Nutrition counselors have arguably the lowest success rate among all health-care professionals. We have plenty of repeat customers, especially after the holidays, but we are also faced with a large percentage of "drop-outs," meaning clients who eventually give up on weight control, regular exercise, and improving their lifestyle choices. Some say, it's not the people who are failing to heed our advice, but that the messages we give are failing the people.
A study based on data from the Annenberg National Health Communication Survey found that conflicting or contradictory diet and health information in the media made recipients more likely to ignore or dismiss even widely accepted recommendations.
Participants in the survey who had the greatest exposure to inconsistent information expressed the most confusion about nutrition matters, according to Dr. Rebekah Nagler, an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Journalism and Mass Communication and lead author of the study report.
"Greater confusion was associated indirectly with backlash against nutritional advice in general, as indicated by agreement with statements such as 'Dietary recommendations should be taken with a grain of salt,' or "Scientists really don't know what foods are good for you,'" she wrote.
Similar reactions were found with regards to the importance of exercise and the consumption of healthy foods like fruits and vegetables.
In spite of the countless attempts to improve our diet, we are still seeing young and old alike ignore sound nutritional advice and grow fatter and fatter, laments Jane E. Brody, a columnist for the New York Times, who specializes in topics of diet and health. But not only the food and restaurant industry influences unhealthy eating behaviour, as it is often stated, nutrition science itself is to blame as well, she says.
"Let me know when the nutrition gurus make up their minds and maybe then I'll change my diet. Meanwhile, I'll eat and drink what I like," is a widespread sentiment among would-be dieters, she says, quoting one of her clients.
One of the reasons why some people give up so easily on health advice may be that desired results often don't come quickly enough. If it doesn't work right away, there must be something wrong with a particular regimen or lifestyle change. But straightforward solutions are usually hard to come by.
One study found that oversimplifying descriptions in black and white terms -- like "good for you" or "bad for you," "healthy" or "unhealthy," etc. -- can also hinder successful weight management and adherence to better eating habits. "All or nothing responses to minor dietary transgressions" can frustrate the best of intentions, according to Aikaterini Palascha, a nutritionist and behavioral scientist at the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands and study author. Dichotomous thinking in addition to rigid dietary restraints is often a crucial factor in people's inability to maintain healthful diets and weight control, she says.
What makes most people deviate from good eating patterns is not so much that they are confused but rather that they are conflicted, says Dr. David L. Katz. We may want a magical formula for weight loss and other health issues, but no such thing exists. However, that doesn't mean we are at a complete loss. To the contrary. Katz believes there is already sufficient consensus to take decisive action and make the necessary changes to overcome, or at least diminish, our current obesity crisis and many related diseases.
It is because this can involve some hard work and also some education that we may be tempted to let it all go. But that's a decision based on how much we are willing to invest in our well-being, not a matter of confusion how we should go about it.
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"Know your grocery store and go with a list of healthy foods in the order they are laid out. That will help you resist temptation, and it speeds up shopping because you're not wasting time cruising the aisles for what you need." --Elizabeth Ward, MS, RD, author of MyPlate for Moms, How to Feed Yourself & Your Family Better
"Healthy eating choices start with the groceries you have on hand. Grocery shop with a plan and shopping list. Do not attempt to grocery shop when you are hungry, as you will be surprised at the significant number of impulse buys in your cart." --Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDE, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
"In my experience, most people tend to under-shop the produce department. They toss a head of lettuce, a stalk of broccoli and a bag of carrots into the cart and move on. But remember: We're supposed to be eating five servings of veggies a day. As a rule, vegetables should take up at least a third -- or even half -- of the real estate on your plate. Logically, this means that veggies (fresh or frozen) should take up at least a third of your grocery cart!" --Monica Reinagel, MS, LDN, CNS, author of Nutrition Diva’s Grocery Store Survival Guide
"Many shoppers overlook the canned foods aisle because they don't realize that canned fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as fresh and frozen. Plus, canned foods are always available. I stock my pantry with canned veggies, fruits, legumes and broths so I can make a healthy meal in minutes. A recent study found that meals prepared at home [contain], on average, 200 fewer calories than meals from restaurants -- and they're lower in fat and sodium. Having a well stocked pantry can equal pounds lost and pennies gained!" --Katherine Brooking, MS, RD, co-founder of Appetite for Health
"The original versions (most often plain-flavored) foods and beverages -- like cereals, soy milk, yogurt, pasta sauces and more, are usually the most nutritious. That's because as brands extend product lines, they move into more decadent offerings that cost more and have worse nutritional profiles." --Julie Upton, MS, RD, co-founder of Appetite for Health
"My best tip, and the one I use for myself always, is to buy produce according to the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists. Buying all organic isn't realistic for most [people] ... but you can easily and affordably minimize pesticide exposure when you buy according to the lists." --Marjorie Nolan Cohn, MS, RD, CDN, ACSM-HFS, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics and the author of Belly Fat Fix
"Bypass the front of the package and rely mainly on the nutrition facts panel and ingredients lists. If you're looking to bump up fiber or protein intake, or lower fat/saturated fat intake, the nutrition facts panel can be a one-stop shop for all nutrients and can simplify the process of comparing products. However, when using them, make sure to check the serving size to make sure it's a reasonable portion for you. If not, you'll have to double or triple the numbers that you're trying to add or reduce." --Elisa Zied, MS, RDN, CDN, author of Younger Next Week
"Trying something new? Use the bulk food aisle to scoop up a small portion of buckwheat or bulgur or millet or dried beans." --Angela Ginn-Meadow, RD, LDN, CDE
"Look high and low on store shelves for the least expensive items in their category -- and often the most nutritious. Brands pay higher slotting fees to be placed at eye level, and those costs are generally passed on to consumers." --Upton
"Before you pull into the checkout line, pull over and do a final cart check. Make sure your cart has visually 50 percent fruits and veggies, 25 percent lean and plant proteins, 25 percent whole grains -- and don't forget to double check there are enough healthy fats, like avocado, nuts, seeds, nut butters and liquid oil ... You are only as healthy as your last trip to the grocery store!" --Dawn Jackson Blatner, RDN, CSSD, LDN, author of The Flexitarian Diet
Follow Timi Gustafson, R.D. on Twitter: www.twitter.com/TimiGustafsonRD