July 28, 2014

The “Diet” Dilemma

When I was a clinical dietitan with Bayhealth Medical Center, I was asked by the hospital administrator to give a nutrition presentation at the annual Bayhealth Director’s Retreat.  My topic was to be focused on “diets”, and to make nutritional recommendations to the audience that they could pass on to their patients, families, co-workers, children, as well as put into practice for themselves.

I started out by defining the term “diet”, pointing out that most of us associate the word with (to quote Webster’s) “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight, i.e. “going on a diet”, and not with the alternate definition of habitual nourishment”. I happen to love the latter description, maybe because it contains the word “habit”.  My clients know that I stress a nutrition plan that is sustainable, that is, one that incorporates healthy foods they enjoy and will eat for the rest of their lives.  I appreciate the thought that intake is something that should be planned and well-thought out, but by doing so in such a regular manner that it becomes “habitual”.

How does one ensure that their daily “diet” promotes healthy, habitual consumption? I will explain to my audience that much of the nutrition information out there today is extremely convoluted. It is either too simple, too complex, there is TOO much information, there is NOT ENOUGH information, it’s MIS-information, or it’s coming from a non-credible source.  If even our doctors can’t dispense sound nutritional advice, how is the general public supposed to disseminate even the most basic information concerning food and nutrition?

Space prohibits me from including all of the information here that I plan to provide to the health professionals this Thursday…but I will give you some quick hits from my presentation:

1. If a diet pill or diet book actually worked, we’d all be thin and healthy, and the creator of that pill or book would be multi-millionaires several times over. Ain’t happening.

2. Until we take the obesity epidemic seriously, and take proactive (not reactive) responsibility for our health, we are going to continue to be fat, our kids will be fat, and our grandkids will be even fatter.

3. Obesity is a multifactorial problem, which means, there are a lot of reasons we as Americans are getting bigger and more unhealthy every year. Determine which factors are YOUR issue, (Soda? No physical activity? Overeating? Medications? Stress?), and specifically address them.

4. Preaching and pressure don’t work…but educating and empowering does.  I give my clients the tools they need to tackle their obstacles themselves-they own their weight loss battle, not me. But they need the right information (not pressure, quackery or scare tactics) to get them on track.

Until doctors, other health professionals, even you my dear reader buy into the above sentiment, we’re all going to be stuck in this unhealthy rut together, with no hope of getting un-stuck.  So I challenge you: think of one unhealthy behavior you are currently engaging in, and what steps you would need to take to change that behavior for the better. To quote Neil Armstrong: “One small step for man, one giant step for mankind.”