One of the more fascinating aspects of the nutrition counseling process is learning what motivates each individual to change. Last week, I followed up with a challenging patient I had been working with for quite some time. He was painfully aware of his poor health, and as much as he wanted to be healthy, he could never quite motivate himself to make a change. During our appointment, he had a breakthrough when he realized he could translate his organizational skills into meal planning. He left his appointment radiating enthusiasm.
This got me thinking about motivation. That night, out of curiosity, I asked Scott what he thought motivated most people to change.
“I dunno, probably their health. I’d imagine their doctor telling them, ‘Hey, if you don’t change your diet, you’re going to die.'”
If you asked me that question when I first became a dietitian, I would have answered the same. What could be a more powerful motivator than fear of death or disease? I warned patients, “If you don’t stop drinking those cokes, you’ll lose your leg!” or “That McDonalds is gonna give you a heart attack!” I truly thought if they really understood how dangerous their habits were, they would break them. However, as I’ve become a more practiced dietitian, I’ve realized fear rarely inspires lifestyle change.
So what does motivate people to change. Well, it’s different for everyone. For some, like the guy I worked with last week, it’s simply realizing they have the skills to change. Sometimes barriers, like finances or time, can feel insurmountable. These barriers become brick walls, rather than a hurdle. In this case, counseling can be as simple as finding a way around an obstacle.
To make sustainable changes, one must also believe change will lead to a powerful transformation in how they feel in the present. Death and disease rarely feel imminent. For someone without a medical background, statistics and wordy diagnoses may not have the impact we desire. It doesn’t mean someone isn’t intelligent, it’s just not their area of expertise, like when my car mechanic warns me my tire treads are running low. I know I should change my tires, but realistically, I’m gonna try and squeeze another 6 months out of them!
A client I worked with a few years ago is a perfect example of this. When I reviewed his medical record, I saw he had severe, uncontrolled diabetes and was facing many unfortunate complications of the disease. I expected him to cite diabetes as his reason for seeking nutrition counseling, but instead, he said his main concern was his lack of energy. I could have said, “Well, duh! Your blood sugars are in the 400s! Of course you have no energy!” Instead, I focused our appointment on ways he could change his diet to improve his energy level, all of which happened to be changes that would improve his blood sugar control as well. And you know what? He made the changes we discussed and he stuck with them, not because his blood sugars were under control, but because he felt better.
Often, someone won’t change if they think change means giving up their favorite foods. I can’t blame them. If I had to chose between health and a lifetime with no cheese, I’m ashamed to admit I’d go with the latter. Some people live to eat, myself included. And that’s okay. Food should be one of our primary pleasures in life. Change can be as simple as showing someone eating healthy isn’t synonymous with deprivation. I find teaching a client how to recreate a favorite dish without sacrificing taste or showing them how to include a not-so-healthy food in a moderate way is a much more powerful motivator than numbers or facts.
So on that note, here’s another healthy and delicious recipe!
I once mentioned I found most recipes for vegetarian chili pretty lackluster in the taste department. That was, until earlier this year when I stumbled upon a recipe for mole inspired chili. Lucky me, I found another one in of all places, a Rachael Ray cookbook. Grilling the vegetables adds a smoky flavor, which is enhanced with smoked chili and smoked paprika. The vegetables also lighten the dish, making it more summer appropriate. Enjoy!
- 2 zucchini or squash, sliced into ½-inch thick rounds
- 8 ounces cremini mushrooms
- 1 red onion, peeled and sliced into ½-inch rounds
- ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 jalapeno peppers, seeded and finely chopped
- 1 15-ounce can black beans
- 2 tablespoons chili powder, smoked if you can find it
- 2 teaspoons sweet smoked paprika
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 cup beer
- 2 cups vegetable stock
- uice of 1 lime
- Optional accompaniments/garnish
- Chopped cilantro
- Tortilla chips
- Shredded smoked cheddar or pepper Jack cheese
- Chopped scallions
- Heat a grill to medium-high heat. Thread the vegetables onto a skewer, brush with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Grill until tender and lightly charred. Set aside on a platter. Once cool enough to handle, chop the vegetables into ½-inch dice.
- Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and jalapenos and cook for 1-2 minutes. Add the grilled vegetables, chili powder, paprika and stir to coat. Pour in the beer and allow it to boil and reduce for 30 seconds. Stir in the stock and beans, simmer for 20 minutes until thickened to desired consistency. Stir in the lime juice.
- Serve garnished as you like, with tortilla chips on the side.