If you’ve tried to eat “better” in the past, but slipped back into old habits, you’re not alone!
Researchers found about half of the participants in cardiac rehabilitation had what was considered a “good” diet a year after their program ended, compared to 91% during the program. Only 42% were there three years after cardiac rehab.
Why do heart-healthy eating habits tend to fade?
After working with thousands of people finding their way after a heart event, I would propose several possible explanations:
- Some people are too strict with themselves, taking heart-healthy eating further than they can sustain, and then bouncing from one extreme to the other. It’s understandable, after a health scare, but a moderate approach may work better in the long run. It’s not clear that extreme restriction is even helpful.
- Competing family eating habits may make things harder, as we discussed in our Facebook group last week during the Prep-It-Early Challenge. Lots of good ideas there from participants, if this is a problem for you too.
- Lack of time is of course always an issue. That’s why I focus so much on meal planning and 30-minute (or less) meal ideas. Heart-healthy doesn’t have to be complicated.
- The affordability of food can be a barrier, and unfortunately, it’s getting worse. If this is you, take a peek at the heart-healthy on a budget video I did over the summer for the Libin Cardiovascular Institute.
- Emotional / stress eating may also throw some people off track, especially in the last couple of years! I’m not convinced that eating for emotional reasons is necessarily always a problem. You get to decide if/when it’s interfering with your health goals. If so, you can find some helpful strategies here.
There are probably more reasons, but those are common ones that I see. Eating (and living generally) with heart health in mind in our culture is like being a fish swimming upstream!
So I wasn’t actually surprised to see that researchers found, in 2017, that working with a dietitian for less than six hours “generally showed no benefit“!
Yes, you read that right.
If you took a nutrition class, did some online research, or met with a dietitian, and still don’t always manage to eat “right”, your experience is similar to the people in that study.
The good news…
…is that that same study found that people who worked with a dietitian for a total of at least 6 hours were more likely to see an improvement in cardiovascular risk factors, including blood pressure and LDL cholesterol.
In fact, for these “intermediate outcomes,” as the researchers called them, “…dose-response effects were evident, with increasing intervention intensity associated with larger improvements.”
In other words, more time working on your eating habits with professional support leads to a bigger improvement. Of course it does! Changing lifelong eating habits means addressing the barriers above and probably more. It takes time!
That’s why I created the Sweet Spot Kitchen program. Most people, even in cardiac rehab, don’t have access to that 6 hours of dietitian time, let alone more. I used to offer packages with more counselling sessions, but it is prohibitively expensive for people.
But now, with our increased comfort using virtual platforms, I was able to create a series of videos and a live support component and share the cost over a group instead of just one person.
We address the barriers listed above and more. We’ll practice evidence-based strategies for changing health behaviours, like planning, goal-setting, journalling, and problem-solving.
If that sounds like something that might help you, you can find all the details here.
If you find it tough to stay consistent with healthy eating, don’t feel bad. Even if you know what to do, actually following through and doing it is another matter altogether. It’s doable, but not always easy.