How Can I Make a Healthy Diet Stick?

In her weekly column, Bradford West Gwillimbury licensed nutritionist Nonie De Long gives a straight talk about why most people won’t make dietary changes permanent.

Dear Nutritionist,

I agree with much of what you write because I read a lot of health information online and some form of carb restriction is recommended for weight loss by a number of top notch professionals so I’m in. But my question is how a person makes this change for good? I see people diet and lose weight then gain it back and do it every year it seems. There is always backsliding. How do you make a healthy diet a forever thing and do you think that’s maybe expecting too much of most people? Thanks and great column!

Keep it Real, Cara

Dear Cara,

Thank you for your thought provoking question! The answer, if I am totally honest, it that it is unlikely that most people in our culture today will make a healthy diet a lasting lifestyle change. I say this for 5 reasons. Let me unpack them for you.

1. The junk food is too ubiquitous. We are literally bombarded by overly processed, strategically seductive foodstuff everywhere we go. Convenience food has become so available, so inexpensive, so popular that it’s extremely difficult to avoid.

What choices do you really have if you are not making food at home to take with you? You can choose between food fried in horribly processed, inflammation causing ‘vegetable’ oils or something sugar-laden, or something loaded with enough starch to fuel a small army for a day. It’s all overly processed, overly salted, and overly sweetened. 

And you can wash it down with soda or juice or a fructified energy drink or a hip-whip sweetened something reminiscent of coffee. Or of course you can buy water that has been stolen from you to sell back at astronomical profit for the sole purpose of normalizing the ownership and sale of human rights like clean air and fresh water. Regardless, when the sugar high hits you will think it’s groovy, but when the sugar coma follows soon after you will be swimming through the haze to get your next fix. Which leads me to my second point... 

2. The junk food today is anesthetizing and addictive. It’s true. Chemically speaking, garbage foods are closer to drugs than to natural food. They are strategically manufactured to trigger the addictive part of the brain to create insatiable cravings. 

Of course you can’t put the bag of chips down or stop the soda consumption: you aren’t meant to! The product doesn’t exist to nourish you or satiate you. It exists to make you want more; to increase sales. 

A soda before eating a meal has been proven to make you eat more food than you would otherwise, because that much fructose shuts down the satiety centres in the brain. These foods are intentionally manufactured to create an artificial, insatiable need for them.

Whether they deliver any nutrients to your cells at all is entirely irrelevant. And the more deficient they are, the more your body will crave more food (a biologically hard-wired survival program) to get nutrients. Yay! Product sales go up! And then, when you get sick from all that overeating the same players have shares in pharmaceutical company profits. What a coinkidink! They benefit doubly from your hearty consumption! Which leads me to my next point...

3. The junk food isn’t recognized for what it is. It’s become so mainstream that those of us who identify it as garbage and suggest it’s damaging our society are perceived as extremists or food fundamentalists in a time when moderation and mediocrity have been made the modern Gods.

“Everything in moderation,” seems to be wise advice and naturally, we apply it to food, as well. But we don’t exactly know where the ‘moderation’ threshold is. We don’t know - one person to another, or even in an overarching sense - just how many frosties or burgers or donuts it takes to create insulin intolerance and tip the scales to disease over health.

This is made more complex because a number of foods like whole grains, rice, and vegetable oils have been pushed on us by the food industry as “wholesome” only to be found to contribute greatly to insulin resistance, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. So even if we only have junk in small quantities, if we consume a plate of rice with dinner (even a lovely homemade meal) we are edging closer to that diabetic threshold - which we see emerging as epidemics in certain communities (south Asian and Mexican in particular) that rely on these foods as staples.

And we certainly don’t yet know the long term effects of these mutant foods when ingested on a regular basis by growing children. Is it benign in any amount? It’s a science experiment we have all been opted into by default - unless you are THAT mom who refuses to drink the cool aide (literally) and insists your child has a brown bag, organic lunch when all the other kiddies are eating pizza and cookies and cupcakes with every celebration. Everyone knows how popular THAT person is.

Most sheople would rather be sick and blissfully anesthetized or speeding toward dead before they would like to be that person who goes against what everyone else in the room is doing. This is perhaps the hardest part, even once people have become woke to the dangers of processed foods. They just don’t want to be the person in the room who is left out or going against the grain. Sorry, couldn’t resist :). But you know it’s true. 

Belonging is a strong, primal instinct in humans and we feel it less and less today with the replacement of togetherness with social media. Are you really ready to forgo that sense of solidarity by being the one jerk in the room who refuses to eat what the host serves? Usually, the answer is a resounding hell no.  My next point ultimately makes the problem even more complicated...

4. The junk is so damaging you or your family will be made sick from it, which will add such a burden on you it will make it doubly hard on you to make lifestyle changes. Until we have dealt with chronic illness in our family we really can’t know what this is like, but it generally makes every chore doubly difficult to accomplish. And eating healthy is often one of the first things to go in a push to minimize unnecessary chores and just survive. 

When you’re running from one specialist appointment to another and one treatment to another with one person’s salary and kids to juggle, it’s next to impossible to do effective meal planning. The sad truth, though, is that effective menu planning would most certainly have an incredible impact on the energy and resiliency of the caregiver and the person who is ill, not to mention any kids involved.

People regularly ask me how I’m still standing and thriving despite my son’s long struggle with mental illness and I always credit my diet. There was a time when I developed a tumour and panic attacks. But I got testing done, saw my protein and B’s were low and adjusted it. Problem solved. Another time I couldn’t handle anxiety. I turned to herbals and homeopathy and again upped my B’s to address it. Again, problem solved. We all have this choice, but it is very, very hard to make in a culture that brainwashes us to think our bodies are, at best, nominally affected by the food we consume.

Because our modern medical establishment proffers pills and surgery to address the sicknesses this toxic diet has in good part created, people don’t really have to face the reality that diet is the primary culprit of modern disease. It may never even occur to them. It’s very few people, in the face of this type of systemic denial, that turn to dietary changes without the prompting of a physician. And too few physicians are prompting patients or understand the power of dietary changes or even know what the best dietary advice is. Remember, this is not their area of specialty.

Without being whacked on the head by the consequences of ill health long enough and hard enough, most people don’t turn to diet for health solutions. When they do, they quickly realize health insurance does not cover nutritional guidance and they have to pay out of pocket, which often deters them from taking it any further. Until there is conviction, there is no decisive action or investment. But with diet, until there is decisive action and investment, there is no result to drive conviction.

Which leads me to my next point...

5. You have been told it’s your fault you overeat all this garbage nonfood and as long as you believe that’s true, you aren’t pointing the finger at the real culprits who are in a position to make things change. Food manufacturers know full well that the foodstuff they are producing is increasingly harmful and addictive and overturning healthcare budgets and zapping quality of life. But it’s so bloody profitable! For an incredibly insightful documentary into this very issue, I recommend The Fifth Estate’s “The Secrets of Sugar,” available to watch for free here.

Clearly, the industry players are no more likely to take responsibility without court mandated action than the tobacco industry was. And as long as they have us all convinced our overconsumption of their junk is just a matter of willpower, why on earth would they? On the flip side, if consumers didn’t buy their junk, there really wouldn’t be much incentive to keep producing it, would there? Hmmmmm.

So what is required to make a lifestyle change for that small population of people who will do it habitually for life? Well, if you look at nutrition circles you will see a common denominator: they have all been sick or witnessed a loved one get sick and observed first hand the miraculous power of diet to turn that ship around. Those are the people that will stick to it.

To sum up, it’s unlikely we will follow a diet for life unless we become convinced of the transformational value in it. Or, in the words of Persian poet and Sufi master, Rumi, “If you desire healing, let yourself fall ill. Let yourself fall ill.”

Tune in next week when I address why white bread has more nutrients than whole wheat when we’ve been told the opposite! As always, if you have your own health questions, don’t hesitate to send me an email. 


Nonie Nutritionista 

Nonie De Long is a registered orthomolecular nutritionist with a clinic in Bradford West Gwillimbury, where she offers holistic, integrative health care for physical and mental health issues. Check out her website here.

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Copyright 2016 Nonie De Long.