Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.

Pamela A. Popper, Ph.D., N.D.

Posted May 17, 2011

Published in Health

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Ask Dr. Pam - How Do You Get People To Change?

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I am curious about how you are getting people to make and stick with changes in their diet – in corporate and other environments.  I’m in the benefits business and one of the things we talk about all of the time is how hard it is to get people to change their diets and that compliance is an issue.  What are we missing?

This is an important issue and question.  I detect from my colleagues almost a sense of futility or resignation; many have determined that people just will not make changes and that even if you can get people to change, compliance is nearly impossible.  We have not found this to be the case.

Our experience has been that people will not only change but will remain reasonably compliant if the following criteria are applied:

             People must thoroughly understand the futility of the current treatment they are receiving.  Many people operate under the misconception that taking drugs and having procedures will prolong their life or address their health issues; this misconception can prevent them from being open to change.  Once we show people the actual expected outcomes of the treatments they are receiving (for example, statin drugs and bypass surgery do not reduce the risk of heart attack), they become very open-minded about exploring other options. 

            People must be presented with scientific evidence about how diet causes conditions like the one(s) they have, and how a program of dietary excellence has been shown to stop or reverse those conditions.

            They must be given very specific instructions on how to make the right changes.

            They must see results.

These are important components of the programs that are producing positive results with diet – The Wellness Forum, Dr. McDougall, and others.

There are several reasons why it has historically been difficult to market other health care programs. One is that health care professionals tend to think that people are not interested in detailed information about diet and health, or that the information is too complicated for the average person to understand.  Our experience is that people are interested and that this information is easily understandable if it is communicated correctly.   Many people would like to be in control of their health, and given the right information many will make positive changes.  I have been thanked many times for not “talking down” to people about their health; for not watering down the message; and for taking the time to help people understand their health status and how to change it.

Another missing link is that “other” programs do not offer advice that is likely to result in significant changes in health status.  In a misguided effort to promote moderation and other tools that ask little of the patient; little, if any, improvement is made in health.  Diabetics don’t get excited about reducing medications while their diabetes continues to progress; they get excited about becoming former diabetics.   Big changes result in big improvements, and those improvements, which are quickly reversed by reverting back to old habits, provide a motivation to stay on track.

This does not mean that everyone is ready to or going to change; it also does not mean that everyone is 100% compliant.  It does mean that many people are willing to make changes and are compliant enough to maintain the improvements they make in their health. 

It is time for health care professionals to stop hiding behind the excuses that change is hard and that people are too lazy to help themselves, and realize that one of the reasons they are getting poor results with their patients is that they are not offering the right solutions.  Motivating people to participate and stick with ineffective programs that do not positively affect their health in significant ways will continue to be difficult.