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Do you follow the guidelines?

Ilona Madden - RightFood4U - Nutrition Programmes - Bray Wicklow Dublin

Written by Ilona Madden

October 1, 2020

How would you have reacted – had someone told you 12 months ago – that you won’t be allowed to visit and hug your mother or grandmother? Had someone told you that you can’t just invite a group of friends to your house or that you won’t be allowed to travel to whatever country in the world you’d like to travel to, or that you can’t have more than 10 people attending your father’s funeral? Or that you would have to completely re-do and re-think your own business? You most likely would have said something along those lines: “There’s no way I’ll be sticking to this!” or “There’s no way I’ll be able to accept this!” or “There’s no way I’ll be able to do this!” And yet, we have all somehow and with more or less resistance followed the guidelines over the past couple of months. Nobody would have thought a world as we find it now would have been possible – with so many changes and restrictions to everyone’s lives!

What I’ve been asking myself though is WHY are we accepting those guidelines? WHY are we sticking to them?

Because they are law? Because they make sense? Because everyone else is following them? Because they help us prevent the spread of a disease, i.e. they are important for our health and wellbeing? They are also important to avoid the potential overcrowding of our hospitals and ICU’s. They are preventative measures for an outcome that we don’t even fully understand. However, the longer the guidelines were in place, the more people were also breaking them and were finding “excuses” or “justifications” as to why they are breaking the guidelines. The rising numbers of confirmed cases seem to be justifying this. Then I am looking at other guidelines. Guidelines that have been in place for a very long time. Guidelines that have been well studied and researched for years. Guidelines that would help reduce the number of people with chronic diseases that cost our health system millions and could potentially overwhelm it. Guidelines that can actually help people lead lives full of health, energy and wellbeing. These are guidelines on healthy eating: The HSE or WHO guidelines all suggest we should eat more vegetables, avoid fizzy drinks and high-sugar foods. So, I’m just wondering WHY are so many people NOT following those guidelines? Because they are not the law? Because they don’t make sense? Because not everyone else is following them? Or Because they are uncomfortable and take a bit of effort? Because people think they are difficult and complicated to follow? Because people don’t want to be taken away the freedom to eat what they like? But then again, following all the COVID guidelines is uncomfortable and takes effort. It is something that – twelve months ago – we would have said, we are not able or willing to do. And they have certainly taken away a lot of freedom. Now, I am by now means in any way suggesting, we should not follow the COVID guidelines, but I’d rather want to explore, why are we not following those long-existing “healthy eating guidelines”? I suppose that the majority of the population wants to live life to the full and are happier when they feel healthy than when they are sick. Yet, why does not everyone stick to the healthy eating recommendations to avoid fizzy drinks and the chocolate doughnut for example?

  • Is it that they are all in denial?
  • Do some people simply feel invincible?
  • Do they feel it’s different for them and that the studies have no relevance to their health condition?
  • Do they feel it’s in the genes anyway or the luck of the draw?

Of course, nobody sticks to healthy eating guidelines 100%. I don’t think there’s a person in this world that has a 100% perfect diet. In fact, I don’t even believe a perfect diet actually exists, but that’s a topic for another time. Yes, and we all do it from time to time: Justifying that chocolate brownie, that extra glass of wine or G&T, going for a takeaway because there’s nothing in the fridge. And that’s absolutely fine. However… “Why are we all sticking to what we are told to do in regards to the Corona-virus regulations?” The reasons why we are sticking to the hygiene, mask-wearing, not-hugging, self-isolation, non-travel and many more guidelines is because:

  1. We all feel the real threat and fear of getting this virus and getting very sick.
  2. Why do we not want to get very sick? Because it’s painful, we feel rotten and also because we can’t do things we love to do.
  3. We also do not want to catch the virus as there is a real risk of passing it on to other people who might be more vulnerable.
  4. We do not want to be seen to be breaking the rules, the guidelines or the law.

There is a huge motivation to stick to the guidelines. We all acknowledge the necessity. We all acknowledge the real danger. We make the connection between our action and the potential future outcome.

What I ask myself though is:

“Why do we not make this same connection between our action now and the outcome for our future health when it comes to nutrition & lifestyle?”

The fact that there are endless studies that prove the connection between the most common chronic diseases does not motivate most people enough to get into action. If we crave sugar and certain foods, it is usually triggered by emotions and by our mood. And then we rationalise why we should now be eating or drinking with excuses such as:

  • “a little bit of sugar won’t harm”
  • “We need something sweet every now and then”
  • “life is not worth living without red wine”
  • “so and so was 90 and smoked all his life”
  • “I just have a sweet tooth”
  • “I just don’t like vegetables”
  • “It’s such an effort”
  • “Sure, there’s no guarantee anyway, so and so was eating healthy all her life and still got cancer.”

And the same is happening when we do get motivated to do something. We feel the emotions first (the fears and worries as described above, or the excitement and desire to achieve something) and then rationalise it and are able to motivate us. So, what I think is that: The knowledge of what is good for you and what is not is usually not enough, it is our emotions that are driving our motivation. Currently, we are driven by emotions (mainly fear for our own health or the health of others) and that’s why we stick to the Covid19-guidelines. But unless there are enough emotions involved to make you want to change your eating habits and lifestyle, people are generally staying in denial and do not worry about the future. When you go to your doctor and you get a diabetes diagnosis or an under-active thyroid and are told that you will have to stay on medication for the rest of your life – this has for many people a huge emotional effect. And for many, this is a wake-up call. And it is filled with the emotion of fear. For others, it is simply not fitting into their favourite dress anymore, this could be filled with the emotion of anger, self-loathing, disgust, unhappiness. For others, the strong emotional feeling of sick all the time or in pain. Others might lack energy all the time and feel sluggish and not themselves anymore, they feel annoyed that they can’t do the things anymore that they love doing. Generally, it is an AWAY-GOAL that drives the change. Something, you don’t want to be happening. And this is a very strong motivator. However, what will keep you motivated in the long-run is the TOWARD GOAL:

  1. The fit, energetic, healthy, good-looking, happy, alert YOU -when it comes to nutrition and lifestyle changes OR when it comes to the current guidelines:
  2. The world without the threat of Corona-Virus. The vaccine. Going back to normal. Going back to hugging your family and friends, travelling without restrictions, doing the things you loved to do, meeting with lots of friends, big weddings and funerals, going out dancing and celebrating.

Unfortunately, I do not have the solution to 2., although I would suggest that we have already way more power than the current guidelines suggest. More and more studies show that Vitamin D, Vitamin C and Zinc play a major role in the prevention or the severity of symptoms when you contract the virus. Good nutrition and lifestyle are vital to your immune system and this becomes more and more evident. So, what I would suggest if previous health advice hasn’t convinced you to make some changes in your nutrition and lifestyle – now is the time to get started! With every vegetable you eat more, you supply your body with more nutrients to support your immune system. With every junk food, you avoid you give your immune system the chance to fight the virus rather than having to deal with the junk in your body. With every bit of exercise or movement or relaxation practise you take, you are helping your immune system to work better. And if you are struggling, because your sugar cravings are letting you down all the time, or you think you could never give up those biscuits or your sweet tooth, there is help and support out there. You don’t need to do it alone. How can I as a Nutritional Therapist help you? – I will give you clarity amongst the confusing nutrition information that is out there and help you apply the “mixed” messages specifically to you. – I will help you get to the root cause of your cravings, by looking at your mindset around eating but also identifying possible physical reasons which can be identified in specific tests such as food intolerance test, stool tests, etc. – I will help you create new habits around eating & lifestyle that fit into your current life and are personalised to you. And therefore you are much more likely to stick to those guidelines than to general ones that you might have been finding hard to stick to in the past. – By making positive changes to your nutrition and lifestyle, you are giving yourself the best possible chance for a life full of vitality, energy and health. So, what’s stopping you? Are you still not convinced? Why? Do you believe you can’t do it? Do you think it’s going to be difficult? Do you think healthy eating means sticking to a boring fad diet? Do you think you’ll have to give up too much? How much have you been giving up in the past few months since the beginning of the lock-down? Look at what all countries in the world have been capable of introducing and what everyone is doing. I am convinced that healthy eating and a healthier lifestyle will soon be part of the recommendations in the same way as we are told to wear masks and wash our hands frequently. Don’t wait until then, start now! Find out how I can support you by booking a complimentary “discovery” appointment with me. https://rightfood4uappointment.as.me/

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