Change is not only inevitable … it is essential for health and wellness. The big question is how do I make changes in my lifestyle and stick to it?
Health care professionals look for the same answers as they try to find new ways to guide us toward a healthier lifestyle.
Finding the ideas and developing the programs that help keep us on the right track was the main theme of the Choices Conference, a two-day benchmarking and educational event presented by the Michigan Fitness Foundation (MFF) and recently held at the Dearborn Inn.
We all know changing a lifestyle is no easy task. Dr. James O. Prochaska, founder of Pro-Change Behavior Systems Inc., says it’s a five-stage process … precontemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance (keeping up the healthy behavior), and termination. The process is called the Transtheoretical Model (TTM). TTM differs from the social peer-influenced model because it focuses primarily on the mindset of the individual.
Prochaska, one of TTM’s originators, provided the opening keynote address and reinforced why the model is essential for healthcare providers.
“Programs have historically been one size fits all,” he says. “Education can start the change process, but it can’t sustain it. We can take and individualize our care.”
People simply don’t like to be boxed in so the answer is to give them choices. That will make them more committed to change and less likely to return to old unhealthy patterns, Prochaska says.
“Build a healthy behavior in 21 days? It’s a myth,” he says. The goal is to encourage healthy behavior in a six-month period, which is more attainable.
The change can’t simply be about physical change, it must also include mental and financial.
“We want people to be whole people, not just walking for diabetes or depression,” Prochaska says. “We need to be looking at health from a much fuller perspective.”
His wife, Dr. Janice Prochaska, president and CEO of Pro-Change Behavior Systems Inc., also presented some thoughts on the model.
“There will be urges to slip back into old behaviors during stress and distress,” she says. “(Stress) can get you to bounce back to an earlier stage, that’s why it’s important to do something when you’re stressed – something physical. Many clients relapse before reaching permanent maintenance. The goal is to engage (clients) in the change process.”
Flint, which has become a hot-button topic in recent months due to water contamination, is ripe for the type of change the Prochaska’s outlined in their speeches.
Jonathan Oldham, a dietician with Genesee ISD (Intermediate School District) based in Flint, can see at least one positive thing about the lead crisis. It will broaden of the discussion on health and nutrition. He and his colleagues have been going out into the community to teach nutrition classes targeted to help decrease lead absorption.
“Vitamin C, iron, and calcium all help decrease the absorption of lead into the body when we consume it,” Oldham says. “Just intermingling that knowledge (with changed behaviors) and trying to make a positive light out of a bad situation. It’s hard to change behaviors when you don’t have social support. Now Flint seems to have a more bolstered support structure. Not just Flint, but also statewide.”
Increased social support means that Michigan can work on how the community as a whole can use this momentum to effect change.
“I think the behavioral change stuff in this conference has a lot to do with the individual, but also how the community supports the individual,” Oldham says.
The individual is part of a larger system, too – farming.
Natasha Bowens, author, of “The Color of Food: Stories of Race, Resilience and Farming,” outlined some of the ways food connects all sectors, particularly for people of color.
“Though we don’t farm as a larger society anymore, we still really need to be tapped into who is growing the food, and what’s happening on that farm,” Bowens says. “This is in direct correlation to what we’re putting in our bodies and the health impact it’s having. It’s really empowering to be able to grow your own food and reconnect something that is really in our history when we talk about our health at all levels.”
The ideas shared were valuable for participants.
“I did take quite a bit from the stages of changes,” says Diane Chapman, a program instructor with MSU Extension. “Trying to (see where they are), giving them more options for when they want to start and how they want to start. Doing something towards their goals.”
Her job is to go out into the community and discuss eating healthy, so the five stages of change model was a particularly useful concept that she plans to use.
Chapman is also interested in looking at disenfranchised communities to find ways of bringing healthier choices to the aisles. “Sometimes it’s not the grocer’s fault,” she says. “Sometimes they overlook (things), sometimes they don’t have enough staff.”