“Willingly or not, we participate in an environment of food choice. The choices you make about food are as much about the kind of world you want to live in as they are about what you have for dinner.” — Marian Nestle, “What to Eat.”
At the New Year, many of us make resolutions and before long we wonder what happened to our good intentions. Now it’s February and some of us wonder why it’s so hard for us to change our habits for the better. As Charles Duhigg wrote on the subject in “The Power of Habit”: “Most of the choices we make each day may feel like the products of well-considered decision making, but they’re not. They’re habits. And though each habit means relatively little on its own, over time, the meals we order, what we say to our kids each night, whether we save or spend, how often we exercise and the way we organize our thoughts and work routines have enormous impacts on our health, productivity, financial security and happiness.”
That said, suppose we have resolved to improve the quality and/or quantity of our diets and have found ourselves slipping. It may be helpful to see if some of the following reasons may apply. Sometimes a bit of self-knowledge can be a catalyst to positive change.
It’s so much easier to go along with the status quo. We don’t want to think about how our diet may be unhealthy. And besides, we have that underlying belief (conscious or unconscious) that poor eating habits may affect others, but not us. “I feel fine so I don’t need to change.”
Also, we may not want to admit that maybe we’ve been wrong. There are those of us who are rigid and can’t stand to be contradicted. Different ideas are resisted because we feel we are giving up control. As Michael Shermer wrote in “The Believing Brain”: “The longer we hold a belief, the more we have invested in it; the more publicly committed we are to it, the more we endow it with value and the less likely we are to give it up.”
We may have a dependency on or an addiction to certain foods. This can be related to food allergy, poor nutrition that causes cravings, blood sugar instability and even psychological quirks. Such problems can make change more difficult.
Maybe we’re the type that desires instant gratification. We don’t think about the possible future consequences of our actions. The health benefits of improving our diets are way out there somewhere. The chocolate cake is right here. Or we’re plain lazy. Do we lack energy because of poor diet, or do we have poor diet because of a lack of energy? Along with this goes the lack of self-discipline. Remember that without it there is no choice and we are bound to our bad habits. We are not free to learn and change.
Is it possible that we do not feel worthy of good health? We think, “It’s too late for me,” or “What’s the use?” We must feel we deserve health before we’ll change our ways. Along with this, we may be afraid of what others might think. We don’t want to be labeled weird or different. And then, again, we don’t truly believe that we can do it.
We are so busy and our lives have become so hectic that we do not take time for this kind of self-care. This is also a good excuse to put off taking needed action. We’ll change later when we think things will simmer down, but it rarely happens.
We think dietary change is too complicated. We don’t really know how to go about it. If we are not adequately motivated, learning about how what we eat affects our physical, mental and psychological well-being can help a lot. It might be because the dietary change we have decided upon is unrealistic for us and needs to be modified.
Some people use conflicting information about nutrition as an excuse to do nothing about improving their diets. For instance, one nutrition guru will proclaim that a high fat diet is the most beneficial. Another advises us to avoid animal products. At one time, margarine was supposed to be better for us than butter. Now it’s derided for its saturated fat content, etc. As Shermer wrote: “Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for unsmart reasons.”
Maybe by understanding ourselves better, we can move ahead with our resolution to eat more healthfully. In the meantime, see if you can figure this one out: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” — Guiseppe di Lampedusa.
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 700 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.