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Strong Feelings about Diet

Few subjects are as engaging as food.

I’ve heard that…

It said in the newspaper that…

For me it works best to …

Food has a central place in our lives, and it’s great that it’s so engaging. But it can also get out of hand.

In the media and in blogs these discussions are sometimes bitter. LCHF, 5:2 or the Atkins diet are defended tooth and nail. Why are there such strong feelings?

Food Is Part of Our Identity

One explanation is that eating habits are so personal, so deeply rooted. When someone criticizes my eating habits, it may feel like everything about me is being criticized.

Another explanation is lack of sensitivity for people’s varying life situations. Many with an opinion about diet seem to assume that there is one “best diet” that is the same for everyone.

mäter storleken av en smörgås i försök att hitta den bästa dieten

A third reason is that we are so used to getting prepackaged solutions to treat illness. “Take one tablet three times a day for seven days, then you’ll be fine.” But lifestyle illnesses are influenced by a person’s whole life pattern. Science gives guidance but we also know that each individual has to find their own solution in order for it to be sustainable long term.1 The lack of ready answers may therefore be frustrating, because it goes against the traditional model of healthcare. Then it’s easy to start looking for simplified prepackaged solutions.

A fourth reason for the agitation is that many people are perplexed by the divergent reports on healthy food. One day fat is good, the next day fat is harmful.

en fisk som väljer sin egen väg

Why Is It So Hard to Study Diet Scientifically?

It’s hard to compare different diet studies. Sometimes thousands of people are investigated, sometimes only a dozen. What the participants eat is measured objectively in some studies, while in others they have to try to remember themselves what they ate. Confounding factors such as concurrent smoking, various illnesses or physical inactivity are often not taken into consideration. Moreover, a long follow-up time is needed to really see effects.2

It’s not strange that the research reports diverge. And for anyone who wants to find “scientific” evidence in their blog it’s easy to pick out an article that supports their thesis (even if hundreds of others show the opposite).

en gul och en röd paprika

The Recommendations Are Hard to Follow

Therefore it’s hard to know how much attention to pay to particular articles that are blown up in the media. In order to get a nuanced, combined picture, groups of experts have studied thousands of articles as a basis for official nutrition recommendations.2

A study in Malmö that investigated 20,000 participants for over 20 years showed that those individuals who followed the official nutrition recommendations actually lived longer. But very few followed the recommendations.3

Couldn’t this be the core issue? The problem is perhaps not that the official recommendations are wrong. Perhaps the problem is that they are hard to follow.

If we try to follow the recommendations but still don’t lose weight or get better blood sugar, it’s easy to blame that on faulty recommendations, when in many cases the absent effect is more likely because we simply haven’t followed the recommendations.

This is very human. Changing your eating habits requires a completely different level of engagement than taking a pill.

hälsosamma bär i skål formad som ett hjärta

How Can We More Easily Acquire Healthy Habits?

In order to change your eating habits you need knowledge about what is good eating behavior. You will get that on these pages but also in other contexts, e.g. through public health information.2,4 But knowledge alone isn’t enough to make lifestyle changes.

You also need self-knowledge. Studies have shown that lifestyle changes that are driven by inner motivation are perceived as more meaningful and easier to stick to.5

This is where we want to fill an important gap. It’s one thing to get information. But it’s another thing altogether to apply that information in a way that fits your everyday life. For that reason we invite you to be a researcher yourself – a researcher in how you can live in good health.

Through different questions, you open up to various experiments and make your own personal discoveries. About yourself. About others. About your living habits. And about how you can best take small, daily steps in a healthy direction.

What eating habits can you change that will be both suitable for you and more healthy?

References

1. Cederholm T et al. [In Swedish: Krypskytte mot vetenskapen äventyrar folkhälsosatsningar. Läkartidningen. 2016;113]

2. Nordiska ministerrådet. Nordic nutrition recommendations. 2012. 

3. Drake I et al. Scoring models of a diet quality index and the predictive capability of mortality in a population-based cohort of Swedish men and women. Public Health Nutrition 2013. 16.3. 

4. E.g. www.livsmedelsverket.se, [In Swedish: Socialstyrelsen Kost vid Diabetes, SBU Mat vid diabetes]

5. Cohen G et al. The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention. Annu. Rev. Psychol. 2014. 65:333–71

More to come

We are about to launch the full English version of the Swedish medical university initiative, PriusHealth, providing daily thought-provoking questions to unlock how you relate to yourself, to others, the larger us, as the way to improve your health.

Available both as an open website and a full guided program, it will be launched summer 2017. If you would like us to keep you informed of its launch and thereby get free access to more content, then click here.

Keep me informed