombarding you with facts and info on nutrition and health cannot change your behavior. Only you can. But it isn't easy to change your diet — giving up foods you're used to eating and dishing up ones you've rarely tasted! So let's explore what's known about creating behavior change and how that may help many of you adopt nutritional approaches to health that will change your life — and life expectancy — for the better.
How to Reprogram Yourself
Visualization. Neuroscientist Russell Poldrack runs the Poldrack Lab at Stanford University, which is dedicated to understanding decision-making. He says when it comes to breaking old habits and adopting new ones, it can be helpful to visualize yourself acting out a bad habit (eating a bag of chocolate-chip cookies) and then imagine you are practicing good behavior right on top of the bad one. For example, you then visualize yourself snacking on a slice of melon, an apple or a handful of nuts. Try it with your eyes closed, with measured breathing. As you exhale, let the bad habit go. Inhale the good habit. Then actually enjoy those walnuts!
Positive thinking. One U.K. research group looked at 129 studies on strategies for behavior change and found that if fear, regret or guilt is your motivation, it makes it harder to change and to have the change stick. That means you don't want to focus on fear of disease progression, regret for not fitting into your favorite pair of pants or guilt over not being able to play sports with your kids. Instead, focus on the good results that will come from upgrading your nutrition: longer life, more energy, fewer wrinkles, a happier mood. Let it inspire you.
Taking baby steps. B.J. Fogg, a psychologist and the director of the Persuasive Technology Lab at Stanford, has created a "Tiny Habits" technique that helps you begin to accept a new behavior, expand it and stick with it. He says the key is to nudge yourself forward gently. You adopt a tiny positive action and do it as many days or weeks as it takes to expand it and make it automatic. Tip: It's often helpful to add that tiny step to a habit you already have (even if it isn't a great one!).
If you usually eat your dinner in front of the TV and you want to eat more healthfully: Once you settle in, always start your meal with a glass of water and one Brussels sprout or any other veg you want to incorporate into your diet. Just a mouthful, every day. You can work on not eating in front of the TV later!
If you eat a sugary cereal for breakfast and want to begin to eat a healthier breakfast: Put a quarter-cup of unsugared cereal in a bowl with fresh berries and lowfat yogurt. Alternate a spoonful of healthy cereal with a spoonful of your usual sugar-bomb breakfast.
For more help making small changes with big results, check out the free Tiny Habits program at tinyhabits.com/join. It includes a 25-minute setup and then five days of a three-minute routine during which you practice your new habits.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer Emeritus at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit sharecare.com.
(c)2020 Michael Roizen, M.D.
and Mehmet Oz, M.D.
King Features Syndicate