5 Ingredients for successful health promotion
Updated: Oct 25, 2019
Over the years, I’ve identified some key factors that lead to successful health outcomes and behavior changes, whether they be micro health outcomes with the individual, or macro health outcomes within societies. This in no way is an exhaustive list, but I hope that these get the wheels turning and help you in your quest to become healthier and happier.
Support- This requires no definition. Support takes many forms, whether it’s a phone call between 2 friends, a Facebook group thread or an in person support group. It provides time to ask questions, tell stories and learn in palatable ways. Without supporting those who seek to change something as significant as their diet or lifestyle behaviors, it could lead to frustration, hopelessness and failure.
Respect- This is a big one that’s missing in many scenarios, especially within the realm of diet and lifestyle. Despite your nutritional philosophies, or total lack thereof, we all have to respect those philosophies as a part of who a person is at this point in time. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with it and it doesn’t mean that you should give up on this person if your mission is to help them. It just means that, in this context, they might not be ready to change, yet. Or they just may be influenced by a different philosophy. Lack of respect breeds hostility, anger, frustration and division. And division is not the way we progress our health as a nation. With respect, we can accept others, no matter their views and we are more willing to come together on topics that we all agree on.
Evidence- There are different levels of evidence. Most people are familiar with anecdotal stories within nutrition; stories from friends or celebrities that purport certain outcomes from certain behavioral changes. Is this evidence? Kinda. Is this evidence that should shape public policy? No. The level of evidence matters when forming nutritional philosophies that broad swaths of the population should be following. Not pointing to evidence or to poor collections of evidence leads to health behaviors may have detrimental health impacts in the short term or long term. Look for books and articles with citations, or better yet, read the citations or the literature for yourself.
Critical thinking- Even if we are embarking on something brand new, and receiving support and respect from a group, it doesn’t absolve us from using critical thinking skills. Broad questions that you may ask yourself could be “Does this make sense”? “Am I believing every word as gospel”? Or “Does this align with basic laws of nature and my understanding of how the world works”? If something feels wrong in your gut, if your critical thinking mind kicks in and tells you to pause, that's healthy and that’s OK. That’s your cue to continue to learn, do more research and press the play button once your questions and concerns are sufficiently answered. If we fail to use our critical thinking skills, we could fall victim to those trying to hook us into buying a new pill, powder, supplement or trendy way of eating that wastes time, money and health. I must emphasize that especially within the realm of health and wellness, just because something sounds too good to be true, goes against your current beliefs or is a counter to the status-quo, does not make it wrong and does warrant immediate dismissal. It warrants a deeper dive into the evidence and understanding.
Open mindedness- There’s a lot in this world that I don’t understand; and I can say with 100% certainly the same applies to you. I don’t pretend to know everything, and when I admit that, it creates an environment and a mindset to be open minded and receptive to new information. That doesn’t mean we have to believe what we hear and accept every new piece of information as truth. It just means that we need to use our critical thinking and respectful mind to hear what the other person or side is saying, evaluate that and consider it as another piece of the giant puzzle.
Science, Medicine and nutrition is complex. A way that we’ve attempted to understand these fields is with reductionism. What’s the mechanism? What chemical is responsible for this action? What nutrient binds to this protein to cause this outcome? Although noble and valid, it’s not all that is necessary to form decisions as important and as multifactorial as what we eat and how we live. We need to take the mountain of reductionist data, combine it along with other forms of science and evidence, and combine those sources with various fields of study and various specialties. This task enables us to form a multidisciplinary, holistic view of how our diet and lifestyle habits change our short and long term health but also how those decisions shape and effect the world around us. We don’t live in a bubble, in a laboratory or a test tube. We live in an ever changing world and our collective, everyday decisions do play a significant role in our health and the health of the world we live in and share.