Barriers to change

Food choices and eating patterns are complex and many factors influence the choice, timing and intake of food and meals.

Just why can’t we change our diet?


Food choices and eating patterns are complex and many factors influence the choice, timing and intake of food and meals.  Many people know they need to make changes to improve the health of their diet but for many reasons are unable to translate wishes into action.  Changing habits that have been built up over a life time will take time.


Desire or need to make a change:


Wanting to make a change can often be turned into action once a diagnosis of diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or poor liver function are identified.  For some people the desire to change may not occur until after a heart attack or stroke.  Many people who are the target for health message perceive that these messages are for someone else and not directed at them!  This may be due to a lack of personal awareness of the content of their own diet or personal health profile.  ‘That’s not me’, ‘that’s for really overweight people, I’m OK’.  This results in little or no motivation or desire to change.  ‘I already remove the fat from meat and skin on chicken’ despite using high fat milk and thick slices of high fat cheese as part of meals and snacks.


Taste preferences.


Many people see changing to a healthier diet as boring and tasteless, unsatisfying and bland, or too hard.  The misinformed belief that healthy eating means giving up favourite food and treat foods is perhaps the most frequent reason for not making or maintaining healthier food choices.  A treat food or item is not a treat if it is consumed everyday!  Taste buds require a number of weeks to adapt to a change (at least 6-12 weeks).  Under situations of stress traditional eating patterns are often reverted too.


Lack of time.


This comment is frequently given by young well educated people as a reason for not being able to make the change to healthier dietary patterns and food choices.  “It’s too hard if I have to think about it’.  Practice and new patterns will make this easier and easier and less effort will eventually be needed.


The too hard basket.

‘It’s too difficult to eat more fruit and vegetables!’  ‘They are just too expensive and take too long to prepare.’  One of the most common worldwide nutritional recommendations is to consume more fruit and vegetables.  Barrier such as cost, difficulty of preparation and seasonal variation can be overcome by using frozen, fresh in season and canned without added salt or sugar.  Purchasing prepared items such as stirfry or pre portioned microwave servings can resolve the time issue.


Knowledge base:

A lack of knowledge is often not seen as a barrier to change.  However, knowing the correct or appropriate serving size and how many servings to eat may be.  Many people are aware their diet needs to change but do not understand how to make these changes in terms of food on the plate.  Making a number of small changes (reducing salt added in cooking and sprinkled onto food, smaller servings of sugar added to cereals and beverages, using a slightly lower fat milk) is the one of the first places to start.  Take one step down rather than jumping to the extreme.


Summary: Overcoming barriers to change

  • Acknowledge that making changes to the diet is not easy, will take time and there will be a few slip-ups on the way.
  • Start slowly. Make one change to the diet at a time.
  • Make one step towards the change –dark blue to lite blue milk, hard cheese (cheddar) to lower fat (edam), cut a thinner slice, use a smaller teaspoon when adding sugar or salt to food and meals.  Cut back rather than cut out.
  • Use more herbs, spices, curries, garlic, lower fat tomato based sauces and pepper in cooking to replace the flavour removed with less fat and salt in meals.
  • Plan treats and include favourite foods as part of treats.
  • Don’t be a food martyr.  Have a smaller slice and focus on moderation.
  • Learn serving sizes and portion.  Read labels for serving sizes.
  • Make time for healthier food options, think ahead and learn to cook new recipes.
  • Keep a well stocked pantry and freezer.  You can’t eat food you don’t have!
  • Give yourself credit and praise for the steps you have taken.
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