I joined Karma Co-op recently as I’m trying to eat more fresh food in the hopes of losing a few pounds. I’ve been stocking up on natural groceries, seeing the dietitian regularly, and watching videos from my dietician about the dangers of eating processed food and eating out. It’s been three months, and nothing has changed: my dietitian is frustrated with me, I can’t stick to the meal plans he sets up, most of the produce I buy goes bad before I use it, and I just end up feeling guilty. I want to change my behaviour and am trying, but somehow it never quite pans out. How can I improve my eating habits and lose weight?
A New Member
Dear New Member,
First, I am sorry to hear that your dietitian is frustrated with you. Health professionals should be equipped to provide support and information, not judgement.
I took a look at what evidence-based studies have to say about changing eating behaviour, and it’s fascinating, complex, and sometimes counter-intuitive. For example, a 2016 paper writes that “health consciousness” — having information about the health effects of food — does not correlate with healthy behaviour. Knowing what is healthy doesn’t prompt body-size change in most cases, and, at best, only shows a weak association, such as increased consumption of organic food. Actions related to health, like meal-planning, also don’t correlate to improved eating but may contribute to anti-fat bias (Wood 2016).
An article your dietitian could take a look at talks about the causes of food choice behaviour — examining the variables other than intention that affect what we choose to eat, including beliefs, marketing, food literacy, taste, culture, and more (Scott 2017).
So, if intention and health education don’t work to change eating behaviour, guess what does? Being curious (i.e., non-judgmental) and in the present, and paying attention to the process of eating. Yes, it’s mindfulness, and yes, that can feel a little like cheesy pop-psychology, but it’s been shown to work to change eating behaviour in relatively large trials (Hendrickson 2017). Plus, it’s a lot more inclusive and less shame-inducing than the alternatives. I would add that eating habits are only one small part of what affects weight: genes, intestinal microbiome, and other factors play important roles; though, contrary to popular belief, exercise does not (Science Vs. podcast episode).
My point of view? Relax about weight/weight loss, focus on enjoying quality food, and avoid people (especially professionals) who are judgmental about weight.
Ask Reece is the e-Chronicle’s advice column by Karma working member Reece Steinberg, a health sciences librarian and food enthusiast. Reece provides advice with input from a variety of sources, including anything from traditional etiquette columns to peer-reviewed scientific articles. He answers Karma member questions about dietary lifestyles, food science and fermentation, eating etiquette, and anything else food-related. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.