Self-sabotage: Nutrition Behaviors

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As nutrition specialists, the advice most people seek is directly related to food and the client’s current diet. What should we eat? How much and how often? Is the newest fad diet deserving of the hype? While being worthwhile questions, what most people are completely unaware of are the problems stemming from nutrition behaviors rather than the food itself. For example, a person who chooses to have a snack while watching TV as a way to ‘unwind’ after a hard day, is developing a potentially dangerous nutrition behavior….even if it’s healthy food! 

Why would snacking on a nutritious item, such as fruit or nuts, be considered unhealthy? Nutrition behaviors can manifest and translate in a variety of forms. Let’s say that the late-night snacker started correlating this time as a type of soothing therapy. Eventually, this could become a habit of snacking as a way to relax – which could then lead to emotional over-eating. Does it seem unrealistic? It’s not – and, on the contrary, is quite common. Throughout the course of many years of nutrition coaching, we have witnessed a plethora of nutrition behaviors – many of which negatively influenced the diets of those displaying the behaviors. Our intern relays a particularly significant encounter:

“I had the honor of meeting a very determined, hard-working, and joyful man currently dealing with type 2 diabetes. It should be noted this man was cognitively disabled and required the aid of home-health nurses to make sure he kept up with his personal hygiene, medication regimen, etc. Prior to my encounter with him, he saw great progress with his HgbA1C test results (an average blood glucose over the span of 3 months) – nearly a 3% drop. When I met him, however, his HgbA1C showed a semi-significant spike. I was left baffled. This man has shown much improvement in his nutrition behaviors (in terms of diabetic control), so why has he now started to digress?

I started the counseling session reviewing the basic information that was initially covered in his sessions– what are carbohydrates, what foods have carbohydrates, how much carbohydrates should he eat. He answered every question without hesitation. I then shifted the focus of the counseling sessions away from his diabetes to his nutrition behaviors. I started to realize a trend. He would eat more sweets when he was alone. Initially I thought this was because he was not being monitored so he could get away with eating whatever and whenever he wanted. An interesting fact then surfaced – he was making so much progress that his home-health nurse visits were going to become more seldom. And that’s when it hit me…he was sabotaging his own blood sugars so he would qualify for more home-health nurse visits because he was lonely. He did so completely unable to bridge the concept that, while he was being very clever, he was doing so at the cost of his own health. His nutrition behaviors turned literally destructive so that he would not have to be so lonely.”

This is a powerful example of how we can use food as so much more than fuel for our bodies. In fact, it’s often the case that nutrition behaviors and the relationship people have with food that are the problem rather than the actual food itself.

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