Yesterday morning I was on a hike with my neighbor (yes, 6 ft apart I promise) and we were discussing health issues she has been dealing with. She had to plan for a virtual appointment with a dietician and a doctor and we began talking about nutrition and health issues. At one point I said, “honestly diet and exercise helps so many health related issues if only people were better guided in that direction it would be amazing,” but I caught myself. I stopped. I said “no that doesn’t sound right. That’s part of the issue right there. It is not along with DIET and exercise. It is along with CLEAN EATING and exercise or along with HEALTHY EATING and exercise or along with clean eating and PHYSICAL ACTIVITY.” Take your pick but the way we approach this just isn’t working. The words we use just aren’t working.
We are misleading people left and right. Every other commercial ends with that tagline and doctors prescribe medications, saying “take this along with diet and exercise” as if that is all it takes. That phrase seems to have become the panacea, giving doctors the false sense of doing all that needs to be done before they send a patient on their way to “get better” before a follow up appointment in a few months.
Today was the first day I thought of what that phrase does to people. I bet you have already thought of what the word diet means to you and it probably isn’t positive, right? The word “diet” quickly brings up the idea of sacrifice and denial, and the time frame for adherence is always temporary. It is associated with negative emotions. It turns people off, scares and intimidates people, makes people resistant to change, and because of this, fails to help people change their habits. That word has been ingrained in many peoples’ heads for their entire lives, either personally succumbing to one of the hundreds of fad diets, being led to believe one way of eating will be their answer, or knowing someone who has lived their life trying diet after diet to look or feel a certain way. At this point I honestly don’t even think patients pay attention to those words anymore and that is a serious problem.
We are contributing to the obesity epidemic each time we say these five words. We must be thinking of HOW to help people lead healthier lives. People need guidance. People need support. People need education, resources, and encouragement. We must arm patients with the tools to make these changes that are being suggested. We must tell them WHY this is important and HOW this will help their condition and their overall health. We need to be guiding people in a direction of health. There is no diet. No one singular thing works for everyone; change is made for each person on the individual level; change is made when you find out the true barriers to your own personal change. Everyone knows what is healthy and what’s not. I bet you can tell me that an apple is healthier than a cookie, but we cannot just tell people “ya along with diet and exercise…” We must help people and provide resources that help people follow this sound advice. Whether this means that patients see a health coach or a nutritionist after their doctor appointment or we simply ask follow up questions such as “Do you understand what that means?” “How might I help you do this?” or “Do you have any ideas as to how you might make some changes to better your health?” We must change the way things are done if we want true change to occur.