Can You Change? Making Healthy Changes


By Carol Crenna

MARGARET MEAD ONCE SAID, “It is easier to change a man’s religion than to change his diet.” She was right according to CBC News, which reports that, for the majority of the population, knowing the risks doesn’t stop poor eating habits.


Dr. Cindy Jardine at U of Alberta, who conducted studies about habitual behaviour, says health educators aren’t touching on underlying reasons because they can’t get beyond the theory, “If they understood the facts, they’d change.” She found that in aboriginal communities 96 to 100 percent of respondents understood risks of alcohol, and 80 percent said smoking was “very dangerous.”

But without addressing causes (like abuse and unemployment), they aren’t going to change. 

IT’S HARD TO CHANGE…She also says it’s hard to change accepted social behaviour, whether it’s overeating or overworking. “Stress is bad for us, yet we wear it as a badge of honour. And most of us don’t like to be preached to, so we rationalize bad habits. We all have a bit of recalcitrant child in us. We keep smoking with the excuse ‘It hasn’t hurt me so far,’ or ‘It helps control my stress or weight.’ “

Alan Deutschman, author of the book Change or Die,  says (In Fast Company Magazine (Jan 07) that if you were told to change or be killed, you’d probably die. Scientifically studied odds are nine to one against you.

EIGHTY PERCENT OF THE $2.1 TRILLION A YEAR US HEALTH BUDGET IS SPENT ON DISEASES CAUSED BY FIVE BEHAVIOURS – too much smoking, drinking, eating and stress, and not enough exercise.

For example, over 1.5 million people undergo coronary bypass or angioplasty annually, costing $60 billion, but they’re temporary fixes – fewer than 3 percent of surgeries prevent heart attacks or prolong lives.

Doctors explain these stats to patients and say that to stop heart disease before it kills them they have to change their lifestyle. But two years after surgery, 90 percent haven’t changed. They know their chances, and experience excruciating pain, but for whatever reason, they can’t.


Alan Deutschman wanted to find out. He said that Dr. Dean Ornish, professor of medicine at U of C, conducted a successful experiment in 1993 on 194 patients who suffered from severely clogged arteries. They were given help to quit smoking and switch to an extreme vegetarian diet with fewer than 10 percent of calories from fat. Patients had group conversations, and took meditation, relaxation, yoga, exercise classes.

After the year-long programme they were on their own, and three years later, 77 percent had stuck with the lifestyle transformation and avoided surgery. They’d halted or, in many cases, reversed the disease.

DEUTSCHMAN DOESN’T BELIEVE IN “MORE INFORMATION” OR SCARE TACTICS (the idea that change is motivated by fear, and the strongest force for change is crisis). He’s researched many cases proving that dramatic change is possible in seemingly hopeless situations. He’s not talking about natural change that happens throughout life, but when you’re stuck; you’ve tried overcoming difficulties but they stubbornly persist.

He says the reason that people fail to realize goals is that they don’t have the tools. His book Change or Die replaces the “facts, fear and force” with “three Rs” – relate, repeat and reframe – to change deep-rooted patterns of how you think, feel and act.

He also says seemingly impossible tasks like changing a loved one or a company’s actions are done using the same principles that can be grasped easily by anyone.

RELATE: You form a relationship with a person or group that gives you new found hope. If you face a situation that “reasonable people” would consider hopeless, you need the influence of a person with different ideas, even seemingly unorthodox, to make you believe and expect that you will change.

You trust their expertise; the key is the emotional chemistry of the relationship, not specific techniques. It’s like your fourth grade teacher or little league coach telling you that you would do well, and you did what you were told, so you did well.

REPEAT: This coach or mentor helps you to learn new skills or tools that are repeated until you do them without thinking about it. They give you guidance, encouragement, and training – enabling you to do something differently because you perform it often enough that it becomes a habit.

REFRAME: The person or therapy forces you to completely re-think your ideas, helping you learn new ways of considering your situation. You look at the world in a way that would have been so foreign to you that it wouldn’t have made sense before.

NEW HOPE, NEW SKILLS, AND NEW THINKING. This sounds simple, but if it is then why hasn’t the health care system figured it out?

For more, read the book, Change or Die, by Alan Deutschman. This article originally appeared in VISTA Magazine by Carol Crenna.


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