DAY ONE of my intervention. It’s going well. I plan to write here regularly over the next few months to take time to reflect. I plan on writing at least twice a week. Next time I post, I will include more practical details of my intervention. For now, here are my reflections about the complex nature of health behaviors and how knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes motivate us to do what we do.
“Calories in; calories out. It’s really not that hard.”
I’ve heard that said more than once. And it drives me crazy every time. Even apart from eating and food choices specifically, health behaviors in general are complex to understand.
There are cultural level factors like our American obsession with excess and pleasure seeking. Our American idea that we should be able to have what we want when we want it and as much of it as we want definitely runs deep.
There are individual level factors that go beyond just the biological; for example, psychological factors (thoughts, feelings, behaviors) that motivate our behaviors either consciously or subconsciously.
And of course social factors contribute to someone’s behavioral choices too. Friends don’t always want to let friends eat what you want to eat. Sometimes friends want you to eat what they’re eating. Or, maybe your friends are a strong support for your life choices. That will definitely make a positive difference in the choices you make and your perception of what choices are even viable.
Often there is not one, easy answer for why we do what we do. Yet the biomedical model still prevails among some doctors and health professionals. There’s a single source to the problem in their minds: you’re eating too much. So stop.
It would be just lovely if doing was as easy as knowing. Actually developing and practicing the skills to be a healthy person is a lifelong quest. It takes effort and diligence to gain mastery over our life choices.
Taking a moment to consider my knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes can help me reset my inner GPS. I examine what I know, for example, if am eating something and feeling gross afterward; I take some time to raise my awareness about certain foods. A little research about processed snacks, dairy, gluten, GMOs, refined sugar, etc. (whatever I want to cut out of my life in my most enlightened moments) empowers me with the knowledge I need to hold a candle against the impulses to make decisions I’ll regret later.
Likewise, I examine what I believe. Are my beliefs healthy and supportive to my overall wellbeing? Analyzing my beliefs and recalibrating them when necessary has been particularly helpful for me in the aftermath of my failures. Those moments in the aftermath failure are intense and difficult to endure. But they are also some of the most important to embrace. What am I going to do? How am I going to respond? Do I shake it off and get back on the wagon? Do I beat myself up? Do I go down a rabbit trail of downward spiraling health choices until the damage is oh-so-much worse than it would have been had I just tried again?
Believing that I am loved (by people, by God), for example, gave me the inner strength that I needed to turn away from that feeling of self-loathing that used to creep in when I’d fall short of who I thought I should be, and instead turn toward love, acceptance, and the truth. We are all flawed. We must learn to love ourselves, even with those flaws. We must believe that we are indeed lovable. And we must LET others love us. That last part is harder to do than some might think. That means letting others love us when we feel the reality of our imperfections. That takes humility, unselfishness, and a true sacrifice of our pride. Letting trusted others see and love the parts of ourselves that aren’t quite what we want them to be can be so healing. And truthfully, until you know yourself and love yourself, it might be difficult to ever actually feel loved.
Attitudes toward topics will affect the way we behave too. How you evaluate something and your opinion about it will influence the choices that you make. If you are someone who cares deeply about the environment, care about the social impact of foods you consume, and feel that you have a responsibility to make sound food choices, it will probably be easier for you to come up with reasons why you shouldn’t eat at fast food restaurants and henceforth avoid doing so. If your attitude toward all that is one that evokes an eye roll or a chortle of annoyance, then you probably aren’t going to see it as a big deal to frequent McDonald’s.
In sum, as we work to develop health skills, we really need to consider the whole truth (biopsychosocial factors contributing to our choices), not just one piece of it (calories in and calories out).
I am of the mind that there’s a huge space between knowing and doing. In that vastness there are many biopsychosocial factors motivating the choices that we make. Know yourself. Be kind to yourself. Work on yourself. Love others. Let others love you. It’s all part of it, in my humble opinion.