Lifestyle Change is Difficult
By Mark Gomez
A while back, I viewed the documentary Super Size Me. The film attempted to dramatize how the fast food industry is partly responsible for our current obesity epidemic.
One line in the movie went something like this: “We can’t look to government to force McDonalds to modify their menu. But, if enough people demanded a change, McDonalds would put out a new, healthier menu overnight.”
Market forces rule in our capitalistic society, so we really can’t blame big business for all of our ills. They’re just giving us what we want—regardless of how it affects us in the long term.
One example shown in the film described how fast food restaurants would routinely offer their customers the option to “super size” an already calorie-packed order for pennies extra. This gave consumers perceived value and the fast food industry increased profits—never mind whether the practice contributed to the decline of consumers’ overall health.
This line of reasoning begs the question: Isn’t it time that we start taking responsibility for our own actions?
According to the NPD Group, an organization that tracks trends for retail establishments, the number one item ordered off a menu by men in the U.S. in 2004 was … wait for it: hamburgers. For women? French fries. And there is a trend in the fast food world where those hamburgers are becoming larger, packed with even more fat and calories.
Clearly, healthy eating is not a priority for Americans. Nor is exercising, for that matter, since two-thirds of us do not even get the bare minimum amount of exercise that the U.S. Surgeon General recommends. This spells trouble ahead for our country.
So, how do we steer ourselves in a healthier direction?
James Prochaska, PhD, and his colleagues at the University of Rhode Island Cancer Prevention Research Center showed that individuals make behavioral changes according to a series of progressive, incremental steps. Today, his research is frequently referred to as the “Readiness to Change” model.
Here’s the gist of how we make changes over time:
· Precontemplation - The individual dismisses any notion that a behavior needs changing;
· Contemplation - The individual begins to understand that a behavior change may be required to lead a healthier life and begins to investigate ways to make a change;
· Preparation - The individual settles on a specific remedy;
· Action - Steps are taken to address the problem;
· Maintenance - The new behavior becomes part of the individual’s lifestyle.
There is one additional stage called “Relapse” where the individual falls off the wagon. The encouraging news is that most individuals return to the “Preparation” or “Action” stage of change, thus accelerating their progression through the process.
Understanding these stages of change will help you make permanent lifestyle adjustments.
So where do you stand? Are you still in denial about your need to exercise, lose weight, or quit smoking, or are you ready to investigate ways to transition from where you are to where you really want to be?
It’s important to understand that failure often occurs because we attempt too big of a change too quickly. We might want to consider making a series of small changes over time. Once several changes have been made and five to six weeks have passed, the process begins to work in our favor and changes will occur much more frequently.
By including “Relapse” as one of the stages in the “Readiness to Change” process, the researchers acknowledged how difficult making behavioral changes is. They’ve also shown how normal it is to have such difficulty.
Mark Gómez, MHSE, MA, ACSM-cPT, NSCA-CPT, is a health educator and personal fitness trainer. He is the owner of Four Seasons Health and Fitness, a private fitness studio in Fort Collins, Colorado. You may contact him at (970) 556-2920 or via e-mail at Mark@FourSeasonsHealth.com.
Copyright 2007, Mark C. Gómez, All Rights Reserved. Republished with permission.
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