Simple Stories Are Ruining Our Health Progress

SIMPLE STORIES ARE RUINING OUR HEALTH PROGRESS

We all fall victim to believing in the simple health stories that permeate our culture. These stories sum very complex ideas into short quips that sound authoritative, but lack context and often, truth.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

“Cut carbs out of your diet.”

“Fat makes you fat.”

“Sugar is bad for you.”

“Do more cardio to lose weight.”

“Eating late at night makes you store fat.”

We tell ourselves simple stories. People tell us simple stories.  We project simple stories onto others. People project simple stories onto us.

Our health behaviors are collections of stories and experiences that we’ve acquired and stored in our brains. Our parents telling us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day can affect our food behaviors decades later. A friend losing weight by greatly reducing carbs can make us think that “carbs are bad.” A trainer telling us to “stick your butt out” when we squat can make us think that going into extension is the key to a good squat. Our children rejecting vegetables at first can make us think that kids just don’t eat vegetables.

Over time, we collect small bits of opinions and slowly form our own belief structures on these fragments. These structures are often founded on simple stories, because the human brain loves simple stories. Carbs bad. Breakfast good. Cut calories. But they go beyond nutrition principles. Habits that we form and execute on a daily basis also become belief structures. Our sleep routines, grocery shopping, alcohol consumption, food rituals, and exercise habits all converge to create our identity.

This sense of self is completely normal for a human being. It’s required of us to function in our social society. But where this sense of self can work against us is when we’re interested in changing. In getting better at something. In getting healthier. And in seeking truth.

The Self, Defended

Parts of our brain are hardwired to detect norm violations. Anything that challenges what we personally believe to be true is quickly viewed as offensive.That is, we have knee-jerk reactions to feel upset when something confronts our belief structures, because our belief structures are our identity. This same part of our brain also gets disgusted at the taste of rotten food–in case you’re wondering how powerful this detection mechanism is.

Our health behaviors are fiercely defended—both physiologically and psychologically. This becomes a major hurdle for someone who takes the initiative to start seeing a nutritionist or strength coach. Their current health behaviors have taken them to a place that is most often rather unhealthy—hence, the nutritionist and personal trainer. This client might feel overweight, tired, and under-muscled. But what happens when the trainer or nutritionist suggest new strategies for sleep, food shopping, exercise, and meal preparation?

“I can’t go to bed earlier, it’s the only time I have to clean the house.”

“I hate cooking. Meal prepping won’t work for me.”

“I have to food shop the way I do—it’s the only way I can get the foods I like.”

Human beings are much better at being lawyers than scientists.

The Ultimate Conundrum

So how do we help this client? What they’ve been doing got them to an unhealthy place, but new ideas for tweaking current behaviors are often viewed as offensive, or hard “no’s.”

Passionate health practitioners are eager to help people: if only this client would start going to bed earlier, eating healthier, and listening to me, they’d be so much better off!”

The truth is, neither scenario—the defense mechanisms nor the passionate lifestyle overhaul—are getting people anywhere. In fact, they might increase their stuckness.

The real questions we have to ask are far less simple. We have to move past the black-and-white stories so that we can start creating context. Both the client and the coach have to do this. And when it comes to staunch belief systems, we have to be careful not to create the need for someone to feel like they have to defend themselves.

Change the Conversation

The nutrition world gets trapped in infertile debates regarding who’s “right” is “righter.” Whole 30, low-carb, low-fat, paleo, vegetarian…they’re all increasing the nutrient density of a person’s food and decreasing the energy density. It all works! Period. Things get more complicated when we look at more advanced strategies for people who are moving a tremendous amount, dealing with GI issues, or trying to change very specific aspects of their health. That’s where simple stories have to be vigorously examined.

Where the magic of behavior change happens is determining what works for each individual. We are all going to have different circumstances, preferences, budgets, and experiences to deal with. Because of that, what we can each adhere to for a long time is going to be unique. So how do we open our minds to new considerations and increase our ability to adapt?

We all have to be held to a standard of investigation, openness, and learning.

We have to create a culture around ourselves—and within ourselves—where simple stories are questioned. We can value investigation. We can create an environment that seeks truth, instead of defending what we believe. We can create a culture of learning.

Whether you’re a client or a coach, we’re all seeking to get healthier, and it will help us along our journeys to be open to creating new stories. If you are working with a nutritionist, physical therapist, or strength coach, I hope that you will have an experience with them that helps you question things—even some of your own behaviors—so that you can seek meaningful adjustments that enrich your life. If you’re a coach or a clinician, I hope that you can have discussions with your clients that seek to understand and assist, and this will help you make informed suggestions.

What we value is what we prioritize. If we value being right above all else (which is tempting for all humans), we might continually get stuck every time we desire to improve something about our health. Not valuing sleep, nutritious food preparation, and adequate exercise is what many Americans currently demonstrate.

With two-thirds of the country overweight or obese, it is uncommon to value our health. It is uncommon to investigate the food cultures that we’re building into our own families, or to self-reflect deeply enough to explore the why behind our actions. But to do so increases our degrees of freedom. It allows us to investigate. And when we’re scientists in examining ourselves and the people around us—instead of lawyers—we can unlock the solutions to many of our own problems.

SIMPLE STORIES ARE RUINING OUR HEALTH PROGRESS

We all fall victim to believing in the simple health stories that permeate our culture. These stories sum very complex ideas into short quips that sound authoritative, but lack context and often, truth.

“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

“Cut carbs out of your diet.”

“Fat makes you fat.”

“Sugar is bad for you.”

“Do more cardio to lose weight.”

“Eating late at night makes you store fat.”

We tell ourselves simple stories. People tell us simple stories.  We project simple stories onto others. People project simple stories onto us.

Our health behaviors are collections of stories and experiences that we’ve acquired and stored in our brains. Our parents telling us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day can affect our food behaviors decades later. A friend losing weight by greatly reducing carbs can make us think that “carbs are bad.” A trainer telling us to “stick your butt out” when we squat can make us think that going into extension is the key to a good squat. Our children rejecting vegetables at first can make us think that kids just don’t eat vegetables.

Over time, we collect small bits of opinions and slowly form our own belief structures on these fragments. These structures are often founded on simple stories, because the human brain loves simple stories. Carbs bad. Breakfast good. Cut calories. But they go beyond nutrition principles. Habits that we form and execute on a daily basis also become belief structures. Our sleep routines, grocery shopping, alcohol consumption, food rituals, and exercise habits all converge to create our identity.

This sense of self is completely normal for a human being. It’s required of us to function in our social society. But where this sense of self can work against us is when we’re interested in changing. In getting better at something. In getting healthier. And in seeking truth.

The Self, Defended

Parts of our brain are hardwired to detect norm violations. Anything that challenges what we personally believe to be true is quickly viewed as offensive.That is, we have knee-jerk reactions to feel upset when something confronts our belief structures, because our belief structures are our identity. This same part of our brain also gets disgusted at the taste of rotten food–in case you’re wondering how powerful this detection mechanism is.

Our health behaviors are fiercely defended—both physiologically and psychologically. This becomes a major hurdle for someone who takes the initiative to start seeing a nutritionist or strength coach. Their current health behaviors have taken them to a place that is most often rather unhealthy—hence, the nutritionist and personal trainer. This client might feel overweight, tired, and under-muscled. But what happens when the trainer or nutritionist suggest new strategies for sleep, food shopping, exercise, and meal preparation?

“I can’t go to bed earlier, it’s the only time I have to clean the house.”

“I hate cooking. Meal prepping won’t work for me.”

“I have to food shop the way I do—it’s the only way I can get the foods I like.”

Human beings are much better at being lawyers than scientists.

The Ultimate Conundrum

So how do we help this client? What they’ve been doing got them to an unhealthy place, but new ideas for tweaking current behaviors are often viewed as offensive, or hard “no’s.”

Passionate health practitioners are eager to help people: if only this client would start going to bed earlier, eating healthier, and listening to me, they’d be so much better off!”

The truth is, neither scenario—the defense mechanisms nor the passionate lifestyle overhaul—are getting people anywhere. In fact, they might increase their stuckness.

The real questions we have to ask are far less simple. We have to move past the black-and-white stories so that we can start creating context. Both the client and the coach have to do this. And when it comes to staunch belief systems, we have to be careful not to create the need for someone to feel like they have to defend themselves.

Change the Conversation

The nutrition world gets trapped in infertile debates regarding who’s “right” is “righter.” Whole 30, low-carb, low-fat, paleo, vegetarian…they’re all increasing the nutrient density of a person’s food and decreasing the energy density. It all works! Period. Things get more complicated when we look at more advanced strategies for people who are moving a tremendous amount, dealing with GI issues, or trying to change very specific aspects of their health. That’s where simple stories have to be vigorously examined.

Where the magic of behavior change happens is determining what works for each individual. We are all going to have different circumstances, preferences, budgets, and experiences to deal with. Because of that, what we can each adhere to for a long time is going to be unique. So how do we open our minds to new considerations and increase our ability to adapt?

We all have to be held to a standard of investigation, openness, and learning.

We have to create a culture around ourselves—and within ourselves—where simple stories are questioned. We can value investigation. We can create an environment that seeks truth, instead of defending what we believe. We can create a culture of learning.

Whether you’re a client or a coach, we’re all seeking to get healthier, and it will help us along our journeys to be open to creating new stories. If you are working with a nutritionist, physical therapist, or strength coach, I hope that you will have an experience with them that helps you question things—even some of your own behaviors—so that you can seek meaningful adjustments that enrich your life. If you’re a coach or a clinician, I hope that you can have discussions with your clients that seek to understand and assist, and this will help you make informed suggestions.

What we value is what we prioritize. If we value being right above all else (which is tempting for all humans), we might continually get stuck every time we desire to improve something about our health. Not valuing sleep, nutritious food preparation, and adequate exercise is what many Americans currently demonstrate.

With two-thirds of the country overweight or obese, it is uncommon to value our health. It is uncommon to investigate the food cultures that we’re building into our own families, or to self-reflect deeply enough to explore the why behind our actions. But to do so increases our degrees of freedom. It allows us to investigate. And when we’re scientists in examining ourselves and the people around us—instead of lawyers—we can unlock the solutions to many of our own problems.

2019-02-27T21:20:54+00:00

About the Author:

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Erin is a graduate student working toward a Masters of Science in Nutrition and Health Promotion, as well as completing the Didactic Program in Dietetics to become a Registered Dietitian. She’s also a Precision Nutrition Certified Nutrition Coach and Certified Sports Nutritionist.