Sunday, March 14, 2010

Have You Heard, Diets Are Dead?

It’s true—or should be.

March is National Nutrition Month, and the sad fact is that as a population, we’re unhealthier today than we were at the time of the first National Nutrition Month in 1970. According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, almost one-half of all Americans report having a chronic illness—and those illnesses account for 75 percent of our national spending on health care. Furthermore, almost 80 percent of all chronic disease is caused by three preventable health behaviors—physical inactivity, poor nutrition and overeating, and smoking. And, to help us come to terms with our overall condition, the weight loss industry will see close to $70 billion in revenue this year. (That’s 14 percent of the $500 billion a year we spend on groceries.)

What if we reevaluate this relationship of dieting and food?

When we think of a “diet” most of us think of inconvenience, deprivation and temporary sacrifice. In reality, there’s nothing temporary about it—once you achieve your goal, you have to maintain it. Now if we shift the focus from “diet” to, hmmm, say “lifestyle change,” we’re also shifting our focus from negative to positive.

This brings the focus too, to the psychology of habits, and we know habits can be made—and broken. We all get used to doing something a certain way, and before we realize it, that’s the way we do it without even thinking about the “doing” of it. As examples, consider things as simple as drinking water instead of soda, seasoning with herbs instead of salt, choosing whole grains instead of over-processed, refined products. It can be something as simple as not adding sugar to cereal coffee or tea. For many of us, this may not be easy. But it’s doable.

And while we try so hard to “do it,” we’re not getting a lot of help from the food industry.

We try to make healthy lifestyle choices, and the food industry keeps telling us why we “need” soft drinks, chips, Hamburger Helper, pizza that’s double stuffed with meat and cheese . . . you get the idea.

So, back to that “diet” word. Consider that today about 72 million of us in the United States are on some kind of diet, spending that $70 billion we mentioned earlier. That’s a little more than $1000 spent per person “dieting” on average. What would happen if instead each of these 72 million people used that $1000 to make healthier and more nutritious food choices? That averages out to about $20 per week. Now, leave out the soda, fast food, pre-packaged and highly processed choices.

Suddenly, your healthier choices become new habits, and you have a new food-lifestyle relationship. You’re not “dieting”—but look at the result!

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